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Still need time to evaluate him

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When it comes to the immediate future of Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, newly hired general manager George Paton will be both judge and jury.

Paton, who was formally introduced Tuesday in his new job, faces some big-ticket items on his immediate to-do list, with a decision on whether Lock is, or isn’t, the starter in 2021 and beyond right at the top. And it’s a decision Paton has to, initially at least, dig into on his own.

“The best way is for George to go and evaluate [Lock] himself and not have myself, [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] or [quarterbacks coach] Mike [Shula] influence his thinking,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “Let him take a sterile and unbiased look at it. We can come back together, and he can express his views based on what he’s seen. We can answer some questions for him. … [But] it’s best for him to form his own opinion without the influence of me or the other coaches.”

Lock, in his first full season as the starter, flashed his potential at times, especially down the stretch, including his four-touchdown day Dec. 13 against the Carolina Panthers and his 339-yard, two-touchdown day in the season finale. But he also finished the year last among the league’s starting quarterbacks in completion percentage (57.3) and tied for the most interceptions (15) as the Broncos had the worst turnover margin in the league (minus-16).

The Broncos, who have started nine different quarterbacks since halfway through the 2017 season and also started running back Phillip Lindsay behind center against New Orleans this season because of COVID-19 issues, have missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons. They haven’t finished above 19th in scoring since 2014 and were 28th in each of the past two years.

“I liked Drew coming out of the draft — big arm, athletic, playmaker,” Paton said. “I haven’t studied him. I haven’t gotten into a lot of tape. I’ve only been here four days. I’ve watched enough tape to know he’s talented and he can develop.”

Paton, who came to the Broncos after 14 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, the last nine as the team’s assistant general manager, has the final decision on the Broncos’ roster makeup, the draft and free agency. He noted Tuesday the importance of “stability” at quarterback for a team that has had little of that behind center since Peyton Manning retired.

He also said the Broncos will explore every avenue to improving the position as they evaluate Lock.

“The quarterback is the most important position in sports. If you don’t have stability at quarterback, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining winning,” Paton said. “I think we all want the franchise quarterback, and that’s the No. 1 goal is trying to draft and develop or acquire any way you can.”

Broncos president of football operations John Elway, who stepped away from the GM role and was a key figure in hiring Paton, has said he will offer his opinion on Lock to Paton, but that Paton does indeed have the final call. Elway has said he continues to like Lock’s potential, but that Lock has to put in the work this offseason.

“I’m still high on Drew; he has the physical abilities to do it,” Elway said Tuesday. ” We’re going to continue to look at that position — you always are — and look at the opportunities that you have. George will go through that whole process, and if there is an ability for us to get better at that position and better than we think we have, then George will make that decision … I still think that Drew is a young guy. He showed flashes this year, but he made mistakes. Young quarterbacks always make mistakes. I made a million mistakes my first two or three years, but it’s how you can learn from those.”

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