George Paton

Broncos Add Kelly Kleine, Roman Phifer To Front Office

The Broncos have been busy adding to their front office in recent days. Earlier this week, the organization announced that they’ve hired Kelly Kleine as Executive Director of Football Operations/Special Advisor to the General Manager and Roman Phifer as Senior Personnel Executive.

In her new role, Kleine is expected to be involved in every aspect of the organization’s day-to-day operations, especially in regards to pro and college scouting. She will also be “the primary liaison for the team’s football operations,” and she’ll oversee the video and equipment departments. As the team website notes, Kleine is believed to be the “highest ranking female in scouting in the history of the league.”

Kleine had spent the previous 10 years with the Vikings, including the past two as Manager of Player Personnel/College. Albert Breer of SI.com writes that Vikings GM Rick Spielman wanted to retain Kleine, but the opportunity was too good to reject. In Denver, she will report directly to George Paton, with the two having previously worked alongside each other during their stints in Minnesota. Tory Renck of Denver7 tweets that the GM had been looking to hire Klein since January.

Phifer won three Super Bowls during a 15-year NFL career. Following his retirement, he spent some time as a Broncos coach before joining UCLA as the football program’s director of player development. Phifer had been with the Detroit Lions since 2018, serving as the team’s West Coast Area Scout. In Denver, the 53-year-old is expected to split his time between Denver and the road.

Broncos GM Paton: Haven’t Called About Moving Up, Will Bring In QB Competition

We heard just a couple of days ago that the Broncos were a team potentially looking to move up in the draft. Speaking to the media today, new GM George Paton made it sound like that’s not something he’s planning on as of right now.

Paton says the team has not made any calls about moving up in the draft from their current ninth spot, James Palmer of NFL Network tweets. Paton also said has received calls from teams looking to move up next week. If Denver truly does stand pat at nine, they likely wouldn’t be able to draft one of the true top passers.

That’s relevant, because notably Paton did confirm bluntly that the Broncos are going to bring in a new quarterback to push Drew Lock. “We want to bring in competition at the quarterback position,” Paton said, via Mike Klis of Denver 9 News (Twitter link).

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Lock certainly can’t be considered etched in stone as the Broncos’ Week 1 starter at this point. Paton also didn’t rule out moving up in the draft, saying something could materialize on draft day, only that nothing is in the works right now. If the team doesn’t draft a quarterback early it’s unclear what kind of competition they’d bring in, since the veteran market has mostly dried up. Paton did refer to a “trade market,” so maybe they could swing a deal for another team’s veteran backup.

It’s possible that if the Broncos don’t trade up and miss out on the first-round guys, they could draft a quarterback on Day 2. At that point, Davis Mills of Stanford, Kyle Trask of Florida, and Kellen Mond of Texas A&M would all be realistic options.

Latest On Broncos’ QB Plans

Several teams have already made big splashes under center this offseason, but the Broncos have been mostly quiet. That could change soon.

Denver “isn’t sitting still at the position,” Albert Breer of SI.com writes. Breer lays out details of the Broncos’ pursuits we haven’t heard before, including the previously unreported full offer they made for Matthew Stafford. The Broncos apparently did in fact offer the ninth overall pick to the Lions, but they wanted a second-rounder back in return which quelled those talks.

Breer thinks they’ll add competition for Drew Lock in one form or another, and he mentions the Panthers’ Teddy Bridgewater as a potential option. As he points out, new Broncos GM George Paton was in Minnesota when the Vikings drafted Bridgewater in the first-round. On that note, Breer has some interesting thoughts on the makeup of Denver’s new front office.

The fact that the team isn’t committing to Lock is “a pretty decent sign that John Elway has truly moved into the background,” Breer writes. He also thinks Denver’s lack of real interest in Sam Darnold is a telling sign that Elway isn’t calling the shots, since Elway was infatuated with Darnold coming out of college in 2018.

The team hired Paton to be GM earlier this offseason, with Elway getting elevated to President of Football Operations. At the time there were murmurs about how much power Elway would actually be ceding and how much he would still control the organization, but it sounds like he truly has relinquished the reins.

