ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Rick Spielman began his tenure as the Vikings' vice president of player personnel in 2006, bringing George Paton to Minnesota was high on his to-do list.
The two men had worked together in Chicago in the late '90s and again in Miami for the early part of the next decade, and Spielman wanted him alongside him in Minneapolis.
"When I had the opportunity to come up here to Minnesota, there was no question he was the number one person that I had to have on my staff," Spielman said Thursday.
Paton arrived in Minnesota in 2007, and over the last 14 years, he's doubled as both Spielman's right-hand man and close friend. Now, Paton is the Denver Broncos' newest general manager.
"I've been in this business going on my 31st year, and I give a lot of credit to George for being there, being my sounding board, being someone who I trusted not only on the business side when we're talking about everything, but as a friend," Spielman said. "Probably my greatest honor was when he asked me to be his son's godfather — Beau, when Beau was born. So, when I got the call from him that he was going to accept the job in Denver, it was amazing the emotions I personally felt. I was so excited for him because there's no question that he is more than ready to run his own shop and to lead an organization with a historic club that has a great tradition out in Denver. But in the same sense I'm losing probably — besides my brother Chris — my best friend that I have and my closest friend that I've had.
"I know he's been more than prepared, even before he finally took this opportunity. He could have been a GM any time in some of those interviews, but I know how selective he's been in making sure that it was the right fit. There was no question when he called me, and I knew that the Denver Broncos was finally the right fit for George Paton."
Spielman, who has been the Vikings' GM since 2012, said he anticipated Paton would finally make the move this year to another team's front office given the number of available jobs. But it was also clear to Paton's longtime friend that Paton wouldn't make the move for the sake of change.
"He's such a man of integrity and such a high-character person and an unbelievable family man that I knew he wasn't just going to take a job to say 'I'm a GM,'" Spielman said. "It had to be a very special place, and I think Denver presented everything that he was looking for to leave here — not only from the business side and the football side, but also from the family side as well."
Spielman believes Paton is prepared to succeed in Denver, both because of his makeup and his experience working in close conjunction on trades, draft decisions and free-agent signings.
The latter should lend itself to the plan Paton will develop for the Broncos, which should become clear in time.
The former, though, will likely determine whether he is successful in implementing his plan. Spielman's assessment of Paton's work ethic and leadership skills suggest he has the necessary traits to lead the Broncos' front office forward.
"What makes George incredibly unique is his work ethic," Spielman said. "What do you want to call it — a 'grinder.' I know how much film that we've watched together. Out of all the years we've been together, probably the thing that will stick out to me the most was last year … when the pandemic hit, and me and George moved into a hotel together for 30 days and got up, and that's all we did. We conducted our draft meetings. After the draft meetings, we would sit there and go through everything that we discussed today. After that, I said, 'Let's go ahead and do the board.' We would sit there and play with the board and [say], 'What do we want to present to the scouts tomorrow and to the coaches tomorrow off of everything that we know?' For me, that was invaluable to have a person that I trusted so much that had the work ethic that he had. … I remember I went up to bed that night and I came back down — I forgot something — and it was something we discussed that he wasn't sure of, and he was back down there watching tape again.
"So, Denver's getting an incredible talent evaluator — and you're not an incredible talent evaluator, in my opinion, unless you're sitting there willing to do the work and do all the extra work that it takes and willing to look under every stone to find talent, and George does that."
And as the Broncos decide which talented players to pursue, Spielman believes Paton will foster an open environment that is conducive to collaboration.
"He is going to be very open-minded," Spielman said. "From how we operated here, everybody has to have a voice in the decisions that you're making. When people feel they're a part of the decision — whether they agree or disagree — they felt they had their say on their opinion. That's the buy-in — getting everybody to buy in on that final decision. George's philosophy is very similar to that. I don't want to put words into George's mouth, but I know he will take a lot of input from a lot of people. He is a great listener, and he has an even-keeled demeanor to the nth degree. Nothing rattles his cage. A lot of the things that we have been through, he has been a guiding force as far as keeping everything calm, especially in situations when adversity does hit."
Spielman acknowledged that there will be growing pains at times and that Paton will learn from certain decisions. But after nearly two decades working alongside each other, Paton will now have the chance to direct his own department.
"I'm excited for him because now, although when we talked and put our plan together he always had a big influence and a big input on what we've done and how we did things, and now he's got a chance to run the show there," Spielman said. "I'm anxious to see what he puts in place and some of the ideas that he may have on how to move forward."