John Elway hasn’t finished working with the Broncos yet, but today’s changes make it seem like the beginning of the end for the Duke of Denver.
Today, the Broncos announced Elway will be promoted and relinquish his day-to-day, player personnel duties. That’s huge news because he’s been the main architect of the last 10 years of the Broncos.
That includes the team’s 90-70 record, five AFC West titles, two Super Bowl appearances and one World Championship (2015). Elway basically took over the team as Pat Bowlen had less time to spend on them, Elway fired Josh McDaniels and brought the team from its worst season during its NFL tenure to the Super Bowl in only two years.
Elway had interesting techniques in the NFL Draft, enjoying to gamble, but he also landed arguably the best defensive player in Broncos history in Von Miller. Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Justin Simmons and Garett Bolles are some other stars he’s found, while the misses are too long to list here.
But where Elway made his biggest impact was in free agency, no doubt. Peyton Manning is likely the most important free agent signing in the history of the NFL and he led the greatest offense in NFL history with the Broncos in 2013. It can’t be understated how much top-tier talent came to Denver after Manning signed, but Elway continued to wheel and deal in free agency even after Manning retired in 2016.
Even with a decently talented roster, the Broncos have missed the playoffs the last five straight seasons. A move was needed now to allow for a fresh set of eyes to work on this as a rebuilding project from the ground-up.
Here are three things which we know from Elway’s move and how they will affect the Broncos in this offseason:
The Broncos will soon have a new GM
Elway’s title was Vice President of Football Operations and he took over as GM a few years ago as well. But now, while head coach Vic Fangio and the new GM will report to Elway, the General Manager will make all the draft and free agency decisions moving forward.
That’s likely to be massive in three areas.
In free agency, Elway liked to make splash signings of veterans like Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Bryce Callahan and the list goes on. But, the Broncos haven’t made many big-time trades since 2010.
In the draft, Elway missed on more first round picks than he hit, and he gambled in the mid rounds, too. What he did really well was find undrafted free agents. C.J. Anderson, Chris Harris Jr., Phillip Lindsay; the Broncos have enjoyed many starters who went undrafted the last decade.
Finally, Elway was loyal to his draftees. The Broncos currently have a ton of restricted and unrestricted free agents the new GM will have to decide on re-signing or moving on. Justin Simmons, Lindsay, Shelby Harris and Alexander Johnson are a few. Plus, Von Miller and Kareem Jackson have team options. In reality, this is a perfect situation for a new GM because they can start from near scratch and with a good chunk of cap space ($11 million) next year.
And, we have no real idea what the new GM will do in terms of draft strategy, or in free agency. So, it should be a wild ride this offseason.
Denver decided to stick with Vic Fangio, for now
It’s not that the Broncos chose Fangio over Elway, so to speak, but Fangio will have input on personnel decisions with the new GM. He’ll be more involved in the day-to-day than Elway and it’s likely he will stay in his position in 2021.
That was already the case, and even if some fans want him to be fired, he shouldn’t be. Fangio’s defense has been strong and sometimes great. He’s found players like Mike Purcell and Alexander Johnson, elevating them to starters and letting them blossom in the role.
Offensively, the team has left a lot to be desired, even if they did improve some this season. And special teams have been awful for years, so there’s plenty for Fangio and the team to improve upon. Including his timeout management.
If they miss the playoffs again in 2021, Fangio’s third year, the new GM may decide to move on. But, let’s see how they fare in Year 3.
Drew Lock’s future isn’t as secure as it was yesterday
Lock was going to be the starter in 2021, at least to begin the year, with Elway calling the shots. Now, it’s not so certain.
Like Fangio, Lock will go into his third year this season with the Broncos, and the offseason should be much easier to navigate if and when COVID-19 subsides this summer.
But, what will the new GM think of Lock’s inconsistent play? Will he see the NFL-low completion percentage (57.3), the NFL-high 15 interceptions and the low 75.4 passer rating and believe he could do better with another QB? Or, will the new GM see the improvement at the end of this season and give him the start this fall?
It’s possible the new GM could go for a big-time trade — like for Matt Stafford — or he could sign a veteran like Andy Dalton, Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles to compete with Lock and push the youngster.
Anything is possible in Broncos Country and the change from Elway leaving the personnel decisions to a newcomer makes for one of the most exciting offseasons in many years here.