After three years of never really having his say as general manager of the Denver Broncos, Brian Xanders and Executive VP of Football Operations John Elway have "mutually" decided to part ways so Xanders may be free to pursue other opportunities.
Xanders had a rough go of it Denver during a total of four seasons with the organization. He spent one as an assistant general manager brought in by Mike Shanahan after the 2008 NFL draft and three as a general manager under Josh McDaniels during the 2009-2010 seasons and under John Fox during 2011, but also under the watchful eye of Elway.
One thing is certain during his time in Denver, though: He never really had any power to make general management moves or decisions.
As assistant general manager, Xanders had to deal with Shanahan, who has been known for his controlling tendencies. After the promotion when McDaniels was brought in as the head coach, he has said it was McDaniels who had the final say on player personnel while he took a backseat. He hoped bringing in players’ coach John Fox and the new kid on the block in the front office in John Elway would see him finally having power to make some of his own decisions on team matters.
His first draft with Fox and Elway looked like the trio of Elway-Fox-Xanders had promise to make some big achievements, but a year removed from finding up to four future starters in 2010 it became clear this was now Elway’s team. Elway looked to have the biggest sway about whom they brought into Denver, as he traded down and out of the first round in 2012 to draft a defensive lineman in Derek Wolfe and then picked a quarterback in the second round, despite having Peyton Manning on the roster until 2016.
The move to part ways with Xanders came only days after the 2012 NFL draft and after promoting Matt Russell from director of college scouting to director of player personnel, the Broncos’ overseer of talent in both the NFL and collegiate level. Elway’s final move that likely sealed the deal on Xanders’ future was hiring former agent Mike Sullivan to become the team's new manager of contract negotiations and the salary cap. The personnel moves of promoting Russell and hiring Sullivan ultimately made Xanders’ role as general manager redundant—a position the team will likely do away altogether.
Is this a good move for the Broncos?
Elway describes the process as streamlining the Broncos’ front office: “It is a streamline; we're not adding anybody. Brian has a great heart and is a loyal guy. He’s the type of guy who would give you the shoe off his foot. This is the worst part of this business.”
Xanders had one of the toughest jobs in the league. Shanahan departed after his first season, McDaniels was a complete flop and had one of the worst drafts in Broncos’ history, veteran coach Fox brought a completely different mentality, and Elway brought his ego.
Despite the awful draft in 2009, it could be argued that the draft the Broncos put together in 2010 and 2011 are a couple of the best in the league.
Demaryius Thomas, Tim Tebow, Zane Beadles, Eric Decker, J.D. Walton and Perrish Cox all have been starters since the 2010 draft. In 2011, Von Miller, the No. 2 overall draft pick by the Broncos, became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Orlando Franklin was a 16-game starter. Safeties Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter also were starters as rookies in 2011.
Those two drafts produced the most starts (155) and playing time (more than 12,000 snaps) of any team in the NFL.
That seems like some impressive results, but it could also say something about the poor personnel decisions made in the McDaniels era that warranted the necessity to use such young talent right away. Using all of those rookies in 2010 produced just four wins. That number doubled in 2011, though the Broncos surely suffered from a lack of depth and veteran leadership in their exciting run last season as they backed into the playoffs.
Time will tell if it pays off for Elway and the Broncos. This kind of move puts even more pressure on Elway and his staff to produce. His model of “streamlining” will be judged by wins and losses in the next few seasons. Either it will be a complete success leading to championships, or he could be the next guy in the front office to be shown the revolving door in Denver.