ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Maybe it should have been expected that Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton would sign their new contract extensions within essentially 48 hours of one another.
General Manager George Paton said Monday afternoon that it was mere coincidence, but considering the two receivers' bond, perhaps it's more fitting just to say it was poetic justice.
That these two fourth-year receivers — both physical, both nothing short of dedicated to their craft, both hard to cover and both hard to tackle — made the decision to stay in Denver for the next several years, well, it just made sense.
"We grew together," Patrick said. "I came in a little bit earlier, but it's kind of like we both came in at the same time because my first year — considering the [practice] squad — it doesn't really count. We kind of came in together, and we've just seen each other grow. We see each other get better day in and day out. I don't think you could come up with a better story than us both being under contract here and being able to lead this team [to] more wins."
Despite all the similarities, the two receivers' routes to Denver couldn't have been much more different. Sutton arrived to much fanfare as a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Patrick, meanwhile, had an extremely challenging path as an undrafted player.
After entering the league as a college free agent in 2017, he was cut by the Ravens and 49ers before ultimately winding up in Denver on the team's practice squad. From there, Patrick began to build as a player. The following season, he emerged as a reliable special-teams player, which helped him make the 53-man roster, and then the Broncos began to test the waters with him on offense, and found him to be undeniable.
"This is something you can only dream of being — undrafted and starting from the bottom," Patrick said. "You literally take levels of your confidence like, 'All right, they want me to play special teams. I'll be the best special team player.' Then you get a couple reps here and there at receiver, then you're starting. There were just a lot of levels, a lot of patience, and a lot of self-motivation to get where I'm at now. I couldn't even dream of something like this. I'm very thankful."
When Patrick's received opportunities over the years, he's capitalized at a high level. When Sutton missed almost the entirety of the 2020 season, Patrick caught 51 passes for 742 yards and six touchdowns. And even with Sutton back in 2021, Patrick has not taken a step back; he has 37 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games.
That kind of hard work endeared Patrick not only to the Broncos' front office and coaching staff, but also to his teammates.
"We've grown to become brothers," Sutton said. "When I saw him get his deal done, I was so excited for him. You look at his journey. I know y'all kind of touched on it, but my dog touched two different teams before he was able to get here. Then he got here and he had to grind his butt off to be able to get into the role and to be able to play receiver. To see him in the space that he's in now — I know I tell y'all all the time how proud I am of him. I'm happy I get to do this alongside him. I'm excited for the continued success that we have going on."
Like Sutton, Paton could see what made this formerly unheralded receiver so special.
"He represents everything we want as a player: the hard work, the production, dependable, he's smart, he's tough, [a] hard worker [and] he brings it every day," Paton said. "… [It's] just a great story of perseverance with Tim. Undrafted out of college, overlooked [at the] University of Utah, and then he bounces around the NFL. He finally finds a home in the Denver Broncos but as a special teamer. I mean, he was one of the best or better special teamers they had here, and then he just kept working. He's emerged as one of the top young receivers in the NFL, and it's just a credit to Tim. [I] couldn't be more proud calling him and just congratulating him on the phone. This guy is self-made, and he's earned it."
While Patrick could have tested free agency after the season, he said Monday that he didn't really care to. The trust that the team had placed in him was a reward in its own right, and he didn't want to leave that.
"Why would I want to leave somewhere that believed in me?" Patrick said. "Just by them putting an offer on the table, I was ready. I was ready to sign right away. I'm forever thankful for the Broncos. because they didn't have to sign me. I could have been out of the NFL. Just by them giving me a chance, it made all this possible."
Sutton's time with the Broncos has been different, but it was no less a roller-coaster ride. After a promising rookie season, the Broncos slotted him into a starting role in 2019. That bet paid off, as Sutton caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns — good enough to earn him a Pro Bowl selection.
His third season ended barely after it began; Sutton missed the season opener with a shoulder injury and then tore his ACL just 31 snaps into a Week 2 game against Pittsburgh. Over the following year, Sutton attacked his rehab with a physical drive that matched his relentlessly positive outlook. The work has produced impressive results; Sutton is on pace for a second career 1,000-yard season, and he's recorded single-game personal bests in receptions and receiving yards this season.
Paton counted himself among those who were awed by Sutton's skill and mindset.
"Great teammate, hard worker, top intangibles and just as a receiver, [he has] the rarest combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism," Paton said. "He's really hard to defend, and just what he's come through — [in] 2019, this guy's one of the top receivers in the NFL, [then] obviously has the ACL injury last year. [He] didn't mope, didn't pout, and you see him out here every day just working and grinding. He did it with a smile on his face. I would come out here [because] I'd be in a bad mood up there. I just wanted to come out here and just see him work because it put me in a better spot. When I think about Courtland, I think about unique competitiveness day in and day out. This guy has a will to win."
Patrick's and Sutton's path to this moment have been quite different, but it couldn't feel more fitting that they'll move forward in Denver together.
"This is home," Sutton said. "Like Tim said, Denver gave me an opportunity, and getting drafted was one of the best days of my life. I've always said that being a Bronco was something I want to do for life."