Denver Broncos: John Elway's 7 Stormy Items to Steer In The New Year

Chaz MattsonAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2011

John Elway appears to be prime and ready to go as V.P. of Football Operations in Denver.
John Elway appears to be prime and ready to go as V.P. of Football Operations in Denver.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

It’s only fitting for the holiday cheer and illness in the air to culminate as it did over the Broncos final two games at home.  Denver Broncos fans saw plenty of Tim Tebow over the final three games to at least have a pulse on where he stands at the NFL level. 

It’s a mixed bag of good and bad.  The good is his play making ability proved itself on a number of occasions from long runs to solid throws and getting his teammates up for each game.  The down side was an eye-sore; he threw numerous bad passes so much so in the last game against the Chargers he connected on just 44% of them, going 16 for 36 with two interceptions to boot. 

OK chalk it up to being a rookie in his third game against a traditionally good defensive team and a division rival at that.  However, that is precisely the note John Elway will be taking over the reigns as the Denver Broncos primary football executive holding the title of V.P. of Football Operations.   It’s less than an ideal situation to be in, and yet there is optimism, hope, and plenty of work that needs to be done.

So in affect it’s time to mark the course and layout the agenda of things that need to be addressed in the near and not too distant future.  Here is an overview of seven bullet items for John Elway to address once he is introduced on Wednesday as the new Vice President of Football Operations for the Denver Broncos.

1)     Interview Brian Xanders – See If He’s A Better Fit on the Business Side

2)     Find The Right General Manager and Supporting Staff

3)     Find The Right Head Coach and All That Encompasses

4)     Figure Out The Draft Approach ASAP

5)     What Will the Broncos QB Situation Be Next Pre-Season?

6)     Can The Broncos Extend Champ Bailey a Longer Term Deal?

7)     Steer The Storm:  Formulate The Plan of Hope

So with these seven strong items on the agenda, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Interview Brian Xanders – See If He’s a Better Fit on the Business Side

Currently Brian Xanders has received a great deal of support from Mr. Bowlen and Joe Ellis because of his cooperation through the dismissal period of Josh McDaniels.  However, it is imperative to get the GM position solidified correctly.  That is why it’s important for John Elway to personally interview Brian Xanders and question him about his role under Josh McDaniels and the draft.  If John digs deep enough, Xanders will in all likelihood be pigeon-holed into one of two positions.  Either all of the draft moves had his stamp of approval or they didn’t.  If they didn’t he needs to be specific as to why he did not act as the GM should act when not in agreement with the head coach. 

The point of this exercise is simply this, it is apparent that Xanders is probably a better fit on the business side if Mr. Bowlen and Joe Ellis decide they want to really retain him within the organization.  A General Manager must stick to his guns and so far Xanders has yet to establish himself as the GM of the Denver Broncos.  Now Brian Xanders played at Florida State under Bobby Bowden and has a good football background but in some regard it lends itself more to being a coach than a GM.  He has opinions, he’s claimed Josh McDaniels was in charge and he had to concede on those levels, yet the ultimate test of a GM is the draft.  How strong was each draft class under Xanders thus far?  At best it’s a question mark, at worst it’s painfully obvious he should be terminated or reassigned internally.

That’s not to say Joe Ellis and Mr. Bowlen wouldn’t blame themselves in some regard, however it’s a strong possibility that the Broncos need a better GM to fill the position.

Find the Right General Manager and Supporting Staff

For starters it’s entirely possible that Brian Xanders could become an assistant GM to the new General Manager whoever that may be, however it does seem he needs further training.  At that point the Broncos have to ask themselves if it’s worth it to keep him on the football side, to reassign him on the business side, or release him altogether.

There are a myriad of good General Manager Candidates out there and it seems they all possess unique styles to match their personalities.  All of them mind you are solid and firm ways of thinking and approaching the position of GM.  Charlie Casserly has league-wide respect as the former GM for Washington and Houston.  His loose Denver connection is through Jabar Gaffney, a player he selected while with the Texans, that found his way on to the current Broncos roster.  His real claim to fame is that he discovered the likes of Joe Jacoby and Jeff Bostic who went on to become part of “The Hogs” offensive line for Washington during their Super Bowl Championships in the 1980’s.  Casserly also has been pro-active at implementing the NFL intern program which has helped to start executive careers for NFL hopefuls.  He also selected the likes of Brian Mitchell, Stephen Davis, Keenan McCardell, Frank Wycheck, Brad Johnson, and David Carr.

