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Examining draft-day trade history of GM George Paton, HC Sean Payton ahead of 2023 NFL Draft

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The past is no sure indication of the future.

Broncos General Manager George Paton and Head Coach Sean Payton are set to work an NFL Draft together for the first time, which makes it difficult to predict what sort of strategy they'll employ when the draft arrives in a little more than a week.

Will they select a defensive player when their first of five picks arrives at No. 67 overall? Or will they add another offensive weapon? Will they bolster the trenches with more size or look for speed at a skill position?

And, then, there's the question that will be on Broncos fans' minds as the first two rounds of the draft tick by: Will the Broncos make a trade?

"It's hard to move up when you only have five picks," Paton said in early April at the NFL Annual Meeting. "We won't rule anything out, but it's hard. I would say we'd be more inclined to move back to get some more picks. We'll see how it goes."

Still, a trade certainly doesn't have to come in the first two rounds. In the past two years, the Broncos have added contributors by moving in the third round. And in New Orleans — where he worked alongside GM Mickey Loomis to make decisions — Payton and Co. found Pro Bowlers later in the draft.

That previous success makes it valuable to take a look back at both Paton's and Payton's draft histories.

And with 32 trades between the two of them during their careers, there's plenty of data to examine.

[Editor's note: These figures only include trades made during the draft. Other deals are not mentioned.]

UP OR DOWN?

Payton and Paton have varied in their approaches to moving up and down in the draft.

In his last 13 drafts, Payton and the Saints made 22 draft-day trades — and they did not trade back once. Payton has traded down just three times, and all three of them came in his first two years on the job. In two of the three trade-downs, Payton's team also received a veteran player as part of the deal. In New Orleans' moves up the board, they included picks from future years in 10 of the 23 trades.

Payton's trades up the board netted the Saints Pro Bowlers like Alvin Kamara (drafted in 2017), running back Mark Ingram (2011) and punter Thomas Morstead (2009). Wide receiver Brandin Cooks and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson were among the other players New Orleans found after trading up.

The Saints also netted Pro Bowlers in their rare trades down the order, as Jahri Evans and Roman Harper both earned Pro Bowl nods.

Paton, meanwhile, has made six draft-day trades in his first two years as the Broncos' general manager. Two of those trades were to move up — including a 2021 trade up for Javonte Williams — while the other four were to move back and collect more picks.

Trades up: Paton – 2, Payton – 22

Trades down: Paton – 4, Payton – 3

TRADES PER YEAR

Both Payton and Paton have had years in which they've been active on the phones during the NFL Draft.

Payton and the Saints averaged 1.7 trades per draft in his 15 seasons, while the Broncos have averaged three trades during each of the team's first two drafts during Paton's tenure.

2021: Paton – 3, Payton – 2

2020: Paton – 3, Payton – 3

2019: Payton – 2

2018: Payton – 1

2017: Payton – 1

2016: Payton – 2

2015: Payton – 1

2014: Payton – 1

2013: Payton – 2

2011: Payton – 1

2010: Payton – 2

2009: Payton – 1

2008: Payton – 3

2007: Payton – 2

2006: Payton – 2

WHEN THE TRADE WAS MADE:

The vast majority of Paton's trades have come on Day 2 of the draft, as he made a pair of trades during the third round in 2022 and a second- and two third-round trades in his first draft.

Payton, meanwhile, made the most trades across the third and fourth rounds. During his tenure in New Orleans, the Saints made 11 draft-day trades during those two rounds — and another four apiece in the first, second and fifth rounds.

First round: Payton – 4

Second round: Payton – 4, Paton – 1

Third round: Payton – 5, Paton – 4

Fourth round: Payton – 6

Fifth round: Payton – 4, Paton – 1

Sixth round: Payton – 1

Seventh round: Payton – 2

THE TRADING PARTNERS:

Both Paton and Payton have more frequently traded with teams outside of their conference — but the edge is far from overwhelming.

Paton's trades lean 4-2 in favor of the NFC, while Payton's swaps are a 14-12 split in favor of the AFC.

What has held true is that neither Paton nor Payton has made a draft-day trade with a division rival.

Interestingly, one of Payton's final trades with the Saints came when the Broncos and Saints swapped picks. Denver received the 98th- and 105th-overall picks in 2021 in exchange for the 76th-overall pick.

Three trades: Payton with Patriots

Two trades: Payton with Commanders, Texans, Packers, Lions, Jets, Eagles, Dolphins, Cardinals and Browns

One trade: Payton with Vikings, Jaguars, Colts, Broncos and 49ers; Paton with Texans, Colts, Packers, Falcons, Giants, Saints

PICKS OR PLAYERS?

The Broncos have yet to make a draft-day trade under Paton that involves a player, though they came close in 2021 when they acquired Teddy Bridgewater the day before the draft.

New Orleans, meanwhile, made three swaps including a player during Payton's tenure. In 2013, the Saints traded running back Chris Ivory to the Jets for a fourth-round pick. During Payton's first year in New Orleans, the Saints traded back twice and acquired Jeff Faine and Hollis Thomas from the Browns and Eagles, respectively.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

The truth is, we cannot be sure — and that's part of what makes this year's draft exciting.

Payton and the Saints were aggressive during his tenure in New Orleans, often moving up the board to snag a player. Paton's time with the Broncos, meanwhile, has featured its share of trading up for a starter (ie. Javonte Williams) and moving down to acquire more "darts," as he calls the picks.

Given their lack of picks, it will be interesting to see how two varied pasts blend to create one strategy.

If their shared history is any indication, though, the Broncos' phones may be busy during this year's draft.

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