George Paton might go down as the biggest villain in Broncos history
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If someone suggested that the Chargers, Chiefs or Raiders had planted George Paton as the general manager in Denver in order to sabotage the Broncos, it’d be believable. The idea that Dean Spanos, Clark Hunt or Mark Davis had somehow conspired to undermine their division rival is more likely than the GM actually believing that the moves he’s made were in the best interest of the franchise.
He’s been that bad.
This morning, with the Broncos sitting at 3-8, most of the fingers of blame will be pointed at Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson. The pitchforks will be out for Denver’s head coach and quarterback, respectively.
And while both of those people have been awful at their jobs this season, they’re hardly the most to blame for current debacle. When it comes to that list, Paton should be at the top. And the drop off from him to whoever belongs in the No. 2 spot, whether it’s Hackett or Wilson, is a cliff.
This list of blunders is numerous.
Paton is the one who decided stick with Vic Fangio last season. Despite inheriting a coach who had gone 12-20 in his first two years, the GM kept him around, burning through a 2021 season that predictably ended at 7-10.
Midway through that campaign, Paton decided to trade away the best defensive player in franchise history. Von Miller went on to help the Rams win a Super Bowl. He may very well do the same this season with the Bills, depending on his knee injury. Meanwhile, the Broncos yielded picks that netted Nik Bonitto, Luke Wattenberg and a third-round pick in 2023.
After finally firing Fangio at season’s end, Paton led a group that interviewed 10 candidates to become Denver’s new head coach. He passed on Kevin O’Connell, who is 9-2 with the Vikings, and failed to interview Brian Daboll (7-3 with the Giants) or Mike McDaniel (8-3 with the Dolphins). Instead, he went with Hackett, who has appeared in over his head since day one and is unlikely to survive for a second season.
Paton followed that up by making a blockbuster trade. He sent Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, Drew Lock, two first-round picks and two second-rounders to Seattle for Wilson. Then, he doubled down and gave the quarterback a $245-million contract extension, with $160 million guaranteed, before he ever played a game in orange and blue. As a result, the Broncos are stuck with the soon-to-be 34-year-old quarterback. Wilson’s cap hits are $107 million in 2023, $85 million in ’24, $49.6 million in ’25 and $31.2 million in ’26.
Let’s say the Broncos decided Wilson was done. That would’ve been a huge loss of talent and draft capital to learn that lesson. But to make matters worse, Paton made it to where the cap hit to part ways after a terrible 2022 season would be a $100-plus million cap hit. That’s ludicrous.
That would suggest that the Broncos were in “win now” mode. They weren’t hedging their bets. They weren’t in rebuild mode.
But when they hit their bye week at 3-5, Paton decided to trade away Bradley Chubb, a key member of a defensive unit that was the lone bright spot on the team, for a first-round pick in 2023. He argued that the team had a lot of other pass rushers. Randy Gregory, who Paton paid instead of Miller or Chubb, missed his seventh-straight game on Sunday, while Bonitto, Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper combined for two total tackles against the Panthers. As a team, the Broncos didn’t record a single sack in Week 12, while Chubb had one in Miami.
Those are specific examples. But in a more general sense, Denver’s roster as a whole is an indictment of Paton. The team is awful on special teams, which means the back end of the roster is bad. At some point, it’s not on the coach; it can’t be that Brock Olivo, Tom McMahon and Dwayne Stukes are all the problem.
In addition, it was Paton who decided not to add a wide receiver when Tim Patrick was injured during training camp. As a result of that injury, and others, Wilson is trying to move the ball with Courtland Sutton, who Paton unwisely gave a contract extension last season, Kendall Hinton and Brandon Johnson at wideout. That’s a tough assignment.
It’s been one mistake after another. Heck, Paton’s best move, drafting Patrick Surtain, looks worse and worse by the week. The cornerback got torched for another touchdown and a deep ball on Sunday. Meanwhile, Micah Parsons might be the best defensive player in the league, Justin Fields is a rising star and Mac Jones has already led his team to the playoffs. Paton passed on all three for a cornerback who can be taken out of the game by a good offense simply going away from him.
So if the Broncos decided to part ways with Hackett, how can they justify keeping Paton around? After all, why should he get another chance to pick a head coach after missing so badly the first time around, while also calling Fangio “the best coach” he’s ever been around? Why should be get the chance to build around Wilson when he’s shown a total inability to construct a roster?
Is Hackett in over his head? Of course he is. The Broncos are an undisciplined mess coming apart at the seams.
Is Wilson playing poorly? No doubt. He misses throws that a franchise quarterback should make and commits inexcusable errors, like throwing an incompletion last week in the final two minutes when the Raiders were out of timeouts.
But Paton brought both of them to town. He saddled the Broncos with this mess, in every way, shape and form.
If a bridge crumbles to the ground, it’s somewhat on the construction foreman. It’s also on the guys hanging the steel. But ultimately, it’s on the architect.
That’s Paton. This is his masterplan. It’s his engineering disaster.
It’s time the Broncos general manager be held accountable. He’s arguably done more to damage the franchise during his 22 months on the job than any figure in franchise history.