Broncos GM On Von Miller, Drew Lock, Phillip Lindsay

George Paton is the Broncos’ new GM, and he’s got his work cut out for him during his first offseason at the helm. Several big decisions loom, including what to do with Von Miller and at quarterback. Speaking to the media Thursday, Paton got into all that and more.

We’ve heard that the Broncos are preparing to franchise tag safety Justin Simmons for the second year in a row, but it sounds like they really want to get an extension done. “Justin is one of our core guys. Our goal is to sign him to a long-term deal,” Paton said, via a tweet from Troy Renck of ABC Denver 7. Simmons seems to be on the same page, reiterating in a recent interview with Sirius XM NFL radio (Twitter link) that he wants to be with the Broncos for the future. “It seems like Denver wants me back, and I want to be there,” Simmons said in part.

As for Miller, he’s got an option that guarantees him significant money that needs to be picked up by March 16th. We’ve heard the team wants him to take a bit of a pay-cut to return in 2021, and Paton said that he’s still working through the details of the option with his agent. “We want to bring Von back. Obviously the legal process, it’s a serious situation. I don’t know all the details. But respect what’s going on. But we do want Von back.” Paton was referring of course to the legal investigation that stems from allegations made by his ex-fiancee. Even with that looming, it sounds like Paton wants to keep the franchise icon in the fold if the financials can work.

Phillip Lindsay is a restricted free agent since he’s a former UDFA, and Paton said the team wants him back as well. “Phillip’s a good player, very passionate. Obviously had some injuries last year. He’s a good player, brings energy, brings juice. He’s a restricted free agent, we do plan on tendering him. I’m not sure what level but we want Phillip here,” he said, via Mike Klis of Denver 9 News (Twitter link).

Meanwhile, Klis writes that fellow restricted free agent receiver Tim Patrick is expected to get a second-round tender from the Broncos. That would pay him around $3.4MM in 2021. Patrick is coming off a career year where he had 746 yards and six touchdowns. If the team decides $3.4MM is too steep for Lindsay as a split-time running back, they’d tender him at the original-round level, which would mean a team signing him to an offer sheet wouldn’t have to give up any draft pick.

Finally, Paton also talked about the elephant in the room, Drew Lock and his job security. “Obviously did a deep dive with Drew. Very talented, was inconsistent at times. Has a lot to work on. I’ve spoken with Drew, he’s here every day. He’s here early. He really wants to be great,” Paton said, before adding we’re always going to try and bring in competition at every position and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew is on,” Klis tweets.

Those certainly don’t sound like the words of someone who’s committed to Lock as his 2021 starter. Things are up in the air, but we should continue to expect Denver to sniff around potential upgrades while having Lock as the fall-back option if nothing falls into their laps.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

GM/Coach Notes: Broncos, WFT, Jaguars, Chargers, Dolphins

George Paton was introduced as the Broncos general manager today, and the executive gave a thoughtful response when explaining how he’d help to reestablish a winning culture in Denver.

“There’ll be no shortcuts,” Paton said (via the team website). “We’re going to embrace the day-to-day [process], we’re going to embrace the grind, and we’re going to do it together. … We’re going to be progressive, we’re going to be innovative, we’re going to be forward-thinking and we’re going to use all the information at our disposal to make the best informed decisions.”

Paton also noted the importance of hitting in the draft and being innovative in their evaluation of potential acquisitions.

“Drafting and developing players will be our foundation,” Paton said. “It’s going to be the lifeblood of this football team.”

Paton joined the Broncos on a six-year deal. Under the restructured front office, Paton and head coach Vic Fangio will report to John Elway, who will have less to do with the team’s day-to-day roster decisions.

