Trading away Von Miller ends one era and ushers in the next for George Paton and Broncos

Von Miller celebrates a sack. Credit: Dennis Schneider, USA TODAY Sports.
Von Miller celebrates a sack. Credit: Dennis Schneider, USA TODAY Sports.

George Paton is less than one year into his role as the Denver Broncos general manager, and although he’s changed the way the team makeup looks slightly through one draft, his era just began in earnest.

On Monday, Paton traded away Von Miller, ending the “win from now on” era which was led by John Elway. Sure, Elway’s still in the building in Dove Valley, but he’s no longer calling the shots.

And somewhat ironically, Elway’s first ever draft pick was Miller — No. 2 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft — arguably the best, highest pick the franchise has ever made. That era came after one of the darkest periods in Denver’s football history, in which Josh McDaniels drove the team off a cliff. Not only did he trade away the team’s starting quarterback in Jay Cutler, McDaniels’ teams were woefully underprepared every week, and then he was caught taping another team’s practice, too.

Following that disastrous 4-12 season (most losses in a year) and McDaniels getting fired before the season was through, Elway took over and led an incredible resurgence of the Broncos. Miller was the cornerstone defensively, although Elway built around his once-in-a-generation talent at edge rusher with players like Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and TJ Ward.

Oh, and a guy named Peyton Manning led the best offense in the history of the NFL (2013). Elway’s era was marked by the “No Fly Zone” being a tough-nosed defense and Manning’s high-flying offenses, going to two Super Bowls and winning Super Bowl 50 with Miller leading the way as MVP.

But, it’s been a long, long time since Miller sacked Cam Newton twice in that Super Bowl. Hell, look at how far the then-MVP of the NFL Newton has fallen, all the way out of the league. That year, he truly was a super man, throwing for 35 touchdowns and rushing for 10 more. He was seemingly unstoppable until Miller and the “No Fly Zone” shut him down and embarrassed him.

Some argue Miller ended his career.

But the last five years have been ones to forget in Broncos Country. Not just for the team — who’s gone 36-52 since Super Bowl 50 — but for Miller too. Miller, the face of the franchise for nearly a decade, faded in 2019, missed all of 2020 and deserved to play somewhere else for the rest of 2021 and into the future.

He may be on the decline, but he still has a lot to give a team, and honestly it’s great he gets to chase another ring this year.

But back to the Broncos, who officially kicked off a rebuild with his move. The move itself hurts fans, but it was actually a smart, prudent trade by Paton to secure a second and third-round draft pick for a player who’s on the decline and would be a free agent at the end of the year either way.

Stockpiling picks is the right move when one has to rebuild a franchise in their own image, or at least, by their own design.

And while we know the Elway-Manning Era was marked by elite defense and a Hall of Fame quarterback in his twilight leading the way, we’re not quire sure exactly how this next era will shape up.

What we do know, is Paton doesn’t draft the same way Elway did. Paton’s first draft was marked by athleticism first and foremost. Many of his players — Patrick Surtain, Javonte Williams, Caden Sterns and even Quinn Meinerz — were among the most athletic prospects at their position per “relative athletic score.”

Surtain is a should-be perennial Pro Bowler, and he’ll likely be one cornerstone from which Paton will build, and overall, the Broncos immediately have more speed, quickness and raw athleticism from Paton’s first draft. Let’s hope that continues.

In free agency, he’s showed the ability to go out and trade for starters (like Teddy Bridgewater) and sign them too (like Ronald Darby). But it will be interesting where he stands on big-time players, like say, Aaron Rodgers. We’re just not sure yet what he’s willing to do to get a guy like that.

And as far as the coaching staff is concerned, it seems more than likely that Paton will kick off his era by firing Vic Fangio, Pat Shumur, Tom McMahon and the rest of the group this offseason. Fangio has been, at best, so-so as a head coach. He’s floundered in terms of clock management, timeout calls and when choosing to go for it on fourth down for most of his two-and-a-half years in the Mile High City.

Fangio’s defense has, at times, lived up to its billing as a top-10 unit. And at others, has looked completely lost. The image of Miller being forced to cover a slot receiver earlier this year and getting burned will forever be an embarrassing play on Fangio’s resume.

And Fangio’s reluctance to move on from McMahon — the team’s special teams coordinator — and/or Shurmur, hurts him, too.

So, with Miller getting traded away, it’s the end of one era and the beginning of the next.

However, it’s an awkward time to start a new era, right in the middle of the season.

Even at 4-4, and with the Broncos in the hunt in the AFC West, it’s going to be a long and arduous rest of 2021. And, most likely, 2022 will be a long year, too.

It’s tough to do, but try to have patience, Broncos fans. If everything works out, your Broncos will finally be competitive again starting in 2022 or maybe 2023. But before then, Paton has a lot of work to do.

Let’s see what this George Paton Era is all about.

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