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Closing the gap. Can Broncos hit in free agency, draft under Paton?

New GM has multiple needs to address this offseason
Bears Vikings Football
Posted at 1:51 PM, Feb 09, 2021

DENVER -- George Paton's dedication starts with details and organization.

The Broncos new general manager is like a shark. Every move has a purpose. No wasted movement. Since taking over, he has met with scouts, coaches, some players and made calls to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford, a glimpse of how his structured plan can remain nimble when chasing the right commodity.

With the Super Bowl in the rearview — Tom Brady continues to mock Time, and the Broncos remain the only AFC West team to repeat as champions — Paton continues rolling up his sleeves. He took over an iconic franchise, but one that hasn't reached the playoffs in five seasons. Returning to relevancy, if not the postseason, requires better players.

Paton is moving forward, beginning to put together the Broncos' free agent board, and, eventually, draft wish list. Everything about his approach so far has been as advertised: relentless and collaborative.

"He is a grinder and yet he understands the game and where it's going," Los Angeles Times Hall of Fame writer Sam Farmer told Denver7. "He's not so focused and bored in intensely blocking out all influence. He sort of takes in the whole picture and I think that balance is going to make him a better GM."

Paton laid out his philosophy when introduced to the media nearly a month ago. He believes in draft and development. In Paton's 14 seasons with the Vikings -- he had many opportunities to leave for GM jobs during this span -- he helped the team land 17 Pro Bowlers through the draft (15) and undrafted free agents (two).

He needs similar success to revive the Broncos. So, it's time for a way-too-early look at some names that could fit the Broncos in positions of need:

The Broncos believe Drew Lock has the potential to be The Guy. But no one is convinced he will become The Guy. That is why Denver explored a trade for Stafford, will call on Deshaun Watson (the Texans are in a standoff, saying they will not trade him) and must consider multiple veteran options to compete with Lock and protect for injury and ineffectiveness. That list is expected to include Mitchell Trubisky, and possibly others like Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett and Gardner Minshew. Could they draft a quarterback with the ninth overall pick? It seems unlikely with Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson probably off the board.

There were multiple takeaways from Kansas City falling to earth with a thud in the Super Bowl: they had a protection problem (has any lineman played worse in Super Bowls than Mike Remmers?), and Tampa Bay's speed at linebacker and cornerback blended perfectly with the pressure produced by upfront. The Broncos need to draft and/or sign three cornerbacks this offseason, and two starters.

Free agency is not ripe with options. The list includes Shaquill Griffin, William Jackson III, Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson. Based on Paton's record in Minnesota, I expect him to prioritize younger players in free agency over stop-gap veterans. In some cases, adding a band-aid might be unavoidable. Griffin is interesting because of his age and versatility. Pittsburgh's Mike Hilton is another player to file away because of his underrated prowess in the slot. Bryce Callahan was tremendous in that spot last season -- for 10 games. He has battled foot issues for three straight years and has never played 16 games in a season.

When looking at the draft, Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley is considered by many draftniks to have the highest ceiling. He is a former quarterback and receiver with limited corner experience. He played the position in 2019 with attitude and swagger. He is a playmaker, but misses too many tackles. Broncos coach Vic Fangio has made it clear that tackling is non-negotiable, benching Michael Ojemudia and De'Vante Bausby last season for that issue.

Patrick Surtain III is the most polished corner in the draft as the son of a former NFL standout. He is consistent and disciplined, but will have to prove his speed at the next level on deep routes.

Watching Tampa Bay's Devin White and Lavonte David drove home the importance of three-down linebackers. The Broncos have solid players in Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson. Jewell needs to be a two-down player, and Johnson did not produce the impact plays expected in coverage last season. They need one of these two as a starter, not both. Will Denver dip its toes into free agency to address the issue?

One player to keep an eye on -- Minnesota's Eric Wilson. He is one of the best undrafted free agents landed in Minnesota during Paton's tenure. Last season, Wilson forced a fumble, recovered two fumbles and intercepted three passes. This is the production the Broncos need after finishing dead last in takeaways with 16.

David starred on the biggest stage and is a free agent. However, given his age, I am not sure the Broncos dive into that pool. Matt Milano is available. He has been a three-down player in Buffalo and was healthy before last season. He figures to ask for a deal like Cory Littleton landed last season — three-year, $35.2 million, $22 million guaranteed — and Denver passed a year ago.

Yes, the Chiefs lost the Super Bowl. No, they haven't been figured out. Fangio schemed well against them in his last game, but the Broncos are not approaching contention without an improved roster.