Let’s check out some more GM and coaching notes…

  • Washington previously interviewed Eric Stokes for their open general manager vacancy, reports Jason La Canfora (via Twitter). The 47-year-old has been working in NFL front offices since 2002, including stints with the Seahawks, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Panthers. He joined Washington as their director of pro scouting this past summer. We learned yesterday that Washington is expected to ultimately hire former Panthers GM Marty Hurne for the position.
  • Scott Linehan and Joe Cullen will interview for the Jaguars open coordinator positions this week, reports NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter). We learned of Urban Meyer‘s interest in both coaches this past weekend. Linehan, who’s candidate for the offensive coordinator gig, has had a long coaching career, including a stint as the head coach of the Rams. Cullen, a candidate for the defensive coordinator opening, has served as Baltimore’s defensive line coach since 2016. Rapoport notes that Raheem Morris was also a candidate for the defensive coordinator opening, but we’ve since learned that Morris will be taking the same role with the Rams.
  • The Chargers won’t be retaining offensive line coach James Campen, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). Campen spent more than a decade with the Packers, and following a one-season stint with the Browns, Campen joined the Chargers as their offensive line coach this past offseason. However, he won’t stick around, as Schefter notes that new head coach Brandon Staley will be bringing in his own OL coach.
  • The Dolphins have parted ways with offensive line coach Steve Marshall and promoted Lemuel Jeanpierre to the role, reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Marshall has spent more than a decade coaching in the NFL, and he joined Miami this past offseason. Jeanpierre has spent time on the Seahawks, Raiders, and Dolphins coaching staffs, serving as Miami’s assistant offensive line coach in 2020.

Broncos Notes: Miller, Paton, Lock

Broncos LB Von Miller is the subject of a criminal investigation in Parker, CO, as Mike Klis of 9News.com was among those to report (via Twitter). Parker police would not comment on the nature of the investigation, though a report from FOX 31 suggests that it pertains to domestic abuse allegations levied against Miller by his ex-fiancée. The Broncos issued a statement indicating they are aware of the situation and are in the process of gathering more info.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, a decision on whether charges will be filed will not be made for several weeks. Obviously, any allegations of domestic violence are serious and outweigh any on-field concerns, but Miller’s future with the Broncos was already in doubt. He missed the entire 2020 campaign due to an ankle injury, and though he earned Pro Bowl honors in 2019, his eight sacks that year marked a career low (aside from a five-sack effort in 2013, when he played in just nine games).

Klis reports in a full-length piece that the Broncos will ask Miller to take a pay cut. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is due a $17.5MM base salary in 2021 — the last year of his current contract — but carries a $22.225MM cap charge due to an earlier restructure. Denver could release him and create $18MM in cap space, and given that Miller is unlikely to earn $17.5MM on the open market, he may be amenable to a reduction in pay. If the domestic allegations are substantiated, he can definitely bank on a suspension.

Now for more from the Mile High City:

  • In the same piece linked above, Klis examines the most pressing questions for new GM George Paton. Paton and HC Vic Fangio will report to John Elway in the team’s revamped power structure, but Paton will have control over personnel matters. One of his first orders of business — aside from the Miller issue — will be to sort out the Broncos’ QB situation. Veteran signal-callers like Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson may or may not be available on the trade market, and even if a blockbuster trade doesn’t happen, Klis expects Paton to bring in legitimate competition for incumbent passer Drew Lock. Paton will also have the No. 9 overall pick at his disposal.
  • The contract situation of safety Justin Simmons will need to be addressed as well. Simmons and the Broncos were unable to come to terms on a multi-year contract last offseason, so the newly-minted Pro Bowler played out the 2020 season under a $11.4MM franchise tag. Klis suggests that Simmons could adjust his asking price on a long-term deal given the expected decrease in the 2021 salary cap, and he also says a second tag — worth about $13.7MM — could be in play.
  • Saints vice president of pro personnel Terry Fontenot was the runner-up to Paton in the Broncos’ GM hunt, as Klis tweets. Denver was able to convince Paton — who had been a hot GM candidate for years — to finally leave Minnesota, but the club was certainly impressed by Fontenot, who is now said to be the Falcons’ top choice for their GM vacancy.

Broncos To Hire George Paton As GM

The Broncos found their new GM. Vikings exec George Paton is finalizing a six-year deal with Denver, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). 