Other strong candidates are much closer to the Broncos organization.  First and foremost there is Ted Sundquist who was let go by Mike Shanahan following the 2007 season.  He was previously sought after by the Seattle Seahawks as for the position of Team President in 2004 but he wound up back with the Broncos organization.  Sundquist had a strength of handling contract structuring and budgeting and for a time had things re-organized well enough in house to keep the Broncos competitive.  It’s possible however that there has been some financial fall-out related to some of his time in Denver.  That could possibly keep him from being re-hired with the organization.

Mark Schlereth is a strong dark-horse who has all of the acumen to become a GM given his tenure as a player in Washington and in Denver.  He understands both sides of the equation as a player and as an executive, how moves need to be made and what makes football organizations successful.  That might be the most appealing part to bringing “Stink” back into the Broncos fold.

There are a number of other candidates out there for this position, but most of it is speculation and most of this depends on how the Broncos choose to handle Brian Xanders moving forward.

In the end this is a position the Denver Broncos must get right, to this point it does not appear as though they have done that from the outside looking in, so it’s important that if Brian Xanders is the right guy that he gets things right from here on out.  If he’s not going to be the GM, it needs to change sooner than later.

Find the Right Head Coach and All That Encompasses

The right head coach is Jon Gruden.  He is the guy the Denver Broncos have to pursue and there has been some mild rhetoric on his end that he is currently a guy “without a team” during the Outback Bowl on Saturday between the University of Florida and Penn State.  It was also ironic that the game was in Tampa where Jon has made his home and yet he has sort of hinted that change could be a good thing for him and his family.

To me this all points to a place like Denver.  Now absolutely San Francisco and Dallas are the primary contenders to land Gruden if Denver does not, but there is tremendous upside in hiring Jon Gruden.

Jon Gruden is well balanced and a guy that is a personality others can gravitate to and rally around.  Furthermore and most importantly he is a football guy who understands both sides of the ball in-depth and can make the right adjustments as well.  What separates Jon Gruden from the competition is his sharp mind as an offensive coordinator.  Don’t mistake him for Josh McDaniels or even Mike Shanahan in that regard because he has a balance that neither of them proved to have in Denver.

Having said that and made a brief case for Jon Gruden coming on board, it would come at some cost to the franchise, but to right the organization makes the most sense right now.  For Jon’s part he would undoubtedly enjoy the sense of freedom he could have in Denver to just coach and know he’s working with competent football people who are behind him 100%.  Furthermore having spoken with a number of AFC West fans and Raiders fans, the one coach they don’t want to see in Denver is Jon Gruden.  That should say a great deal about his credibility in other markets and one that cheered for him and could wind up revering him.  It’s a similar path to the one Mike Shanahan took but Jon Gruden is much more respected in Raiders Nation because he brought one team to the brink of the Super Bowl and another team of his guys made it to the big dance only to lose to the Jon Gruden coached Tampa Bay Buccaneers for all the marbles.

The Denver Broncos have said they are looking to have a new head coach within two weeks.  Now is the time to go get Jon Gruden.  He will also be making similar decisions that are best for him and his family, but there is a certain appeal that Denver has to Jon Gruden that no other team in the league possesses.  That is inherently being an AFC West team and an organization that traditionally has had the opportunity to go where it wants to go.  That is something that could prevail over any other position in the league regardless of how much power would be made available. 

If by some short catastrophe the Broncos fail to land Jon Gruden, then they have to look seriously at Mike Nolan, Jim Fassel, and possibly Marty Schottenheimer and other top coaches of that ilk like Brian Billick.  The thing here is the very best coach for Denver is a well balanced one, other coaches – especially defensive first coaches are available far and wide.

This is certainly no knock against current interim head coach Eric Studdesville who will be given an opportunity to make his case for the job.  He did the very best with what he had available to him at the time the change was announced and he certainly proved how much character he has.  This should be a stepping stone for him professionally, he could potentially become a coordinator down the road, but certainly that is an area he needs to develop in if he really wants to run the show permanently. 

At the end of the day the Broncos need the right coach and if not at least one who can become the right coach from day one in the organization.  It also means that his scheme and approach would best utilize what the Broncos have in-house and get them where they need to go sooner than later.  That will take a great coaching staff and it will come at a price, but this organization is capable of getting back on top sooner than later.

Figure Out the Draft Approach ASAP

Absolutely positively Tim Tebow has his backers and Andrew Luck has his.  The Panthers have the first pick and the Broncos have the second pick.  The strong rumor in Denver right now is that John Elway might use his Stanford ties to potentially lure Jim Harbaugh to the NFL over Michigan and potentially get Andrew Luck to declare his eligibility for the NFL Draft.  From that point, Elway would have his work cut out to negotiate a trade with the Panthers for the first selection.

Should all of that fizzle then the most likely path is for the Denver Broncos to immediately trade down and get two or three more picks for their position in the first round.  Denver needs difference makers, but they need a lot of them, that is why trading down makes sense at that point.

