And then there were three. At least, for now.
After conducting five interviews over the weekend, the Broncos general manager search appears to be down to three final candidates: Minnesota's Assistant General Manager George Paton, Chicago's Assistant Director of Pro Personnel Champ Kelly and New Orleans' Vice President/Assistant General Manager of Pro Personnel Terry Fontenot. New England Assistant Director of Player Personnel Dave Ziegler withdrew his name from the search on Sunday, and Broncos Director of College Scouting Brian Stark is the least likely candidate of the five, as the Broncos have repeatedly said they're looking to bring in a "fresh set of eyes."
Paton, Kelly and Fontenot appear to be the only candidates left, but the Broncos could add a few more names to the mix this week if they want to widen their search. Currently, the three candidates remaining are all up for other GM positions — Paton is also a leading favorite in Detroit, Kelly interviewed with Carolina, and Fontenot has emerged a frontrunner in Atlanta.
This means the Broncos will likely try to move fast this week and conduct a second round of interviews with those three early this week. President and CEO Joe Ellis said on Tuesday last week that the Broncos hope to have some sort of in-person interviews before making a decision. So far, all five interviews have been virtually.
"In terms of the process: Zoom interviews to start, and then I think we’ll get down to a list of candidates," Ellis said. "My sense is Vic and John will want to do those in person, which we are permitted to do. My understanding — socially distanced however appropriate, but I think it’s important to get together.”
Paton and Kelly will be able to do in-person interviews this week, with the Vikings and Bears' seasons being over. Fontenot, though, will have to do another virtual interview due to the Saints advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. Fontenot is the dark horse of the three, and with Atlanta possibly closing in on hiring him, he may soon no longer be available.
According to 9News' Mike Klis, Paton and Kelly have been the leaders so far in the process, with Paton having a slight edge. Paton, 51, is certainly the most experienced of the bunch, having spent the last 14 years as Rick Spielman's (Minnesota's general manager) right-hand man. And Kelly has the most familiarity with the franchise of any of the candidates, working in the Denver front office for eight years (2007-2014) before leaving for Chicago. In an ideal world, the Broncos would probably like to hire both, with Paton being the general manager and Kelly replacing Matt Russell as their director of player personnel.
No matter who it is — Paton, Kelly, Fontenot or someone else — the Broncos' new general manager will definitely have their hands full heading into the 2021 season, with multiple big free agent signings, a top 10 NFL Draft pick, quarterback controversy and an ownership situation that continues unresolved.
With all that on the new general manager's plate, it would only make sense to give them a head start. So don't be surprised if the Broncos have a new general manager by the end of this week or next.