After the Broncos were eliminated from the 2014 NFL playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts, General Manager (at the time) John Elway vowed to Broncos Country that Denver would have more of a no quit attitude and if they were to lose, they would do so kicking and screaming. Losing 24-13 to the Colts wasn’t exactly an inspiring performance and it was enough for The Duke to change his mentality. He fired head coach John Fox, or if you want the PC version, they agreed to part ways, then he hired long time friend and Bronco familiar, Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips was hired shortly after, declaring that the Broncos would put a better focus on the defensive side of the ball. We all know the rest of the story; Denver not only had a great defense, they had perhaps one of the greatest defenses of all time. They won a championship and Von Miller earned MVP honors. The kicking and screaming mentality made them a tough, nasty team. They weren’t as flashy as the first three Peyton Manning years but they displayed a never say never style of football and it made Elway look like a genius. Fast Forward to 2021 and Elway is being “elevated” to a different role, meaning he will have “more responsibilities” but not necessarily final say in player personnel. So he’s relinquishing the most important job on an NFL team? Some might say he’s giving up…..Not exactly the kicking and screaming philosophy he promised after Denver lost a playoff game.
“Working in this role for the last 10 years and going back to my playing days, I’ve always tried to do everything I can to help the Broncos win and get better,” Elway told Denverbroncos.com “As part of a transition I’ve thought about for a long time, I have made the decision to step up into an elevated role and hire a general manager to lead our personnel and football staff.”
I get it, things are bad and there’s no end in sight. For all of his success as GM for the Broncos, the last 5 years have been brutal. Playoffs are a foreign word in D Town now and the future is murky at the QB and HC position. However, we all knew, or strongly assumed, next year was Elway’s final year with the organization, at least final year under his current contract. So why not take the opportunity to practice what you preach, one more time, one more ride, don’t go down without a fight? Sure, if he had 3 or 5 more years left on his contract, step down. Easy. But one more? Ownership is WAY up in the air so the Broncos we know today, will perhaps look completely different after next season. So why not go for broke in 2021 and see if a full off-season with Drew Lock and the gang could make all the difference? It would seem the Broncos are ready to revamp asap even if it means sending Elway over to that massive office. You know, the one far, far away from everyone else.
The Situation reminds me of season 1 of Peaky Blinders. Remember when Arthur Shelby THINKS he’s the man in charge but isn’t running the gang as well as he should? Thomas Shelby, the REAL leader basically “elevates”his brother to the position of pub owner. Arthur gets to drink and realize his dream of running a drinking establishment while still feeling like he’s the man in charge. He is out of the way so the future of the crime organization can thrive under its real leader. Did the Duke just get Arthur Shelby’d?
It’s a sad ending, personally, to see it end like this. Sure, he’s still the “boss.” The new GM and Vic Fangio will still report to him but what does that mean? “Hey John, I’m gonna draft a QB in the first round, you good? Of course you are…..” This is John freaking Elway we are talking about. The 38 year old that dove for a first down in a super bowl, knowing his body would get absolutely crushed. The executive that spurned half of Broncos Country by shipping the beloved Tim Tebow out and landing one of the best QB’s ever in Manning. The man that fired a head coach that went to a Super Bowl a year prior to that decision. He made the tough calls and for a while, it seemed everything he touched turned to gold. So what went wrong? How did it come to being “elevated?”
Brock Osweiler, Gary Kubiak, Wade Davis and Von Miller. There’s a lot that went wrong but if you want so simplify it, and go back to the beginning, look no further than those 4 names.
Osweiler might have become the franchise QB in Denver. He never wanted to leave. Surely he was the guy after Manning retired? Teammates told him they wanted him to stay as free agency began. According to SI.com, Osweiler obsessively checked his phone, waiting for a call from Elway. For weeks, Elway didn’t call. Kubiak did and assured that Brock was the future. The quarterback’s agents eventually told him not to answer any call from Elway after a cutoff date near the start of free agency. So Gary wanted Brock, Brock wanted to stay. Players wanted him to stay. Elway hesitated. And after you benched the QB that kept Denver’s playoffs hopes alive while Manning rehabbed, you’d think a quick “hey we appreciate you and we will be in contact ASAP,” would have been nice.
Elway moved on from Wade Davis shortly after Kubiak decided his heart and perhaps health, just wasn’t quite in it. Wade Davis, the beloved defensive coordinator that orchestrated one of the best defenses in NFL history only a season before, was shown the door.
The priority, rightfully so, was Von Miller. Though it took some time and got a little awkward, the SB 50 MVP got QB money and all was right in Broncos land (cough) country. Did that contract tie the organizations hands for the next few years? Pro bowler after pro bowler exited the Mile High City as Denver just couldn’t justify having too many high priced defenders on the roster.
Again, we could pinpoint everything that went right, everything that went wrong but the above mentioned moves seem to be when the cracks began, cracks that led to 5 playoff-less seasons in a row.
In the end, Elway was “elevated.” He wasn’t demoted he was promoted. But he no longer has the initial, and likely, final say when it comes to player/coach personnel. He will always be the Duke of Denver. He will always be the greatest sports icon in Colorado sports history. But his end, although not yet determined, will likely not result from kicking and screaming….more like fading and sleeping.