BRONCOS

The Broncos have been giving everyone clues about their Fangio decision

Jan 7, 2022, 6:52 AM
DENVER, COLORADO - NOVEMBER 28: Denver Bronco head coach Vic Fangio takes the field with his team a...
(Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

As the Broncos finish their third-straight losing season under head coach Vic Fangio, many feel firing Fangio is a formality. Whether Fangio stays or goes, George Paton is currently staring down his biggest decision as Broncos general manager.

We know very little about Paton and how he approaches these types of situations. But in the one year he’s been the GM, his decisions and words provide clues on how he operates.

Based on his actions, don’t be surprised if Paton retains Fangio.

Prior to the Broncos loss to the Chargers last Sunday, Ian Rappaport of the NFL Network reported that a decision had not yet been made on Fangio’s future. This is baffling. The three-season sample size should be more than enough for Paton to know which direction he would like to go with Fangio. There’s not much to learn about Fangio in the final two games of his third season as head coach.

The only way Rappaport’s report makes sense is if Paton is looking to continue with Vic Fangio.

Rappaport’s report shared similarities with the Broncos 2021 draft. The Broncos had the ninth-overall pick and were in desperate need of a quarterback. The odds were that one of the projected first-round quarterbacks would be available.

Then, one day before the draft, Paton traded for Teddy Bridgewater. It was deflating. There was speculation that the Broncos could still draft a quarterback, but the writing was on the wall, Paton would not be drafting a quarterback.

The excitement over a rookie quarterback was gone and Paton drafted cornerback Pat Surtain II. Mike Silver wrote a column for NFL.com on Paton after the first round and there was an interesting quote. Paton discussed how much he enjoyed being in Miami when Surtain’s father, Patrick Surtain Sr. played for the Dolphins:

“Just watching him (the elder Surtain) in practice every day, it was awesome,” Paton recalled. “Every play was like a battle. He and Sam (Madison) would get after it; they’d fight receivers and never let up. He was just a dawg.”

When it came time to make a franchise-altering move at quarterback, Paton opted to go the safe and familiar route with Surtain. Paton ensured he wasn’t saddled with the pressure of drafting the franchise quarterback in his first NFL Draft, instead opting for a sure thing in Surtain. Justin Fields and Mac Jones were much more-volatile picks than Surtain. Paton wasn’t willing to roll the dice so early in his GM career.

The timing of the Bridgewater trade was interesting. It was a subtle nod that the Broncos weren’t going to draft a quarterback. Trading for Bridgewater the night before the draft, the Broncos told us that they weren’t drafting a quarterback without specifically telling us. The Broncos slow-rolled the news.

Much like the wishy-washy leak from Ian Rappaport, the Broncos slow-rolled the possibility that Fangio could be back as Broncos head coach. The Broncos subtly let everyone adjust to the unpopular news versus creating uproar out of nowhere.

Rappaport’s report was like the Bridgewater trade. It was very telling about the Broncos plans without stating it directly. We were left in the dark, but not really.

Draft night might not be an apples-to-apples comparison for the head-coaching situation, but there’s a bigger reason to think Paton will try and keep Fangio. Paton told us.

By Week 8, the Broncos 2021 season was spiraling. The Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak with an embarrassing win over the Washington Football Team. With the Broncos turning in five-straight disappointing performances, Paton addressed the media (after trading Von Miller).

It was at this time that Paton stated that Fangio was a big reason he accepted the job as Denver’s general manager. Everybody laughed off this statement, but it appears he was telling the truth. We can criticize Paton’s moves as GM, but there’s no reason to think he’s a liar.

Paton likes Vic Fangio. Paton appears to be loyal.

Paton spent a long time in Minnesota, long-lasting relationships matter to him. It’s easy to see why Patrick Surtain II and Teddy Bridgewater were Paton’s biggest offseason moves. Paton was familiar with Bridgewater and Surtain, and (for good reason) liked both players.

From what we’ve seen in Paton’s biggest decisions, relationships are important, and he makes the cautious/safe decision. It’s only been one season and this evaluation of Paton could be completely wrong. We don’t know much about Paton, given that it was his first season, this approach makes sense. Maybe it changes as he enters year two.

There’s a possibility that Paton, who has a six-year contract, wanted to get short-term wins under his belt. Surtain is not a franchise quarterback, but he’s a franchise player, so the selection is hard to criticize. This was Paton’s first draft as a general manager and getting it right may have been more important than stealing headlines. Which is understandable. Keep in mind, Josh McDaniels’ first draft was a disaster; Paton may have been looking to avoid that.

The issue Paton faces now is that being cautious is not going to win long term. As good as Paton was in acquiring new talent in Denver, the Broncos did not improve on the field and yielded zero Pro Bowlers.

At some point, Paton must be bold. It’s commendable that he’s not jumping at the opportunity to fire his head coach. A measured approach is never going to be a bad thing. Paton’s biggest issue is that he likes Fangio but doesn’t have a strong football argument for keeping him. Unfortunately, liking Fangio is not a reason that is going to satisfy fans that are tired of watching their team lose.

Until we see Paton make a move that says otherwise, it’s not wild to think he’s going to stick with the coach he knows. We can point to Fangio’s shortcomings all we want, but Paton’s opinion is the one that matters most.

George Paton has been in the NFL a long time, but he’s only been a general manager for one season. Based on his approach this past season, don’t be surprised if the Broncos keep Fangio. Paton hasn’t shown to be a gambler that pushes all his chips to the table, he’s more likely to try and break even. Breaking even works for a while, but eventually you must place a big bet to win.

If Paton keeps Fangio, the perception will be, fair or not, that Paton would rather sacrifice winning than have an awkward conversation with somebody that he likes.

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The Broncos have been giving everyone clues about their Fangio decision