BRONCOS

Patience is the key for George Paton during “free agency frenzy”

Mar 15, 2022, 6:42 AM
DENVER, COLORADO - NOVEMBER 28: Denver Broncos general manager George Paton walks out on the field ...
(Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The NFL had a “free agency frenzy” on Monday, but the Denver Broncos didn’t really participate in the activities like other teams around the league. I awoke early on Monday, and I waited for 10:00 a.m. when the legal tampering period opened in the NFL. I thought we might see the Broncos make some big moves – like adding pass-rusher Chandler Jones – early in the day. Instead, I waited until around 8:00 p.m. before the team made a move of note.

So, why didn’t the Broncos make a splash early in free agency? It’s the plan Broncos general manager George Paton has for the team. He’s going to wait and let the market come to him.

Paton is a calculated individual, and he knows the type of player he wants to add at the right price he wants to pay. He’s not desperate, even though the Broncos are desperate to get back to their winning ways.

Patience is the key with Paton. Let’s examine why.

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Paying the Right Price

The first day of free agency can bring some head scratching deals for players who perhaps aren’t as good as their new contracts would indicate. Now, I’m all for players making as much money as possible as soon as possible because of the nature of the league, but some players are simply overpaid. Many of these types of mistakes can be made early in free agency when teams with a lot of salary cap space have money to burn.

Look at what the Jacksonville Jaguars did on Monday. With a handful of players (six to be exact), and the most salary cap space in the NFL, the Jaguars negotiated $229.5 million of contracts in one day. They have a lot of work to do, as they are the worst team in the NFL, but did they really have to pay a guy like Zay Jones more than $8 million annually when he has scored only two touchdowns over the last three seasons? The simple answer is no – and I’m not throwing shade at Jones, but it’s clear the Jaguars were impatient and battling against themselves in a bidding war they didn’t need to get into.

The Broncos negotiated and signed both Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick last year during the regular season. With the contracts thrown around on Monday for guy like Jones, Christian Kirk (four-year, $72 million) and other wide receivers (not just Jaguars LOL), it’s clear to see that Paton paid the right price. Instead of letting Sutton and Patrick hit the open market – with the inflated prices – Paton forecast the market correctly and decided paying both early was the best plan for the Broncos.

By not jumping into the market right away the Broncos will miss out on some players – but they’ll also miss out on the overspending most teams do to open free agency.

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Stay Humble

The NFL is always a humbling league. The Broncos have allowed their own players to explore the open market, and some of them are finding out that not much – or as much as they expected – is out there. That means the Broncos could keep good players from their roster for a better price.

Who would have guessed that the first Broncos player signed away from the 2021 team would be quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? With guys like running back Melvin Gordon and inside linebacker Josey Jewell available, one would think they’d get snatched up before the veteran, average-at-best quarterback. Not many could have guessed that Bridgewater would have a new team for 2022 before the likes of Gordon and Jewell.

There has been interest expressed from both sides about staying together. Gordon has exclaimed more than once that he’d like to stay with Denver, and he has more reason now that his former college teammate at Wisconsin of Russell Wilson is here to start at quarterback. With the running back prices for Chase Edmonds (Miami Dolphins, two-year, $12.6 million) and James Conner (Arizona Cardinals, three-year, $21 million), it was wise for the Broncos to stay patient with Gordon. His price tag of $8 million over each of the last two seasons ranked in the top-10 at the position, and Gordon could push for a similar price tag in his next contract.

I thought the Broncos would get Jewell signed before the start of free agency, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he’s exploring his options and may not be finding the deals he thought he would. It’s a cold reality in the NFL, but it’s one we’ve seen many times – and perhaps most recently with safety Kareem Jackson. Just last year, the Broncos released Jackson only to bring him back after he explored the market on a deal that was half the price of his original price tag. That could be the same case now with Jewell.

Now, the Broncos can bring back Jewell or Gordon (or any of their other free agents) at a better price because they were patient and let those guys explore their options. It’s humbling when your value as a player might not match what you think it is – but NFL teams are coldblooded and will risk losing players just to save money.

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Patience, Then Pounce!

Paton is clearly a determined general manager, and over the last 12 months we’ve seen his style of management come to the forefront. He is patient with what he does, and Paton does not make many mistakes while still making big moves – at the right time.

The day was winding down on Monday when Paton proved again how he can find the right player, the right price and the right time. As people expected the Broncos to basically punt on day one of legal tampering, it was announced they had come to an agreement with San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones. The interior defensive line market was hot on Monday, but Paton was sure to get Jones at a good price – not an inflated price – by signing him to a three-year, $30 million contract.

I liked Jones coming out of college where he started one season at Ole Miss. He’s well built at 305 pounds and is tough to move off the line of scrimmage where he dominates as a one technique. Jones can stuff the run, but he’s light enough on his feet to get off the snap quickly and get into the backfield. If the play goes away from him, Jones has the motor to chase a play down from behind. His tackles for loss (17 over the last two years) shows how he can make plays in the backfield. Appearing in all 17 games for the 49ers, Jones ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 20 interior defensive lineman in 2021.

Jones is a fine player for the Broncos and an upgrade on the middle of the defensive line. Instead of breaking the bank to sign him early in the day, Paton waited and then pounced at the right time. I know Broncos fans wanted to see “sexier” moves as legal tampering began, but just stay patient and I’m sure patience in Paton will pay off with good players (and some great players) at good prices.

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Patience is the key for George Paton during “free agency frenzy”