What Will the Broncos QB Situation Be Next Pre-Season?

It’s paramount for the Broncos to clear-up the uncertainty over who their starting quarterback will be next season.  The problem is it won’t be clear until the end of the draft at the earliest.  More than likely there will be some carryover to training camp.  In order to attract any free-agents down the road it’s important and for the sanity of any veterans on board it’s important.

Now the reality when it comes to the draft is that the Broncos are without a doubt rebuilding and hope to do it swiftly.  That means anyone of their quarterbacks could be traded in order to secure quality draft picks.  This means Tim Tebow himself could be traded, and it wouldn’t be a bad deal for him or the Broncos.  The Broncos gave him an opportunity to get his wares on film and there are markets like Jacksonville and Buffalo that would desperately like to see him on their local franchise. 

Kyle Orton proved he could be a solid veteran pocket passer, but he needs a run game to support him as the starter.  Brady Quinn is a question mark but there are teams like San Francisco who essentially have the position still wide open just waiting for a veteran to take command. 

Trading any of the quarterbacks translates into desperately needed draft picks which for the most part will be used to shore up a porous run defense.

Can The Broncos Extend Champ Bailey a Longer Term Deal?

While this item falls down the list of priorities it should practically be listed right there with a new head coach.  Champ Bailey is a Pro Bowler and future Hall of Fame cornerback who realistically should have been with Denver from the start of his career; Washington never appreciated his skill set.  Now Denver ironically is put in a rough spot as fallout from the poorest regime in franchise history.  Champ Bailey is upset with the lack of a response by the Broncos; he needs an immediate response from John Elway and the future GM. 

Champ Bailey needs to stick around, and most are worried about his legs being able to keep up with others as he gets older.  Champ will age however his legs particularly are unique even at the NFL level and should last longer than people think they might.  This is where a long term deal for Champ should be due able and the numbers could make sense for him and the Broncos.

So while he may have felt neglected recently, Champ Bailey could be the next Darrell Green who spent 20 years playing at the NFL level at corner for Washington.  The Broncos should sign him, he likes Denver and the fans love having him around and a good coach will get this team back on track sooner than later.

Steer the Storm:  Formulate the Plan of Hope

This is an old adage, but it really strikes a chord on the personal level having coached under a local high school coach who once used the theme:

“Steering the Storm”

It was used as mentioned at a local high school (Mountain Vista) with the understanding that it was a new program facing obstacles like jumping from 3A (with sophomore starters) to 4A to 5A football over a period of four or five seasons (I can’t remember which).  It worked at that level to a high degree and it certainly can apply to where the Denver Broncos reside at currently.

The Denver Broncos defense finished the 2010 season dead last.  Worst in points allowed per game (the most important stat of all) at 29.4, total points allowed 471, and total yards allowed per game 390.8.  The Broncos were the second worst against the run allowing 2,473 yards on the ground (154.6 per game).  Also the Broncos yielded the second worst average at 4.7 yards per run.  Against the pass Denver yielded the 8th worst passing yards at 3,780.  

The Broncos front seven were underweight and over-matched for the most part.  Wink Martindale proved to not be even a fraction of what Mike Nolan was as the defensive coordinator.  Keep in mind under Nolan the Broncos were seventh best in the NFL only yielding 315 yards per game as a unit. 

Translation to the future is with the right coaching a steep turnaround is due able especially with a veteran secondary.  True the Broncos are aging a little in the secondary but they are not washed up.  If the team brings back Champ Bailey (which they should) then the secondary is essentially set.  Brian Dawkins battled injuries a great deal this season, but to write him off completely might not be the right thing to do.  Trust your veterans a little in that regard.  Certainly Brian Dawkins probably has to undergo some intense off-season training off the field to help retain some of what he’s always had.  To me his tank is similar to Champ Baileys, they are getting older, but they aren’t done yet, these guys are players.

This allows the Broncos to put the draft focus primarily on the voids in the defensive front seven.  DJ Williams should be moved back to the outside, opposite of Elvis Dummerville, and the Broncos find the size and attitude they need in the middle backer positions.  On the defensive line Vickerson could be an up and coming talent who has great size but will need more moves.  The Broncos could focus again on size and talent here.

Offensively the O-line for all of its short falls this season still managed to finish 13th best in total yards, averaging 348.9 per game.  Keep in mind they were the 5th worst in third down conversions at a 32% conversion rate.  What that says is this team is capable but needs a much better scheme.  Short and simple, the potential is there regardless of whom the Broncos choose to run with at the quarterback position.

That should be enough to light some fires, stir some thoughts, and start the franchise and the fan base dreaming of something greater once again.  It will require legendary strength but John Elway seems up to the task of steering the Broncos ship through this storm.


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