Paton has rebuffed interview opportunities and job offers for years, citing his love of living in Minnesota. This time around, the Broncos’ offer was too good to pass up. Just recently, Paton seemed to be on the verge of becoming the Browns’ next GM, but he ultimately backed out. The Jets also made a strong push to hire him before Paton said no.

There were other interesting candidates in the mix, including Bears exec Champ Kelly, who has history with the Broncos. Still, Paton was their top target. Under the new structure, Paton and head coach Vic Fangio will report to John Elway, who will have less to do with the team’s day-to-day roster decisions. Elway was responsible for luring Peyton Manning to the team and helping to build a championship-caliber defense. But, things went downhill after Super Bowl 50. With Paton in charge, the Broncos believe they can work their way back to the top.

Saints exec Terry Fontenot and Broncos director of college scouting Brian Stark were also up for the job. Patriots assistant player personnel director Dave Ziegler was in the mix too, but ultimately backed out.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2021 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

This year’s NFL GM carousel figures to be more active than usual. The Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Texans, and Jaguars are all on the hunt for a new front office leader. And that’s only the official list. The real tally shows six clubs looking for a GM, since the Washington Football Team is expected to install a GM to work alongside head coach Ron Rivera. By mid-January, we could easily see a couple more jobs opening up — that’d put ~25% of the NFL on the market.

We’ll keep track of the GM candidates for each club here, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make general manager changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here’s the current breakdown:

Updated 1-19-21 (7:02pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers 

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Washington Football Team

Latest On Lions GM Search

Rams college scouting director Brad Holmes is in Detroit for a second interview, which will occur Tuesday. He is the first such GM candidate to meet with the Lions a second time during this cycle. He may not be the only exec the Lions meet with twice.

The Lions want to bring Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Saints execs Jeff Ireland and Terry Fontenot back for second meetings, according to Albert Breer of SI.com (on Twitter). Detroit also added Indianapolis assistant GM Ed Dodds to its interview list, meeting with him Tuesday. The Lions were evidently impressed, with Breer noting they would like to speak with Dodds again.

Dodds recently bowed out of the wide-ranging Panthers GM search, leaving only the Lions pursuing him. The former Seahawks exec may be connected to another ex-Seattle staffer. The Lions have been connected to 49ers DC Robert Saleh about their HC vacancy for weeks, and the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers notes some believe Dodds would want to bring Saleh with him to Detroit (Twitter link). Saleh and Dodds were both with the Seahawks from 2011-13, though Saleh was only a defensive quality control coach at that point.

A Michigan native, Saleh interviewed for the Lions job last week but remains in the mix for other gigs — a list that now includes Philadelphia. Saleh has also been connected to an Adam Peters HC-GM pairing, but Peters is not a Lions GM candidate.

Paton and Fontenot remain in the mix for the Broncos GM post, having booked second interviews with Denver. While the longtime Vikings exec has been quite particular in past GM searches, he has remained a sought-after candidate. Fontenot, who interviewed for the Jets’ GM job in 2019, and Ireland — the former Dolphins GM — each went through virtual interviews for the Detroit job last week. Holmes is a Falcons finalist as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

George Paton, Terry Fontenot Get Second Broncos Interviews

Vikings’ Assistant GM/VP of Player Personnel George Paton will have a second meeting with the Broncos on Tuesday, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Ditto for Saints assistant GM Terry Fontenot, per Mike Klis of KUSA (Twitter link).

Bears exec Champ Kelly and Patriots assistant director of player personnel Dave Ziegler are among the other external candidates for the position. Ziegler has since backed out, opting to stay in New England. The Broncos also interviewed their own college scouting director, Brian Stark, though it’s not clear if he’s still in the running.

Fontenot has also been considered by the Lions, Jaguars, and Panthers in this cycle. The 40-year-old has been with New Orleans for 16 years. Paton, meanwhile, has been a hot GM candidate for some time. But, in years past, he rebuffed a number of opportunities.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.