Justin Fields was there for the taking.
The Ohio State quarterback looked primed to be the Denver Broncos' pick at No. 9 Thursday night in the NFL Draft. But new general manager George Paton threw a curve ball in his first draft. He took arguably the best defensive player available, Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Heading into the draft, many believed if Fields or North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance — who went third to the 49ers — fell to nine, the Broncos would take one of them. But after trading for Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater Wednesday to compete with Drew Lock this offseason, and possibly being in the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes, the Broncos felt confident in the future of their quarterback room.
"Drew's been working hard every day. Teddy's going to bring some experience to the room, some leadership. So we're really excited for both quarterbacks. We're always looking at every position. And then quarterback's another one. We like the two we have," Paton said. “We are happy with the two quarterbacks we have here. We are really excited for both quarterbacks. We’re just gonna focus on the draft and who we have. We like Patrick Surtain."
Fields eventually fell to Chicago at 11, who tried to trade up with the Broncos, according to 9News. Fields would have been a solid pick for the Broncos, as they've struggled at the quarterback position since Peyton Manning's retirement after Super Bowl 50 in 2015-16.
“Was I surprised he dropped? Maybe a little bit," Paton said of Fields. "We set our board, and he was really high on our board."
But passing on Fields might indicate one of two things: They feel confident in their chances to land Rodgers, who wants out of Green Bay and listed Denver, Las Vegas and San Francisco as his preferred destinations. And secondly, maybe the Broncos are as confident in Lock as they say.
"We're good to go," Paton said. "We're good to open the season with the two or three we have right now. We're open to improving everywhere."
Of course, landing Rodgers is a dream scenario, with him being named the league's MVP last season after a career-high 48 touchdowns. But how likely that actually happens remains to be seen.
And for Lock, who had an up-and-down 2020 season with 16 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions in 13 starts, it means he's still a Broncos for at least one more day and probably one more season.
"We talked to him yesterday. He embraced it. He wasn't fazed a bit," Paton said of Lock. "Nothing fazes him. He's on a mission this offseason. ... He's doing all the right things."