ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For better, then worse, none other than John Elway, the greatest Bronco player of them all, spent the previous 10 years building Denver’s roster.
He began in 2011 with an inherited 4-12 mess left behind by Josh McDaniels. The first move Elway made, he took Von Miller with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft. (Free agency that year was delayed until the start of training camp because of the offseason lockout).
Behind Tim Tebow, a quarterback Elway admired for his uncanny ability to pull out games late but could never embrace long-term because of his passing struggles, the Broncos won their division, then a playoff game in that magical first season of 2011.
Then came the free-agent gamble of luring superstar-if-injured quarterback Peyton Manning. It was the best move Elway ever made as GM. The Broncos ran off a four-year, regular-season record of 50-14, plus notched two Super Bowl appearances and a Lombardi Trophy. Segment the record and accomplishments and a case can be made Elway had the best five-year start as a GM in NFL history.
Only to be followed by the Broncos’ worst five-year stretch of the past 50 years.
And so Elway and Broncos’ CEO Joe Ellis mutually agreed it was time for a fresh set of eyes to evaluate talent and new ideas on the methods of roster building. Elway moved upstairs to a consultant role. His official title is president of football operations. Which was his title before only it was followed by a slash and GM. Now, there’s no slash or anything after it.
George Paton, who spent the previous 14 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant GM, became the new guy in charge of building the Broncos.
Which leads to question No. 7 in 9NEWS’ series on 9 questions confronting the Broncos as they report to training camp one week from today.
7. What will John Elway’s role be in 2021?
Issue: Elway has one year left on the five-year contract extension that made him the NFL’s highest-paid GM following the 2016 season. He and Ellis headed the GM search committee that led to Paton’s hiring.
Background: Thanks in part to Elway’s unwillingness to interfere, Paton has been the man making all the decisions this offseason. It was Paton who addressed the team’s gaping cornerback void by signing Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in free agency. And it was Paton who decided to double-down by using the team’s No. 9 overall selection in the first round to take another cornerback, Patrick Surtain.
Elway offered input. He watched tape of the college prospects entering the draft, particularly the first round-caliber quarterbacks and top-20 prospects overall. Elway liked quarterback prospect Justin Fields. And Elway liked Surtain.
Paton made the call on Surtain.
Resolution: Elway will still work. And Paton is an inclusive decision maker. He absorbs the opinions of each scout. And he does want, even seeks, input from Elway. Elway will be present during Broncos training camp. Maybe not every day, but he’ll be around. He’ll give his two cents to Paton on players currently on the roster, and any possible transaction. But the removal of stress that comes with making every single roster and football operations decision for the past 10 years in such a public forum has Elway relaxed and feeling like he’s semi-retired. He played a lot of golf in late-spring/early summer.
Let’s see what happens once the season begins and Elway’s ever-prodigious competitive juices get triggered.
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