Broncos: How George Paton’s plan to get younger impacts free agency
By Sonny Cohen
George Paton made his intentions for the Broncos franchise clear from the moment he walked through the doors. He would bring over the same philosophy that brought the Minnesota Vikings success during his tenure. That plan would be to draft and develop talent.
The former vice president of player personnel for the Minnesota Vikings wasted no time in making changes to the Broncos roster either. Both Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye, two 2020 acquisitions were cut to save space against the salary cap.
By cutting both Bouye and Casey, Paton’s intentions are clear. The cap savings are one thing, but two veteran players are now gone and it seems to just be the start of the Broncos roster getting younger across the board.
There is a long way to go for Denver to make themselves competitors in the West again. But fans should certainly be excited by the new GMs approach to cultivating talent. Since his arrival in 2007, the Vikings drafted 15 Pro Bowlers and have made the playoffs with six different starting quarterbacks.
But before we get to the draft and hopefully are treated to Paton’s much-revered eye for talent. There is a small matter of free agency to deal with; this includes players both within and outside of the organization.
Von Miller’s impact on the team should be enough to keep him around
The status of Von Miller’s contract with the team must be addressed by George Paton. Miller has been a cornerstone of Denver’s defense and is entering the final year of his current deal, should his team option be picked up.
When he re-signed with the Broncos in 2016, it was unthinkable that the eight-time Pro Bowler would be considered a candidate for the cutting block. But the last two years have been a disappointment for one reason or another.
In 2019, he set his lowest sack total in a season since tearing his ACL in 2013 with just eight. Then the Super Bowl 50 MVP spent last season on IR after dislocating an ankle ligament in preseason. Miller is entering the final season of his current contract and is due to make $17.5 million should the team pick up his option.
J.J. Watt’s new deal with the Arizona Cardinals could somewhat complicate matters for the Broncos. Watt signed a two-year contract worth $31 million with $23 million in guaranteed money. It would be a surprise to see Von take a serious pay cut given Watt’s injury history.
The 32-year-old will certainly have plenty of suitors, should Paton decide to cut ties with Miller and look to develop the younger pass rushers at the team such as Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed.
However, it does feel as though if Miller and the Broncos were really set on parting company then it would have happened by now. It is always valuable to have veteran players, even if you are in a rebuild. For Paton and Fangio, it makes complete sense to keep the former Super Bowl MVP in town even if only for a couple more years.
Paton’s Free Agency options
Veteran leadership cannot be understated regardless of the state of a franchise. If Paton’s desire is to draft and develop talent, then having experienced players around them will certainly speed up the process.
Cutting Casey, a well-respected player on the defensive line, is somewhat perplexing. But the team could bring Shelby Harris back on a cheaper deal than what they had to pay Casey. Getting that veteran leadership at a fraction of the price is great for team development.
We have already taken a look at five free agents who would make for an ideal haul. But the key here is not overpaying any one free agent.
Bronco’s fans should not expect Paton to make any major splashes during this year’s free agency. Instead, the new executive will more than likely look for player’s who are available at great value and can add leadership where it is needed.
Cornerback is a relatively thin position, especially on the outside. Rookie Michael Ojemudia showed flashes of quality over his first year, and the aim should be to move Bryce Callahan into the slot. While that position could be addressed during the draft by the likes of Patrick Surtain II. It would make sense to find that extra experienced help through the free agency.
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That could be the formula for the make-up of the roster going forward. Supplement a young core with players they can learn from to help create and sustain long-term success in Denver.