George Paton's news conference and ensuing one-on-one interviews had just ended down below when an old friend began heckling the Broncos' new general manager from the second floor of TCO Performance Center.

"You a celebrity now?"

Paton smiled.

"You running for mayor?"

Paton smiled.

"I'm up here watching film. Do your job!"

Paton smiled, waved aside Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman's humor and joked about finally being free and unmuzzled after 14 years as Spielman's top assistant/best friend.

"It's really weird to be back in Broncos colors," Paton said before the second day of joint practices. "But I'm where I'm supposed to be. It needed to be a special opportunity for me to leave. Denver is that place."

Paton had multiple offers to leave over the years. He certainly chose a lofty challenge for his GM debut.

From 2012 to '15, Peyton Manning helped the Broncos to a 50-14 record, winning four consecutive division titles, appearing in two Super Bowls and winning one in his farewell season.

Since then, the Broncos are 32-48 with no playoff appearances and nine different starting quarterbacks. If former Viking Teddy Bridgewater, whom Paton traded for this offseason, beats out Drew Lock, that number will rise to 10.

"I know what [the fans] have lived through," Paton said. "I know the quarterback is a high importance. I'm not panicked. I'm not panicked about the quarterback position. I like our two quarterbacks."

Paton, of course, would have liked the position a whole lot more had he been able to shake Aaron Rodgers free from Green Bay. Rodgers' offseason of discontent conjured much interest in the reigning league MVP, with Denver being among the more likely landing spots had the Packers not rejected all offers and any notion of parting with Rodgers in 2021.

Who knows? Maybe Paton lands Rodgers before the 2022 draft. Until then, the rookie GM is getting a classic taste of the No. 1 pressure in his business: finding a franchise quarterback.

"I don't look at it as pressure; I look at it as a challenge," Paton said. "We all want to get that quarterback, obviously. You need one to get where you want to go."

Asked for his definition of a "franchise quarterback," Paton said, "Someone who can win games on their own. When things aren't going right, someone who can take over a game no matter what the O-line is, what the receiver is, and can win games on their own."

Lock, a second-round pick, is 8-10 in two seasons as a starter. Bridgewater hasn't been an effective full-time starter since 2015, when he helped the Vikings to an 11-5 record and the NFC North title in his second season.

Of course, one could argue the Vikings also don't have anyone who fits Paton's lofty definition of a franchise quarterback. Kirk Cousins is being paid like one but is 26-22-1 as a Viking, including 1-1 in the postseason.

The Vikings tried to trade up for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in this year's draft. Paton, however, passed on Fields and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones to select cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall.

If Fields and/or Jones become star players, the pressure mounts for Paton. That doesn't seem to faze him.

"I've said the quarterback position is the most important position in sports," Paton said. "But we made our decision because we thought Pat Surtain was the best player available at the time. So we took him. We're happy, we're moving on. We wish [Fields and Jones] well."

Paton has other pressures to deal with, including the considerable shadow of Broncos legend John Elway. Paton replaces Elway as the GM with final say on personnel, but works for Elway, who still wields the title of team president.

No problem, Paton says. It was time to move on from Minnesota and his "best friends" — Spielman, salary cap guy Rob Brzezinski and now-retired scouting executive Scott Studwell.

"It's kind of weird to see the Vikings media contingent in that I never really got to know you in 14 years," Paton said with a smile. "Rick kind of had a muzzle on me. The muzzle's gone."