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George Paton: Russell Wilson was our No. 1 target

The Denver Broncos wanted a player under center who would stick with the team for at least two-three years, which is why Russell Wilson is a good fit for them moving forward.

The circumstances suggest that, after Aaron Rodgers decided to stay with the Packers, the Broncos quickly pivoted to Russell Wilson. The Broncos insist that Wilson was Plan A all along.

A week of whispers to that effect became a full-throated proclamation by G.M. George Paton on Wednesday, during the press conference that introduced Wilson as the new quarterback in Denver.

“Once we knew that Russell could be available, he was our No. 1 target, he was our priority for the offseason,” Paton said. “We were going to do anything it took to get Russ. It’s just unique that you can trade a quarterback == a franchise quarterback -- in his prime, and we just felt that we had to take that chance. Just watching Russell this year, once we realized he was available, you dig into the tape. He has elite arm strength, elite accuracy. We feel he has the best deep ball in the NFL. Then, you watch him off schedule, his eyes and his instincts and the play-making ability. The ‘it’ factor that all great quarterbacks have, Russ has. He’s the best in the biggest moments. He’s best at the end of the game, to win the game. The durability he’s had throughout his career is unparalleled. He started the first 165 games [of his career] which I think is sixth-most by a quarterback in NFL history.”

It’s hard to reconcile Paton’s public remarks with the buzz that was making its way around the league in the days preceding the Rodgers-Wilson one-two punch. People believed that Rodgers ultimately was choosing between the Packers and Broncos. There was no indication that the Broncos had exited the pursuit of Rodgers.

Of course, it’s possible that the Broncos did the dance with the Packers in order to squeeze the Seahawks to soften their expectations for Wilson. Likewise, it was prudent for the Broncos to keep their interest in Wilson quiet in order to prevent other teams from realizing that Wilson could be available.

The Seahawks didn’t want to be perceived as shopping Wilson, even though they apparently were. They simply restricted the effort to one team.

On one hand, the notion that Russell Wilson was the first choice would have been more plausible if the Broncos had struck the deal for Wilson before Rodgers made his decision. On the other hand, the narrative easily could have become, “Well, the Broncos must have known Rodgers wasn’t leaving.” After all, Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett came from Green Bay, where he served as the offensive coordinator.

Maybe Hackett’s knowledge of the Packers and Rodgers helped shape the pursuit of Wilson. Hackett arrived in Denver with significant institutional knowledge regarding the Packers and Rodgers. Hackett was able to witness the dynamics, to hear from people like coach Matt LaFleur the things that the Packers would be doing to keep Rodgers around. To possibly glean from conversations with Rodgers that, ultimately, he wanted to use the threat of leaving to get more from the team but that he’d never leave.

Then there’s the fact that Rodgers seems to be squarely in the one-year-at-a-time phase of his career. Wilson wants to keep going, indefinitely and perhaps longer than a decade. Even if Rodgers is the better player right now, the Broncos presumably will have Wilson a lot longer than right now. With Rodgers, they may have had him for only one year, especially if they’d won the Super Bowl right away.