Of the seven new NFL general managers in 2021, the Broncos’ George Paton and the Panthers’ Scott Fitterer are experiencing the best seasons.
But “best’’ is comparative. The other five are languishing in the Game of Throes. Their teams have a combined record of 10-37-1. Together, the “best’’ are 10-10.
Brad Holmes’ Lions haven’t won a game, but tied the Steelers last Sunday. The Texans and GM Nick Caserio are 1-8; the Jaguars and Trent Baalke are 2-9; the Washington Football Team and Martin Mayhew are 3-6, and Terry Fontenot and the Falcons are 4-6 after losing to the Patriots Thursday night.
Fontenot was the Broncos’ other finalist. The rest never were in serious consideration.
Carolina and Denver remain in the running for the playoffs, with the Panthers, before Sunday’s game, in the seventh/last spot in the NFC, while the Broncos are 12th in the AFC in the bye week.
Fitterer might seem the slight favorite for the Rookie GM of the Year Award (which doesn’t exist), but he gets many more minus points for trading for quarterback Sam Darnold (giving up a sixth round 2021 pick and second and fourth selections in 2022) and also dealing Teddy Bridgewater to the Broncos for a six-round choice in the past draft, and agreeing to pay $7 million of his $10 million ’21 contract.
Darnold was a toad, ranking 23rd in passing stats before being placed on injured reserve for four-six weeks with a shoulder fracture. The Panthers will be starting a third quarterback Sunday. Old friend and jettisoned QB Cam Newton is back.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater is 12th in the league in passing stats, but has fallen to 25th in ESPN overall quarterback rankings after the Eagles’ loss.
Both the Panthers and the Broncos have suffered through injuries to major players. In addition to Darnold, the Panthers were without Colorado’s Own Christian McCaffrey for five games, and former Broncos’ center Matt Paradis is gone for the season.
The Broncos have dealt with a multitude of injuries to linebackers, offensive linemen, receivers and cornerbacks.
Paton perseveres. Since the beginning of October he has made more than 50 player moves involving free agent signings, practice squad changes, injured reserve designations and returns, trades and COVID protocols. He traded away Von Miller for second and third picks in ’22, and he acquired Kenny Young, who was an immediate starter at inside linebacker.
You really can’t tell the Broncos’ players without a program.
Paton has proven to be a qualified, quantified, quality general manager in his first year.
Six of his 10 draft picks – Pat Surtain II, Javonte Williams, Quinn Meinerz, Baron Browning, Caden Sterns and Jonathan Cooper – have become significant contributors in their first year. His off-season free agent signings have produced four starters and two backups.
A playoff position or at least a respectable record of 8-9 or 9-8 would verify that the Broncos’ brass of Joe Ellis, John Elway, Vic Fangio and Patrick Smyth made the correct decision.
Especially relative to hirings by four or five other NFL franchises.
But serious clouds hover above George at Dove Valley.
If he wants to rise to the level of four “real’’ GMs in Broncos history, or surpass 12 more, Paton’s place will not be judged on his accomplishments this season, but, rather, by what he does in the following years.
The Broncos can’t be inconsequential for seven-eight seasons or a full decade – and be like Lions and Bears, Jets and, ye gads, Raiders.
Paton, who turned down at least three opportunities to become a GM before accepting the Broncos’ offer, may have thought he was coming to a Charmin-soft old Cowtown where the fans will accept mediocrity, the media will not criticize harshly and the crowd will pack the stadium every game and always be content just to chant “In-com-plete’’ about opponents’ passes and the Broncos’ progress.
Paton must be the first Broncos’ GM ever to draft a quarterback who not only can start for more than three seasons, but will lead the Broncos back to the Super Bowl. Only one drafted quarterback has even won a playoff game.
Or Paton must trade for a veteran quarterback who will accomplish those objectives. Denver deserves better than 10 starting, and lousy, quarterbacks in six seasons.
George Paton has earned a pass for one year. But not beyond.