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'We're still in the thick of it': GM George Paton expresses faith in current roster, maintains expectations for 2021 success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Broncos dealt outside linebacker Von Miller to the Rams on Monday, their possibilities for the future multiplied in a significant fashion.

With an additional second- and third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Broncos gained draft capital that could prove quite valuable.

"We love it," George Paton said Tuesday. "It gives us flexibility to go get a player, it gives us flexibility to move up in the draft, move back. We really can do whatever we want, and that's what you always want to do going into a draft. So we like where we're at."

The exciting options that those picks and that flexibility could bring, though, will have to wait. As Paton met the media after the 2021 trade deadline, he emphasized that the Broncos are fully focused on the success they could find in 2021.

"Moving forward with this team, I believe in the players here," Paton said. "I believe in the coaches here. We're 4-4. It hasn't been perfect. We've had some ebbs, we've had some flows. We have a long way to go, but I do believe in the players. We're 4-4 — everything's in front of us. We're still in the thick of it. But yes, we do have a long way to go. Really look forward to the second half of the season, and that starts Sunday with the Cowboys, a great football team."

With their .500 record, the Broncos are just half a game out of the final wild-card spot, and they're 1.5 games out of first place in their division. As the second half of the season approaches, Paton said he believes the team can continue to improve.

"I still believe in this team," Paton said. "We're 4-4. People think we're 2-6. We haven't played great football and we're 4-4. I'd like to think we're going to play better."

Paton dismissed the notion that trading Miller signified that the team was moving toward a rebuild, saying instead the team is working to build its foundation "the right way."

"We have a lot of good players here," Paton said. "That's not fair to Justin Simmons. That's not fair to Teddy Bridgewater. That's not fair to some of our core guys to rebuild. I think we have enough players here. Now, do we need to continue to build the foundation to get where we need to go? Certainly, and we will continue to do that, and that's what we've done with some of these trades."

The team's leaders — Simmons, Bridgewater and the rest of the Broncos' captains — met with Paton on Monday after news of the trade broke, and Paton expressed his belief in Denver's current roster.

"I just told them I believed in them," Paton said. "I believe in the players that have to replace Von. You saw that [Sunday]. This is not a fire sale. We believe in all these guys. We're 4-4. Everything's in front of us. So we had a long conversation. I think they're all in. I know they're all in. We traded one player. He's a great player. But we believe in the guys behind him. We believe in this roster. We do need to play better. Everyone needs to know that. There is an urgency. … We haven't played great. We need to play better. But the fact of the matter is we're 4-4 and we're still in it. I believe in these guys, and I believe they can turn it around."

As the Broncos have aimed to right the ship, Paton said he's been impressed by Head Coach Vic Fangio's steady demeanor over the course of the season.

"I just want to say one of the reasons I took this job was because of Vic Fangio," Paton said. "It hasn't been easy this week, this year with Vic. We've had a lot of adversity to overcome. The thing I like about Vic [is] he's stayed the course and he has not flinched. It's kept everyone in this building even-keeled. Vic just works. I'm really proud of the way he's gone through this. I've been around others that have folded and the building's up and down. Vic is very steady. Again, we've suffered a lot of different things and he's stayed the course."

Paton did acknowledge that the team's offense, which has averaged 19.6 points per game, must improve. He offered his support for Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur, saying Shurmur has "had a lot of success" during his career, but he noted Denver needs to be better on "critical downs [and] critical areas of the field." And while he also sees room for Bridgewater to improve, he knows Denver must play better around their quarterback who is on pace for a career season.

"Teddy's done a lot of good things," Paton said. "Obviously there's a lot of things he needs to work on, but we need to play better around Teddy. We need to protect him better, we need to run the ball better. We need to be better on defense. We need to get off the field on defense. Special teams — we had a mistake a week on special teams for the first four, five games. So we need to play better around Teddy. He needs to play better. He knows that. But he's a calming force, he's provided great leadership. Especially when you lose four games in a row, things can go off the rails pretty quick, but the steady leadership of Teddy and Vic, they've kind of kept us together."

Across the roster, Paton pointed out players who can help the Broncos improve over the final stretch of the season. He rattled through the list of pass-rushers who remain in Miller's absence, discussed the trade additions of Kenny Young and Stephen Weatherly and explained the impact Noah Fant can have on the offense.

And in the locker room, players like Simmons, Bridgewater and Courtland Sutton will be the ones to spur that change — and to lead the Broncos forward.

"I think we have some really good leaders [like] Justin and Teddy and Courtland Sutton," Paton said. "I think we have some good leaders and like I told them, 'This is your team now. This is your team. Von was here. It was his team. Now it's your team. And you lead — you lead these young players.' I think they're excited."

The options for the future look promising. Following the Miller trade, the Broncos have 11 picks — and Paton said they'd "be aggressive" in using them. Those decisions, though, are weeks and months away.

The 2021 season isn't over, and Paton made it clear it's not too late for these Broncos to still make a splash.

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