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Broncos seem to commit to keeping G.M. George Paton, with one caveat

Tom Brady rallied the Bucs late in the fourth quarter to force OT and ultimately pulled out a Christmas win on the road, defeating the Cardinals 19-16 in Week 16.

With new ownership in Denver firing coach Nathaniel Hackett with two games left in his first season, the next question becomes what becomes of the man who hired Hackett -- and who both traded for and paid quarterback Russell Wilson?

Is General Manager George Paton safe?

The statement issued by the Broncos implies that he is, with one caveat.

“I will lead our head coaching search with support from our ownership group and George [Paton], whom I have confidence in as our general manager,” CEO Greg Penner said. So Paton apparently is safe.

Unless he isn’t.

“Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise’s winning tradition,” Penner also said.

How can the evaluation not include an objective analysis of the process that resulted in the hiring of Hackett, given that other candidates who were hired elsewhere have done inordinately better than Hackett? From Kevin O’Connell to Mike McDaniel to Brian Daboll, each are first-year, first-time NFL head coaches. And each have their teams in the mix for postseason play. (O’Connell’s Vikings clinched a spot nine days ago.)

Even Bears coach Matt Eberflus has at least looked the part for a team that was overmatched from the get go. The highlight came from the crafting of a game plan that dismantled the Patriots in their own building on a Monday night in October.

For Hackett, there really was no highlight.

Paton also made the trade that brought Wilson to town, compounding the blunder by signing Wilson to a massive contract before he ever even played in a game -- and at a time when, surely, someone could have noticed that perhaps Wilson wouldn’t be the guy he’d been in Seattle.

If a careful evaluation of the football operations will indeed be conducted, it’s possible that the evaluation will cause Penner to lose his confidence in Paton. Another factor becomes whether Penner settles on a new coach who either wants his own personnel executive or intends to run the show himself.