If George Paton wants to make a splash, the first thing he should do as Denver's new general manager is call the Houston Texans.
Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson reportedly wants out and the Broncos, who have their own quarterback problems, seem to be one of the teams that could make a run at the former Clemson QB, who signed a four-year, $156 million contract before the 2020 season. Right now, Denver has anywhere from the third- to fifth-best odds to land Watson, according to oddsmakers.
And Paton doesn't seem to be afraid to take a gamble.
"We’re going to be aggressive," Paton said in his opening remarks Tuesday, "but we’re not going to be reckless in player acquisition."
During his 14 seasons in Minnesota's front office, Paton and the Vikings made the playoffs six times with six different quarterbacks. The Vikings acquired several quarterbacks through the draft (Tarvaris Jackson, Christian Ponder, Teddy Bridgewater), free agency (Brett Favre, Case Keenum, Krik Cousins) and trades (Donovan McNabb, Sam Bradford).
This has led many to believe Paton could make a move this offseason, as Watson won't be the only quarterback on the market. Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Dallas' Dak Prescott all may end up with new homes, to name a few.
“The quarterback is the most important position in sports. If you don’t have stability at quarterback, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining winning," Paton said. "So, very important, but I don’t think the focus should be taken off the defense just because you want a franchise quarterback. I think we all want the franchise quarterback, and that’s the No. 1 goal is trying to draft and develop or acquire any way you can.”
The biggest question Paton has to answer is the same question Broncos Country has been wondering for the last two seasons: Is Drew Lock a franchise quarterback? And if he's not, what are he and the Broncos willing to give up for Watson?
When asked Tuesday about Lock, Paton gave little indication about the quarterback's future in Denver.
“I liked Drew coming out of the draft — big arm, athletic, playmaker," Paton said. "I haven’t studied him. I haven’t gotten into a lot of tape. I’ve only been here four days. I’ve watched enough tape to know he’s talented and he can develop, but I can’t comment on your second question.”
According to several reports, Houston would likely ask for at least three first-round picks, plus other compensation in more draft picks or star players. With that in mind, here's three potential trade packages the Broncos could offer that might get Houston's attention:
Trade 1: 2021 first and second, 2022 first and second, 2023 first, QB Drew Lock, OLB Malik Reed
This could maybe entice the Texans, giving them five draft picks and two young players at key positions, but Houston would have to really like this year's and next year's draft classes as well as Lock and Reed.
Trade 2: 2021 first, 2022 first and second, 2023 first and third, QB Drew Lock, S Justin Simmons
Giving up Simmons is something the Broncos probably don't want to do, but he is probably their most valuable trade asset other than Garett Bolles, who they also likely don't want to give up. Not to mention if the Broncos were to trade Simmons to Houston, the Texans would be taking a risk that he returns as they would have to franchise tag him in the trade.
Trade 3: 2021 first, 2022 first, 2023 first, QB Drew Lock, OLB Von Miller, WR Tim Patrick
This trade doesn't offer as many picks, but does provide a star in Miller and a young receiver in Patrick. The problem, though, is Miller is not only facing an off-field issue, but is also an aging star who's coming off a season-ending injury, which makes him a high-risk option that the Texans may not want to take a chance on.
Sure, one of those three trade packages or a different one could land Watson, but the problem is teams like the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins can offer a much better trade as they both have multiple first-round picks over the next two years. It's also worth noting that Watson has final say in where he goes thanks to his no-trade clause. But with a relatively young roster with young offensive weapons like Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Noah Fant, Denver is certainly one of the more attractive destinations if Watson wants to win immediately.
Whether Watson ends up in Denver or elsewhere, Paton said he won't be afraid to be “involved in every deal that’s out there.” And even though Lock is someone President of Football Operations John Elway drafted and is "still high on," the future quarterback will be Paton's call — just like everything else.
“George will go through that whole process, and if there is an ability for us to get better at (quarterback) and better than we think we have, then George will make that decision," Elway said. "It’s a very difficult position to find. Drew did a nice job this year, but George will continue to look to fill that spot if we don’t think that Drew is that guy.”