ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — General manager George Paton stepped to the podium and praised Von Miller as an icon. He ran off his accomplishments — he is an eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro and Super Bowl 50 MVP — and shared a story that made Monday more difficult.
Miller showed up at linebacker coach John Pagano's son's youth football game over the weekend. Paton was there because his own son was playing. Miller signed autographs with every kid and parent that asked. The next time Paton talked with Miller on Monday, he told him he was traded to the Rams.
"I didn't sleep Sunday night. This was not easy. This guy is an icon. He can still rush the passer," Paton said. "But it's a win-win. We wanted to do right by Von and you have to make the best decision for your franchise moving forward. I felt it was at this time."
Paton pocketed a second and third round pick in 2022 — the best the Broncos could have received if Miller departed as a free agent was a compensatory fifth rounder in 2023 — and moved forward with flexibility in the draft, while remaining confident about the present.
Often when a star player is dealt, it signals surrender on the season. When I asked, Paton insisted that was not the case.
"This is not a fire sale. We believe in all these guys," Paton said. "I met with the leadership group and all of our captains and told them I believed in them. I believe in the players who have replaced Von. We are 4-4. Everything is front of us. And so we had a long conversation. I think they are all in. I know they are all in. We traded one player. He's a great player. But we believe in the guys behind him. We believe in this roster."
Paton assembled this group, his first as a general manager. The Broncos have shown more athleticism and depth. But they have dropped four of their last five games. Last Sunday, the Broncos announced 11,755 no-shows in the home game against Washington, a hint of the growing frustration in Broncos Country.
"I appreciate our fans. I understand it. I have a son. He didn't appreciate that we traded Von Miller. He's still not talking to me. I am in it every day. I see the emotion in it. I see what goes on with our coaches and players. We were 3-0 and everyone thought we were the greatest thing since sliced bread," Paton said. "It can be very fragile. Despite everything we are 4-4. It's not what wanted, but I do think we will continue to improve."
As the red-faced October replaced the warm glow of September, the outside criticism of coach Vic Fangio and embattled offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has grown. Fangio has only been over .500 for three weeks in three seasons. Shurmur's offense ranks 23rd in points (19.6), 30th in sacks allowed (25) and 28th in third down conversion rate (34.7%).
"I just want to say that one of the reasons that I took this job was Vic Fangio. It hasn't been easy this year with Vic. We have had a lot of adversity to overcome. The thing I like about Vic is that he has stayed the course and he has not flinched and it has kept everyone in this building even keel. Vic just works. I am really proud of the way he's gone through it. I have been around others who have folded," Paton said. "Yes, we need to be better on offense. Pat knows that. The players know that. Pat has had a lot of success in this league. I believe in Pat, but we do need to play better. We don't seem to have a lot of rhythm when we are in critical downs and critical areas of the field. We need to run the ball better. And they are working on it. I do believe in Pat."
The Broncos sit a half game out of the playoffs. They can say with a straight face that they are in the mix. At issue is the schedule. Denver's four remaining road games are at Dallas this Sunday, Kansas City, Las Vegas and the Chargers. Three have a winning record, and the Chiefs boast 11 straight victories against the Broncos.
It is a challenge. And it is one that begins without Von Miller, a future Ring of Famer and Hall of Famer.
"Obviously, we feel good about the trade, but it wasn’t a great day here," Paton said. "We all miss Von already. The accountants, the HR department, everyone was a little down.’’
Tight end Noah Fant was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Left tackle Garett Bolles is expected to miss Sunday's game with a high ankle sprain, and Bryce Callahan (hyperextended knee) is likely out as well, possibly for a few weeks.
The Broncos traded rookie seventh-round pick Kary Vincent Jr., a cornerback from LSU, to the Eagles for a sixth-round pick in 2022. He became expendable with the anticipated returns soon of Essang Bassey, Michael Ojemudia and Mike Ford.