Rick Spielman knew if George Paton was ever going to leave his side, this was going to be the year.
The eight-year Minnesota Vikings GM had a feeling his right-hand-man, Paton, was going to finally pull the trigger this offseason and accept his own general manager position. And that's exactly what happened Wednesday when the Broncos hired Paton.
"I know he's been more than prepared, even before he finally took this opportunity," Spielman said Thursday in a news conference. "He could have been a GM anytime in some of those interviews, but I know how selective he's been in making sure that it was the right fit. There was no question when he called me, and I knew that the Denver Broncos was finally the right fit for George Paton.”
Paton has spent the last 14 seasons with Spielman in Minnesota, serving as the assistant general manager the last eight. The two first met in Chicago in 1997 working for the Bears and have spent time together in Miami as well, becoming one of the best front office duos in the NFL. This has led to Paton interviewing for several GM openings the past few years, including with the Lions and Panthers this season.
Spielman said he knew when the Broncos called, that he and Paton had probably spent their final season together.
"I was trying to prepare myself to be honest more than him knowing that this may be the year that with so many GM jobs opening up that this was the year that he was probably going to take an opportunity. I knew it," Spielman said. "He's such a man of integrity and such a high character person and an unbelievable family man that I knew he wasn't just going to take a job to say I'm a GM. It had to be a very special place, and I think Denver presented everything that he was looking for to leave here — not only from the business side and the football side, but also from the family side as well.
"I know when we talked about it, and in the years past we talk about all the organizations that he would go interview with and decide whether to go or not go, but I knew when we were talking about Denver that Denver is one of the top organizations in the NFL."
Spielman detailed what exactly the Broncos will be getting in Paton as a general manager, saying Denver "got an incredible not only talent evaluator, but an incredible person."
He explained that Paton has been a part of every major decision the Vikings have made over the last eight seasons, from the draft to free agency to the 53-man roster. He said he has an "aura" about him that allows him to connect with anyone, and has especially been able to build strong relationships. He talked about Paton being an "outside the box thinker" and his approach to analytics. And he gave examples of Paton's work ethic, telling the story of when the two lived in a hotel for 30 days last spring during the pandemic to prepare for the draft.
Above all, Paton said Paton is someone who allows new ideas and who is "going to be very open minded."
"From how we operated here, everybody has to have a voice in the decisions that you're making," Spielman said. "George's philosophy is very similar to that. I don’t want to put words into George's mouth, but I know he will take a lot of input from a lot of people. He is a great listener, and he has an even keeled demeanor to the nth degree. Nothing rattles his cage. A lot of the things that we have been through, he has been a guiding force as far as keeping everything calm, especially in situations when adversity does hit."
And if there's one thing Spielman knows about Paton, it's that he'll be ready for anything thrown his way.
"I know he has a specific plan on what he needs to get accomplished when he gets there and he gets going," Spielman said. "I know free agency, the draft, understanding the roster — I don't want to speak for him, but he'll have a plan in place on what needs to be done and what needs to come to the forefront."