John Elway is a Hall of Fame quarterback, has two Super Bowl rings to his name, was named to nine Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro three times. His legacy on the field is secure. But it's another legacy he's focused on now, one just as important to the Broncos as the one he left as a player.
Elway joined the team as its general manager and executive vice president of football operations in 2011, following a 2010 campaign that was the worst the franchise had seen since 1982. At the time, it was easy to be cynical about the move. Elway didn't have much history as an executive outside of his stint as the CEO and co-owner of the Colorado Crush in the early 2000s. He seemed like a figurehead, one who was brought in to appease an angry fan base. But he's done more than that by building a deep, effective roster that just brought home the franchise's third Lombardi Trophy, the first since the two Elway helped win almost two decades ago.
That's one down with one to go before he matches his total as a player. The Broncos are in great shape going forward, thanks to Elway's foresight. But what exactly needs to happen next?
The big question revolves around Manning
Elway's foresight was evident in the decision to pursue Peyton Manning so heavily when he became available in 2012. Manning still had plenty to offer and Elway realized that. The Broncos built a strong defense around Manning and when he struggled, that defense rose to the occasion and led the team forward.
Where things go from here depends on Manning. If he retires, then the Broncos will likely try and quickly get an extension done with Brock Osweiler, who went 5-2 as a starter after Manning was benched in the regular season. It's still hard to say what Osweiler's ceiling is with so few starts in his four NFL seasons. There's plenty to be optimistic about, and given the Broncos' investment of time and training, it makes sense to keep him around.
But first, they need a quick decision from Manning.
Keep the band together
Denver's defense was a well-oiled machine this season. Guys all over the depth chart contributed in meaningful ways. But the glue was pass rusher Von Miller, this year's Super Bowl MVP and the player that Elway selected with his first pick as general manager.
The first order of business is keeping Miller, a pending free agent, at all costs. The Broncos will surely do that, whether by a massive extension or a franchise tag.
But Elway will have his work cut out for him keeping other significant players. Fortunately, Elway was able to get Derek Wolfe signed to a multi-year extension in the midst of the team's playoff run. Another piece of the puzzle is defensive end Malik Jackson, who the Broncos will need to get extended, especially if Miller takes up the franchise tag.
Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall, offensive linemen Ryan Harris, Tyler Polumbus and Evan Mathis, safeties Omar Bolden, David Bruton and Shiloh Keo are all among notable free agents as well. Running back C.J. Anderson is a restricted free agent, which makes it easier for the Broncos to hang onto him, but not without incurring some cost.
There's a lot of work to be done.
They're still in great shape
Still, thus far Elway has managed to acquire future Pro Bowlers in the NFL Draft, off the street, in unrestricted free agency and undrafted rookie signings. Miller, Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Willis McGahee, Julius Thomas, Louis Vasquez, Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Chris Harris Jr. and C.J. Anderson were all brought in under Elway. As noted by The Gazette, he's the only general manager over the past five years to get Pro Bowlers from so many sources.
His other big move that set up the current Super Bowl championship team was firing head coach John Fox and replacing him with Gary Kubiak, who has a long history with Elway. Under Kubiak, the Broncos had some ups and downs, but he pulled Manning when it was necessary and then made the shrewd move to put Manning back in the lineup for the playoffs. Elway was confident that Kubiak could be a Super Bowl-winning head coach, and now he is.
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The Broncos will likely get most of the pieces of their top-ranked defense back, have a promising young running back in Anderson, and an excellent group of receivers to help whoever plays at quarterback. Best of all, Elway has another offseason with which to work some magic. Given his track record thus far, it seems more like a given than a mere possibility.
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