On the day No. 7 John Elway celebrated the birth of grandchild No. 7 he announced the Broncos are the No. 7 NFL franchise to seek a new general manager.
The Magnificent 7 acquiesced to the end of his reign of power a day short of exactly 10 years since he became Broncos Boss and 22 years after, in the same month, his final game in Super Bowl XXXIII as Broncos Quarterback.
John, who has spent 27 of his 60 years with the Broncos, will continue in a significantly reduced role of president of football operations until his contract is over in a year.
The Duke of Denver won’t ride into the sunset as John Wayne did in westerns. This John wants to stay around football for a while, but acknowledged he has other objectives in his full life.
The Broncos’ 13th GM in franchise history will have authority over the draft, free agent acquisitions and departures, trades, the roster, hiring and firing of coaches and most other major evaluations and decisions, especially at the quarterback position. Elway will have involvement and input in every football area, especially, he said, “the important’’ rulings.
Broncos’ Chief Executive Officer and President Joe Ellis, whose contract also runs through this year, obviously will make the final call on financial, league- and franchise-affecting matters because he is the de facto owner based on the Pat Bowlen Trust.
Brittany Bowlen, the family member in training to be eventual controlling owner, was informed by Ellis and Elway, who have discussed this critical change in the Broncos’ executive branch for the past two weeks. But none of the feuding Bowlens have any influence.
My recommendation has been that Elway and Ellis should hire an executive vice president to oversee day-to-day football operations.
Now, the two, plus, probably, VPs Patrick Smythe and Mark Thewes, already are conducting a search for Elway’s successor. Matt Russell, VP of player personnel and Elway’s closest ally, would have been interviewed, but, instead, will retire.
The list will be lengthy. Elway was getting calls from everybody except Peyton Manning, Mike Shanahan and Jeff Bridich on Monday, but there are more candidates than the 27 Democrats who considered running for president.
However, the Broncos will have to compete determinedly against six franchises in Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington and Jacksonville. All have fired their general managers.
Elway will be the only one who stays with his current team. The others are looking for jobs, including this one.
The Broncos’ GM position won’t be the most attractive (Jaguars), but it won’t be the worst (Lions).
- The Broncos just flopped through a fourth consecutive losing season, and fifth straight without playoffs, with a miserable 5-11 record.
- The franchise has no singular owner who ranks anywhere in the Forbes 400 America’s richest people, and the quarreling kids have a court suit scheduled in May.
- The GM must keep coach Vic Fangio, who has a 12-20 record in two seasons and made serious sideline mistakes again in 2020, or hire the Broncos’ fifth coach in eight seasons and his own man.
- The Broncos’ quarterback is Drew Lock, who may or may not be the future face of the franchise. He managed the lowest passing completion percentage of any starting quarterback who played a majority of games, was ranked third from the bottom in QB rating and is judged in the bottom 10 of the league.
- The Broncos could lose Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons and outstanding defensive lineman Shelby Harris, and a few sidebar players, to unrestrictive free agency. And they must figure out sticky situations with Von Miller and offensive tackle Ju’Wuan James, who opted out this season and would be a $19 million salary cap hit if released.
- The Broncos had a strong overall tradition of winning (eight Super Bowl appearances since 1977 and three championships) until lately.
- Denver and Colorado are perfect places to live.
- The fans.
- Nine draft picks, starting at No. 9, in 2021.
- A cast including 20 young players with starting talent.
John Elway had 16 Hall of Fame seasons with the Broncos as a player and 10 more as an executive. Succeeding No. 7, who cast the longest and most successful shadow in Colorado sports history, will be exceedingly difficult.