DENVER -- George Paton cemented his status as a slight frontrunner for the Broncos general manager's job on Tuesday.
A source confirmed to Denver7 that he has arrived in Denver this afternoon for a second interview, one of two candidates to reach this point. Paton, as outlined in previous stories, remains the most experienced of the candidates. He will tour UCHealth Training Center today, and the Broncos could push to hire him before he returns to the airport.
Terry Fontenot was also impressive in his initial talk and conducted a second Zoom interview Tuesday. His took place virtually because of COVID-19 protocols as the Saints remain in the playoffs. He is considered a finalist for the Falcons job, according to NFL Network.
The Bears' Champ Kelly is viable contender, but has not received a second interview. Whether he does likely depends on how Tuesday goes with Paton and Fontenot. Brian Stark impressed in his interview, but it would be difficult for the Broncos to stay in-house when they have promised a "fresh set of eyes" in the GM chair.
Paton has served as an assistant GM for the Vikings for 14 years, leaving him ready for the next step. He has been patient in looking for the right fit, and has emerged as a strong candidate for the Broncos and Lions. He pulled out of the Browns GM search last year after his in-person interview, uncomfortable that the owner would not meddle. He was also a finalist in San Francisco when John Lynch paired with Kyle Shanahan.
So how would the Broncos land Paton, who has been selective, given the likelihood that president of football operations John Elway and CEO Joe Ellis will exit in March of 2022, and the unknown hanging over the ownership question?
In my opinion, it will require a strong commitment with the contract in terms of length and dollars. A five-year deal, for instance, could offer security to Paton in the face of uncertainty. He would also be arriving with the coach in place and has to be comfortable working with Vic Fangio, who will likely enter training camp on the hot seat after back-to-back losing seasons. However, the Broncos will give Paton the resources to succeed and are desperate to end their five-year playoff drought, tied for the second longest active streak in the NFL.
Remember, the Broncos are competing with the Lions. Minnesota GM Rick Spielman provided a glowing recommendation to his brother Chris, a former Pro Bowler, who is now a special assistant to the Lions president. Paton's nephew Rob is a college scout for the Broncos.
Paton has remained loyal to Rick Spielman, but is this the year he makes the jump to run his own team? To get Paton, and really any new GM, the Broncos must provide the GM final say, independence and authority, which Ellis has indicated will happen as Elway will be consulted on big decisions, but not be part of the daily operations.
Talking to industry sources, they describe Paton as a strong personnel man, who has worked under the radar and has never sought media publicity. He has been part of a front office that boasts strong draft picks, including most recently running back Dalvin Cook, All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson, and cornerback Trae Waynes, and undrafted free agent star receiver Adam Thielen.
As for Fontenot, he features a fascinating story. He played college ball at Tulane as a starting safety then began his career with the Saints as a marketing intern 18 years ago. He has worked his way up into the front office, becoming a trusted voice on personnel matters. He reports to GM Mickey Loomis, who spoke highly of Fontenot last week, and coach Sean Payton. Fontenot has contributed to free agent signings and waiver-wire additions. Fontenot is known for his outgoing personality and work ethic.