MOBILE, Ala. - John Elway began by making the general manager job look easy.
The first player he drafted was Von Miller. His first five seasons ended with the Broncos winning AFC West titles. His team played in one Super Bowl thanks to a record-setting offense, and two years later won a Super Bowl on the strength of a historical defense.
Elway was a Golden Boy all over again. But in these last two seasons, Elway has needed thick skin. Luckily for him, all those years of playing quarterback in the Broncos-crazed town of Denver had already developed extra layers of epidermis.
“You know, it comes with the territory,’’ Elway said in an interview with 9NEWS following a Senior Bowl practice Wednesday. “It’s expectations. We have those same expectations of ourselves. Every time you go through a 5-11 year, it’s miserable. I don’t think people understand how miserable it is going through it. As hard as it is for them, it’s hard for us, too.’’
Before Vance Joseph and his Broncos coaching staff led the Senior Bowl North team to their on-field practice Wednesday at Ladd Peebles Stadium, they held a walkthrough in a second-floor hallway at the SMG Mobile Convention Center.
Bill Musgrave, the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, set up chairs in a defensive-like formation on the far side of the hallway. The North squad offense then walked through plays. It’s an exercise every NFL team often goes through in hotel ballrooms the night before a game.
On the other side of the hallway, leaning back on a table and sipping on a cup of coffee, was Elway. He was watching the walkthrough.
“Just to be around them, get as much as you can,’’ Elway said later. “It’s good to be around football, see how these guys learn.’’
Here at the Senior Bowl, Elway got a long look at quarterbacks Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. Which one does he like? He likes them both. He likes non-seniors Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, too.
Much as all NFL teams try to guard their information, in the end there are no secrets when it comes to evaluating the top players. Put together a list of the top five players at every position and every team will have at least four in common.
Everybody gets the same film on these players and the film doesn’t lie. When it comes to player evaluation, no scouting tool tops the tape.
“It is about the tape, but that’s only part of it,’’ Elway said. “You’ve got to find out what they’re made of and if they love the game. It’s a hard game. If they don’t love it, it’s hard for them to be successful.’’
Thing is, if Elway signs say, Washington’s Kirk Cousins from free agency, he won’t draft a quarterback at No. 5.
With that No. 5 overall draft pick, it doesn’t matter what player Elway takes. All that matters is he selects the right player.
“Any time you draft that high you have to make ‘em count,’’ Elway said. “We’ve got a lot of picks so we have the ammo also (to trade), so we’ve got to make sure we make them all count.’’
Joseph may have inadvertently put some pressure on his boss earlier in the week when he said, “you rarely miss (with draft picks) when you coach this game.’’
“I hope he’s right,’’ Elway said with a laugh. “Anything we can do to improve our misses, we’ll be in good shape. The hard thing is getting to know them. When you’re around them in the meeting room as well as on the field, it’s much better than a 15-minute interview at the Combine.’’
Six weeks before the draft, the Broncos are expected to be active in free agency. Their needs may exceed their $25 to $30 million in salary cap space, but you can always manipulate cap room.
Besides quarterback, the Broncos figure to make changes at tight end, offensive tackle, defensive line, inside linebacker and cornerback, and possibly running back and receiver. And Elway the former quarterback will never pass on a quality edge player who can rush the quarterback.
After free agency, the Broncos will have nine picks in the draft. Elway has work to do. No matter how much success he had through the first five seasons of his general manager’s term, if the Broncos are at a crossroads, so is he.
Which brings a dash of excitement to the offseason.
“You’re going to have those years,’’ Elway said. “We don’t expect that. Our expectations of what we do as the Denver Broncos, the expectations that Pat Bowlen had and the family has is to be competitive year-in and year-out. We didn’t do our job last year so it's a great challenge for us to get that turned around this year.’’