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Broncos mailbag: Long live, Elway! But who has the upper hand, Paton or Fangio?

Jay reflects on Floyd Little. New QB options for Paton.
Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, left, stands with Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis, right, before an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Denver.

DENVER — After 10 years of covering John Elway, the George Paton era begins.

Maybe General Paton will bring more success. Maybe he won’t. I know this: There will never be another general manager quite like Elway. It was humbling. It was fun. It was frustrating. It was rewarding.

I look forward to the next six years with Paton. But the days of Elway will be missed. On to the mailbag:

Will Vic Fangio report to George Paton?

--Bob Donegan

Bob – In theory, Fangio and Paton each report to Elway, who remains president of football operations for one more year. As a practical matter, Elway will take considerable time to decompress from 10 years of stress and Fangio and Paton will walk down the hallway to each other’s offices and discuss whatever the roster needs together.

Joe Ellis, the team’s chief executive officer, is seeking a collaboration between the coaching and personnel staffs. Something else to consider in the unstated portion of the Broncos’ power structure: Paton has a six-year contract; Fangio has two more years left on his deal.

There is an organizational chart. And there is the upper hand. The guy with the longer contract has it.

RELATED: Broncos nab new GM George Paton with 6-year contract

Credit: AP
John Elway, Denver Broncos president of football operations, before an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Elway is still the greatest! 

Hire the GM right this second and call the Texans ASAP. Tell Elway to tell Peyton to tell Deshaun we appreciate QB royalty and he's the heir apparent.

Sell your next 2 drafts for him if needed. Go full Ditka if you have to and if you need a costume, do it. 

Your buddy from Woodchuckland,

--Art Mensing

Art – Nice thought. Think of it. Paton can tell Peyton to tell Deshaun that Denver is the place.

At this point, I still don’t give Deshaun Watson much chance of forcing a trade out of Houston. But if Watson should come available, Paton’s recent history with the Vikings suggests the Broncos will be among the teams participating in the Deshaun Derby. What struck me was how the Vikings’ brass approached the end of the 2017 season. That year, Case Keenum had become a cult hero of sorts in Minnesota by leading the Vikings to a 13-3 record, the Minneapolis Miracle and the NFC Championship Game.

But Vikings GM Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and Paton wanted a little bit better, so they threw a then-record contract at a little bit better quarterback, Kirk Cousins. Cousins has always been a nice stat quarterback (97.2 career rating) but he is otherwise a remarkably average with an 51-51-2 won-loss record.

Given the Keenum-Cousins swap, it’s hard to believe Paton won’t look at Drew Lock, see how he was the league’s 32nd rated QB this year with the 35th-best (out of 35) completion percentage and not try to get better. Patrick Mahomes is in the AFC West. Justin Herbert is in the AFC West. Both may be around for the next 10-plus years. The Broncos have long been the quarterback franchise. They have to do better than 32nd.

Having said this, I am conflicted. I do think sticking with Drew Lock for at least the first four games of 2021, with his offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur returning, is better than say, getting a rent-a-QB like Matthew Stafford or Matt Ryan. I think Lock in year three would be better than a Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Trey Lance breaking in as rookies in 2021. Maybe not by the end of 2021 but at the start.

But I thought the Lock-or-bust approach this past season hurt the overall state of the Broncos. It sent the wrong message to the veterans. Lock’s development is more important than winning this game? That’s the way it felt to me.

My guess is the Broncos will keep Lock and Brett Rypien in their quarterback room in 2021 but Jeff Driskel will be replaced by a QB with a couple years of starting experience.

If it happens to be Stafford, who turns 33 on Super Bowl Sunday, then George Paton will have made an immediate big splash with the Broncos. Even if, as we’ve seen with Cousins, big-arm/big-stat guys don’t always bring big winning seasons.

RELATED: Paton's old boss reflects on Broncos' new man in charge

Credit: AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Chicago.

Mike,

Who votes on the MVP and when? Will it be Aaron Rodgers?

Lots of QBs are gonna be on the market. Will the Broncos go after any because I think they may have some money? (I like Matthew Stafford, always have. Have never liked Big Ben or Matt Ryan.)

--Terry from Plainfield

The same 50 voters who select the All Pro teams also select the MVP, Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year awards. Rodgers got 46 of 50 votes for All Pro quarterback so he should beat out Mahomes, who got just two All Pro votes, for MVP.

And yes, I would think the Broncos would explore going after a top tier quarterback, although I can also see Paton and Fangio ultimately deciding to stick with Drew Lock one more year with a Jameis Winston/Teddy Bridgewater-type backing him up in case he falters. Tough call that is about two months away from being made.

Funny, but I always liked Big Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan and thought Stafford was overrated. We’ll see. Paton and Fangio know Stafford well, having competed against him a couple times a year for a few years within the NFC North.

RELATED: With Elway no longer the GM, what about Drew Lock?

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock warms up before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills. Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

As you know Josh Allen spent multiple weeks after year 1 ( prior to OTAs) with a mechanics guru to work on his footwork and mechanics.

I am not sure who arranges it, QB or a team. Maybe you could ask if the Broncos are arranging such sessions for Drew Lock between now and OTAs.

Happy New Year,

Zbyslaw Owczarczyk

Zbyslaw – The QB mechanics guru of whom you speak is Jordan Palmer. He is the younger brother of Carson Palmer, a former No. 1 overall draft pick who had a nice NFL career that may have been Hall of Fame-worthy if not stunted by injuries. Jordan Palmer was a quarterback, too, although he wasn’t nearly as good as his older brother.

