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Broncos begin GM search with Kelly, Fontenot, Stark

Kelly and Fontenot are strong minority candidates. Stark is Broncos college scouting director. Broncos also want to interview Ziegler, Paton.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos began sending out permission slips to teams of prospective general manager candidates Tuesday, one day after John Elway stepping away from the job to essentially become a consultant.

9NEWS was the first to report Tuesday the Broncos formally requested to interview Champ Kelly, a former Bronco and current Bears’ executive, for their GM opening, as well as Saints' scouting director Terry Fontenot and Denver's own college scouting director Brian Stark.

9News also confirmed the team has also sent out permission slips to New England's David Ziegler, who worked in the Broncos' scouting department from 2010-12, and Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton, whose nephew Rob Paton is a Broncos scout.

Elway, who is heading the Broncos GM search committee along with CEO and president Joe Ellis, is off to a fast start.

Ellis confirmed the Bears had granted Kelly permission to interview with the Broncos.

Kelly is a logical candidate because he worked eight years in the Broncos’ scouting and personnel departments from 2007-‘14, before working another four years with Broncos’ head coach Vic Fangio when both were with the Bears from 2015-'18. Kelly has also drawn interest from the Carolina Panthers. Setting up an interview with him won't be easy as he's in the midst of preparing for the Bears' NFC playoff game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

The Broncos are also making a concerted effort to improve the diversity of their football operations department and Kelly is one of multiple minority candidates the team plans to interview.

"It’s not just that. Whoever we pick -- whether it’s a minority candidate or not -- needs to have a plan for diversity within his department," Joe Ellis, the Broncos’ chief executive officer and president, said in a sit-down interview Tuesday with 9NEWS. "I’ve talked to Vic about this and Vic acknowledges we have to get better in this area.

"I said this earlier today, 75 percent of our players are black and bring a different perspective and we need to bring a different perspective to our front office as well. And have some diversity of ideas and thought. It just helps you get better. We are short in that area. We fall a little short and we need to catch up and we need to do better.

"We’ve made some improvements, we have. But I feel like we can always do better. Champ Kelly’s a strong candidate. But there are other strong candidates. And a few of them may be candidates of diversity. I think it’s an emphasis not only during this hiring process from a general manager’s standpoint but also as you move forward as you develop your staff and your organization around that GM. We need to follow through on that."

Fontenot is another strong minority candidate who has drawn interest from the Lions and Jaguars.

Ziegler is perhaps best known in Broncos' scouting circles for choosing Chris Harris Jr. as an undrafted rookie corner over another faster undrafted corner following the lockout of 2011. Harris became a four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl 50 starter who played nine seasons with the Broncos before moving on to the Chargers this year.

Paton reportedly was a top candidate for the Browns' GM job last year before withdrawing his name from consideration.

Stark started with the Broncos as an area scout in 2012. He was promoted to college scouting director after the 2017 draft -- and it's probably no coincidence the Broncos started to string together strong drafts in 2018 (Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Josey Jewell, undrafted Phillip Lindsay), 2019 (Noah Fant, Dalton Risner, Drew Lock, Dre'Mont Jones) and 2020 (Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Lloyd Cushenberry III).

The Broncos new GM, whoever he is, will have an incredible challenge of trying to compete within an AFC West Division that is loaded with strong, young quarterbacks, including the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who is arguably the best player in the league, and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert, who will likely win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. And the Raiders’ Derek Carr has become established as a top 12-caliber QB.

Reaching the Super Bowl will first require the monumental task of getting out of a quarterback-strong division.

"But you know what, who doesn’t want a challenge?" Ellis said. "If I were up-and-coming, I would think it would be fun to take that on. You can build your team the way you want it and nothing is impossible in this league. There’s ways that parity play in that give you a chance each and every year.

"I'm not going to rule us out just because the other three teams have some strong quarterback play that is evident. I think someone has a chance to come in here and build on a pretty good young roster, make us better, improve the team and get us back in contention for the postseason pretty quickly."

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