Seven NFL teams are undefeated. Five of them didn't make the playoffs last year. Two of them — Denver and Carolina — changed quarterbacks in the offseason.
And one of those two — Denver — is making an early pitch for George Paton to win NFL Executive of the Year.
Paton is the Broncos' first-year general manager. He's also the longtime former Vikings assistant general manager.
While Paton was unable to shake Aaron Rodgers free from his offseason of unhappiness in Green Bay, he did swing a bargain-basement trade with Carolina that's paying off early on.
Paton acquired old friend Teddy Bridgewater — the understated QB who went 17-11 with an NFC North title in his first two seasons with the Vikings — for only a sixth-round draft pick. Then Paton got the Panthers to pay Teddy B. $7 million of the $11.5 million owed to him this year. How's that for salary cap management at the QB position?
Carolina, of course, isn't complaining about the fire sale that followed the trade for Sam Darnold. Not with Darnold, the former Jets punching bag, sitting 3-0 after Thursday night's win at Houston.
The Panthers are paying Darnold $7.6 million this year. So, for those keeping score at home, that means Carolina is paying $14.6 million of the $19.1 million being doled out to two undefeated starting quarterbacks in two different NFL cities in opposite conferences.
With Bridgewater on a one-year contract, Paton's options in 2022 are wide open. Perhaps he lands Rodgers. Or drafts a quarterback a year after passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones to select cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall. Or, who knows, maybe Bridgewater settles in Denver for a bit.
Some will laugh at that last notion. Bridgewater doesn't have the big arm. Neither does he have the mobility of the modern quarterback. He's an old 28, having missed all but two quarters of two full seasons after that gruesome knee injury in Minnesota in 2016.
But here is some of what Bridgewater has done this year:
- He was even money to beat out incumbent Drew Lock. He didn't wow anybody, but he won the starting job.
- With a sturdy, healthy-again defense overshadowing him, he faced a couple layups to start the season. Again, he didn't wow anybody, but he did beat the Giants and Jaguars to start the season 2-0 on the road.
- He's quietly completed 77.1% of his passes — second behind Baker Mayfield's 81.6% — with four touchdowns, no turnovers and a 120.7 passer rating.
- His play has quieted the heat on Paton for not drafting Fields or Jones. Surtain, a plug-and-play defensive rookie of the year candidate, had an interception in his first NFL start last Sunday.
Ask the 2020 Vikings and Broncos how important cornerbacks are.
"George went through the same thing at Minnesota that we went through last year," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "We both have our scars from that."
The other three teams to start 2-0 after not making the playoffs last year are the Raiders, Cardinals and 49ers. The Cardinals and Raiders also started 2-0 last year before they both finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
The Broncos started 0-3 last year. Lock, Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien combined to complete just 59.5% of their passes with three interceptions. The Broncos finished 5-11, starting four players at quarterback, including running back Phillip Lindsay's infamous performance when the NFL's COVID-19 protocols sacked Denver's entire quarterback room before the Saints game.
The last time the Broncos started 2-0, they got Vance Joseph fired for finishing 6-10 in 2018. The last time they were 3-0, they missed the playoffs at 9-7 in 2016.
Next up for the Broncos is another layup: home against the Jets.
Bridgewater was asked this week about taking the Jets too lightly. He cited a famous Bill Parcells quote about not swallowing all the praise that's served up before playing an inferior opponent. Apparently, Teddy has become close enough to the Hall of Fame head coach that they text back and forth.
"My mentor," Bridgewater called Parcells. "He texted me Sunday after the game, and he was like, 'Man, don't take the cheese. It's poison. It's rat poison.' Those are constant reminders to stay grounded, respect the game and continue to work hard."
When Bridgewater won the starting job, Parcells talked to the Denver Gazette. His words further explain Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's affection for Bridgewater.
"I can tell you that you can expect consistency and that the Broncos have a player that's committed to doing things to help the team win," Parcells said. "He's a team player first, and I think that's what every team needs."
TURNING THE TIDE?
There are 2-0 teams that missed the playoffs last season:
1. Raiders: Started 2-0 last year but finished 8-8. Week 3: vs. Dolphins.
2. Cardinals:Also started 2-0 and finished 8-8 last year. Haven't been 3-0 since 2015. Week 3: at Jaguars.
3. Panthers: Started 0-2 last year en route to 5-11 finish. Week 3: Won at Texans Thursday.
4. 49ers: 2019 Super Bowl team went 6-10 during injury-riddled 2020. Week 3: vs. Packers.
5. Broncos: Started 0-3 last year and finished 5-11. Week 3: vs. Jets