But when it comes to coaching the quarterback throwing mechanics and teaching through videotape skull sessions, it’s Jordan Palmer who casts the long shadow. Jordan Palmer has worked with Lock before. And Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Sam Darnold and many others. But Lock also has had a real good QB coach during the season in Mike Shula. Sometimes, it’s not the coach. It’s reps. And sometimes it’s not the coach or the reps. It’s the quarterback.

RELATED: Broncos GM interviews could have Elway asking: What do you think of Drew Lock?

Credit: AP Photo/Ron Schwane
In this Aug. 3, 2019, file photo, members of the Bowlen family, from left to right, Brittany Bowlen, Annabel Bowlen, Amie Bowlen Klemmer, Christina Bowlen, Patrick Bowlen and Beth Bowlen Wallace pose with a bust of former Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen during the induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

An article came out in November stating the NFL was going to fine Denver (and any other team) $10,000,000 a year for not having a single owner, This has not been covered by you or 9News. 

I was wondering why? 

Personally, I think the trust is a major issue in the Broncos inability to maintain their high level of organizational standards and winning ways. 

Will you be covering this story and will the Broncos be sold if the Bowlen sisters cannot act like grown-ups? We the fans the Broncos are suffering due to their selfish ways.

--Dale Jarrett

Dale – Geez, Dale, all the editors I’ve outlasted and I still can’t shake you. The Broncos and the Pat Bowlen Trust have been granted a waiver from this single-owner-or-else rule until May 2022. The extension was granted in light of the lawsuit Pat Bowlen’s two oldest daughters have brought against the trustees.

Mike, the owner of my local Golden Diner, also believes the Broncos won’t fix their losing ways until there’s a new owner. I don’t engage in argument while I’m eating the tasty eggs and biscuits he cooks up, but sometimes I wonder what Broncos fans think they’ll get from an owner that they aren’t getting from the trustees.

The Broncos pay their coaching staff well. When they don’t perform, they get fired and replaced. Now John Elway and Matt Russell are moving aside for a new top two personnel duo. The Broncos won five AFC West titles and went to two Super Bowls, winning one, in the first five years the team was run by the trust (Pat Bowlen stepped aside from day-to-day operations in 2011). The Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, the new cafeteria, the entire headquarters’ and weight facility renovations, all were funded in this decade of the trust.

The team spends to the annual salary cap. Ask Elway. The trustees provide the resources necessary to win. But the Broncos haven’t won, not for four consecutive years.

Football success is about the quarterback, the head coach, the GM and the owner, in that order. Must have all four to win big.

Pat Bowlen was a Hall of Fame owner. Would his bust had been bronzed had he not had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Elway and Hall of Fame-caliber coach in Mike Shanahan? 

The Chiefs went 50 years between Super Bowls. Then they get Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes and suddenly Clark Hunt is a top NFL owner? Maybe he is. Maybe he and his father Lamar always were. They just didn’t hear it as often during the Mike Livingston/Elvis Grbac/Matt Cassel years.

RELATED: Annabel Bowlen attorney: Beth Bowlen Wallace views do not reflect majority of beneficiaries

Credit: AP
A memorial to former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little is displayed before an NFL football game between the Denver Broncos and the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Thanks Mike for a fantastic article on Floyd Little and what he meant to Denver and Bronco fans. My Dad took me when I was 7 to watch the Broncos practice in preseason at DU as he said Little would be a star. I seem to remember his last touchdown at Mile High came in a flag football alumni game I attended that was the send-off to the old Mile High Stadium.  He took a screen pass all the way and if my memory is correct, it was thrown by … John Elway.  Again, thanks for all of your great Bronco reporting and this article was so well done.

--Jay Edwards

Jay – What separated Floyd Little from other Broncos’ stars was one, he was the first. Ask me to name an astronaut and I immediately say, Neil Armstrong. Ask me to name a second and I might say, Tom Hanks.

Little’s place in Broncos’ history is he will always be the franchise’s first superstar.

Another reason why Floyd was so special to Broncos fans is he had a real human connection with them. He was gregariously friendly with everyone he met. He was approachable but he also carried himself with the aura of a man who could rubber-neck a crowded room the moment he walked in.

After I wrote Floyd’s sendoff following his passing on January 1, I heard from several people like you, Jay, who had a story to relate about their personal experience with Floyd.

RELATED: Broncos legend Floyd Little dies at 78

But I knew Floyd enough to know he would have said he was one of the lucky ones, one of the most blessed. For even in death, his No. 44 will live on forever as one of three forever retired Broncos numbers, and he will enjoy football immortality in the bronze bust room at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Credit: KUSA

Mike, has John Elway ever invited you to join him for dinner at his steakhouse?

--Todd Allerdings

Todd – No, but we did have dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Buffalo in late November 2019. As enormous a public figure as Elway is, he can be remarkably down-to-earth. We sat in the far corner of the place but some younger teenage boys found him. He was friendly in signing their shirts and footballs the first time, but when they tried to mix in with another group for a second round a half-hour later, he let them know he recognized them and there would not be a third time. (Memorabilia hounds hang out at team hotels to collect autographs for an eventual resale).

Elway has always had money in the bank, and fame has its rewards – I don’t think he cuts his own grass -- but it can’t be easy hanging in the public eye every waking minute of your life, with millions weighing in on your job performance. All in all, I always thought Elway stayed relatively level-headed and balanced it well.

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