For the past couple of decades, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and best bud George Paton have been attached at the hip.

They met in the late 1990s as members of the Chicago Bears front office. At the time, Spielman was the director of pro personnel, while Paton was an intern trying to break into the business. But Spielman saw something special in Paton.

The two saw eye to eye on so many different levels, and when Spielman moved on to become the vice president of player personnel with the Miami Dolphins, he made sure Paton followed soon after.

“It took me a year,” Spielman said. “I knew that was the No. 1 person I wanted to bring there down with me. Then, when I came here to the Vikings, it took me a year, but I was not going to give up until I was able to get George Paton up here with me.”

That was well over a decade ago, and on Wednesday, the Paton finally decided to carve out his own path, accepting an job offer to become the new general manager of the Denver Broncos. It’s the type of opportunity Paton, 50, has been waiting for his entire life, and while Spielman was happy for him, he was sad to see him go.

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“It was a very emotional day,” Spielman said. “I don’t believe I would be in the position I’m in without having George Paton by my side through everything that we’ve been through. He’s been my sounding board, my closest friend, and truly like a brother to me.”

It’s not the first time Paton has been courted by another organization. He’s been a candidate for a handful of general manager jobs in the past and has always decided to stay with the Vikings. Why was this time different?

“He wasn’t looking just to jump to become a general manager,” Spielman said. “He was looking for a general manager job that he felt was the right opportunity for him, and the Broncos, I think, fit everything that he was looking for.”

Throughout his Vikings tenure, Paton wore many different hats in the front office, most notably helping the team draft 15 players that went on to make the Pro Bowl. Over the past 10 drafts, no team has selected more future Pro Bowlers (10) than the Vikings.

Maybe more importantly, Paton helped keep Spielman in check on a regular basis, unafraid to stand up to his superior whenever the time called for it. That’s something Spielman acknowledged when asked what he’s going to miss most about Paton.

““I would say probably his friendship and our relationship,” Spielman said. “Just having someone there who tells me that, ‘Hey. You’re screwing up. Let’s get this fixed.’ More on the personal side.”

For now, the Vikings don’t have any immediate plans to fill Paton’s position. According to Spielman, the plan is to get through the 2021 NFL Draft with everyone working in their current roles in the front office, then reassess the situation.

Even when the Vikings do replace Paton at a later date, it won’t be the same for Spielman, who loved working alongside his best friend over the past couple of decades.

“The biggest honor I had is when George and his wife Barb asked me to be the godfather of their son Beau,” Spielman said. “As much as we’ve been through together over the past 20 years, to lose that is hard. But I’m so excited for George to get his opportunity to go to, I believe, a great organization, and to go to a place where I know he’s going to have an opportunity to have a lot of success.”