- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 13, 2021

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - John Elway’s hand-picked successor as Broncos general manager is Vikings executive George Paton.

Elway announced the hiring Wednesday, a day after Paton visited the team’s state-of-the-art headquarters where the Super Bowl 50 trophy looks like a tribute to a bygone era with the franchise mired in a five-year playoff drought.

Paton, who agreed to a six-year contract, spent the last 14 seasons working alongside Vikings GM Rick Spielman in Minnesota, including the last six as assistant general manager. Since 2018, he also served as the team’s vice president of player personnel.

“It is an honor to be named general manager of an iconic franchise with a championship tradition like the Denver Broncos,” Paton said in a statement. “This organization has great resources, tremendous people, a talented young core of players and an outstanding coaching staff.

“In many ways, I feel like this team is a sleeping giant,” Paton added. “For me, it is the right place and the right time for this opportunity.”

Paton will be in charge of the draft, free agency and roster.

The 24-year NFL executive and longtime Spielman disciple has been one of the hottest names on the GM circuit in recent years, drawing interest from a dozen teams over the last decade, including the Lions this cycle.

Elway said it quickly “became clear why George has been such a coveted GM candidate for so many years. He is a proven evaluator who knows every detail of leading football operations. With his experience in all aspects of the job — the college and pro sides, salary cap, trades, working with the head coach and bringing the staff together — George is more than ready to succeed in this role.

“George has waited and worked for the right opportunity, which shows that he is smart and serious about winning.”

That’s something the Broncos haven’t done a lot of lately.

Elway led Denver to a 96-74 record, five AFC West titles, two conference championships and the franchise’s third Super Bowl title to go with the two he won at the end of his Hall of Fame playing career.

All of that success came in Elway’s first five seasons in charge, in large part because he lured Peyton Manning to Denver for the second chapter of his storied career. Under Manning, the Broncos went 55-17 in four seasons, which culminated with a win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50.

Manning retired a month later and the Broncos haven’t been the same since.

They’ve won just 32 of 80 games, posted four consecutive losing seasons for the first time in half a century, and have cycled through 10 starting quarterbacks, five offensive coordinators and three head coaches.

Elway announced on Jan. 4 he was relinquishing his GM duties while keeping his job as president of football operations with coach Vic Fangio and his new GM reporting to him.

The Broncos quickly homed in on five candidates, including Patriots executive Dave Ziegler, who withdrew his name last weekend to stay in New England in an expanded role.

Saints executive Terry Fontenot, Bears executive Champ Kelly, and Brian Stark, the Broncos’ college scouting director, were the other hopefuls.

Paton flew in Tuesday for a tour of team headquarters and a second interview with Elway, Fangio, team president Joe Ellis and chiefs communications officer Patrick Smyth.

The Broncos are coming off a 5-11 season and are mired in a four-year run of losing records, their worst stretch in the Super Bowl era.

In a statement, Paton said his top priority in Denver is “drafting and developing players,” and added, “We will be aggressive — but not reckless — in adding talent to our roster.”

Paton was a quarterback in high school and a safety at UCLA. He broke into the NFL as a scouting intern in 1997 with the Bears, where he bonded with Spielman while ascending to pro scout from 1998-99 and assistant director of pro personnel from 2000-01. He followed Spielman to Miami in 2001 and again to Minneapolis in 2007.

“George is one of the most widely respected and experienced personnel executives in the NFL. He’s a composed, collaborative leader with a clear vision of building a championship team,” Ellis said.

“Getting to know George over the last week, his intelligence, work ethic and leadership skills impressed all of us. He has worked nearly 25 years in the NFL to prepare for this challenge, and we are very fortunate to have George as our new general manager.”


Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton


More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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