ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After making the tough decision to trade Von Miller, General Manager George Paton understands the raw emotions currently felt in Broncos Country.
Miller, after all, wasn't just a generational player for the Broncos. He was also the face of the franchise for several years, a bona-fide superstar with the personality to match as he forged a bond with the Denver community for more than a decade.
And while Paton hadn't been able to see that in person until he joined the team earlier in 2021, he still was able to get the experience in his limited time around Miller. Even days before the deal, Paton was shocked to see Miller at the same park where Paton's 12-year-old son, Beau, was playing a youth football playoff game.
"I show up to the game, and Von Miller's at the game," Paton said. "I'm like, 'Wow, OK.' And he was there to see [Outside Linebackers Coach] John Pagano's son play Pop Warner football. And that's just the kind of guy he is. As we were standing by Von, watching the game, 100 kids came up to him. He signed every autograph, and he offered to take selfies with every kid. Adults were coming up to him. This guy's a special player, a special person."
The accumulation of all of that —the lovable personality, the icon status, the accolades and the talent — made the decision that followed days later more difficult for Paton, but it also made him and the Broncos' decision-makers more resolute in finding the right destination. Considering Miller's contributions to the franchise over the past 11 years, Paton said he and the team resolved that if they weren't able to put him in the best possible position, they wouldn't agree to a deal.
"We wanted to do right by Von," Paton said. "He's done right by us for 11 years. We were going to do [him] right; otherwise, we weren't going to trade him. We were going to keep him."
The Broncos had three potential trade partners, Paton said. Before accepting the Rams' offer on Sunday night, they discussed their options.
"We just didn't think [the other options] were the right fit for Von," Paton said. "We really wanted to do right by him. We wanted to send him to a winning franchise with a great head coach and a top-notch defense, and we were able to accomplish that."
Finalizing the deal left Paton with a sleepless night, he said. The next morning, he'd be the one to sit down with Miller to break the news — a conversation that Paton described as "the hardest thing I've had to do."
"Just with my conversation, it was honest, it was open, it was emotional," Paton said. "We talked about Von's career and how far he's come. We talked about our current team and how much he loved our team. And we talked about the Rams and how he fits. … Really, we had a good conversation. But the main thing I communicated to Von [was], 'This is a win-win.' We could have moved Von somewhere else, but we wouldn't do that. We wanted to do right by Von. We sent him to a great franchise, a team right in the thick of it, and he's really going to fit in there and really help with the second part of his career."
The emotions at every step — in considering the decision or having the hard conversations afterward — is something Paton understands. His own son is currently giving him the silent treatment, he joked.
"This was not easy," Paton said. "This guy's an icon. He can still rush the passer. But you have to make [the decision] if it's a win-win, like I said. You have to make the best decision for your franchise moving forward, and we just felt that this was at this time."
But while Miller may be starting anew elsewhere, the respect that so many have for him in Broncos county will forever remain.
"We're going to miss Von, but he's always going to be a Bronco," Paton said. "And just on behalf of everyone at the Broncos — Joe Ellis, John Elway, Vic Fangio and really our entire building, our entire staff — I just want to thank Von for all he's meant to this organization, all he's meant to our community. And he's always going to be a Bronco."