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GM George Paton: The Broncos Have A Me Problem

2:16 PM EST on December 27, 2022

DENVER, COLORADO - SEPTEMBER 18: General Manager George Paton of the Denver Broncos walks on the sidelines prior to the game against the Houston Texans at Empower Field At Mile High on September 18, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. ( (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Nothing beats taking the blame for a disaster quite like firing someone else for the reason you're taking the blame in the first place, which is why Denver Broncos general manager George Paton's Tuesday acknowledgement he is the reason why Nathaniel Hackett had to shove off with immediate effect Monday is such a delight. The entire "I suck so you have to go" is so American business—so performative, and yet so preposterous.

What Paton actually said in his banshee two-step with the annoyed-at-having-to-work-Monday-and-now-Tuesday Denver medioids was “There is no one to blame but me,” with a side of “I take full responsibility for where we are as a football team. I brought in the head coach, I brought in most of the players.” By that logic, he is the one who should be frogwalked to the parking lot with as many purloined office supplies as his cardboard box can hold.

But this isn't about logic, this is about pretense, and the players know it, the new owners know it, and Paton knows it. Hackett was a profound failure and probably overstayed his welcome by 14 games, Russell Wilson may be a nine-figure disaster that nudges well into the second half of the decade, and team morale has not been lower since … well, Sunday. The Broncos are a Denver institution that since its last Super Bowl has the worst winning percentage of any area franchise not named Colorado State, and Paton's big splashes in his 700-some-odd days in the chair are Hackett, Wilson, and Wilson's contract, of which the worst is probably the contract.

Yet Paton’s office remains unchanged since the day he first redecorated, and the responsibility he claims to take is mostly of the I take responsibility for having to fire the coach I hired and having to constantly mutter under my breath about the quarterback I gave five draft choices and $243 million of my bosses' money to obtain variety. Put another way, there is his version, and then there is this. But "I take full responsibility" always sounds better than "I fucked that up" because responsibility is always more amorphous a concept than fucking up, even if the two are equally non-specific.

The one saving grace for Paton is that he has only been on the job since last January, while the most damning part is that he is no longer working for the same people who hired him, and the new guy (Rob Walton) is the richest owner in North American sports, and the ultra-rich don't have to be as patient with human beings as they would be with, say, the filter for the lap pool off the conservatory.

In fairness, the presser also included CEO Greg Penner, who was asked by one intrepid person why Paton gets to take responsibility while Hackett gets to take his ass down the road.

“George and I have had a chance to get to know each other,” Penner said. “We’ve talked every day since we purchased the team a number of months ago. And he acknowledged right up front, there were a couple of decisions that haven’t worked out as he expected. But I understand his thought process. He understands the work that needs to be done in this offseason. And I’m going to rely on him heavily as we go through and make these changes.”

In short, there may be more responsibility-taking come January, no matter how often Penner invokes the I-like-the-cut-of-whatshisname’s-jib clause in Paton's contract. This is such a steaming disaster that Hackett's 15-game tenure may soon be contextualized by Paton's 32-game tenure, but for the moment Paton is protected by the fact that he gets to talk to Penner, and by extension Walton, more often than anyone else on the football ops side, so he can take the kind of responsibility that makes him look more like a victim than a perp.

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