After being the face of the Denver Broncos' franchise for 16 seasons as quarterback and leading the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two of them (Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII), John Elway has returned to the Denver Broncos' helm, this time as executive vice president of football operations. To the the delight of Broncos Nation, Elway made it official on January 5, 2011, signing on and reporting directly to owner Pat Bowlen, overseeing general manager Brian Xanders and head coach John Fox.
While some have questioned whether Elway has the capacity to operate a team from the suite level as opposed to the field level (see: Dan Marino), and worried that he may do more to harm to his legacy than good (see: Brett Favre), this isn't Elway's first foray into operating as a football executive. After his playing days, he served as the chief executive officer of the Arena League's Colorado Crush from 2003-2009, winning the Arena League Championship in 2005.
While it's apparent that the Broncos are in a rebuilding phase, and even though Elway is just three games into his rookie campaign as VP, it's not too early to examine the steps he's taken so far to bring the Denver Broncos back to contention.
The following slides count down the top seven moves John Elway has made so far as the Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations.
Sure, it officially happened before John Elway took over as vice president of football operations, but one of the most important steps to the Broncos rebuilding process is that fact that the former coach is no longer here. Why Pat Bowlen chose to hand the keys of the kingdom over to a young, unproven egomaniac such as Josh McDaniels in the first place aside, the point is that he's gone now.
It's almost sickening to think of the laundry list of talent that was let go simply because of "personality conflicts" (Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Peyton Hillis, Tony Scheffler, Mike Nolan) or draft picks that have been wasted—or in the best case scenario still seem highly unproven—under the former watch (Alphonso Smith, Darcel McBath, Demaryius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno, Tim Tebow).
Needless to say, those days are (finally) over, and the long painful healing process can now begin—even if Elway wasn't directly involved in it. Although, let's not forget that Elway was serving as a consultant in an official capacity for several months before he officially became a team executive. Who's to say exactly how much say he had in cutting former ties?
The truth is: Invesco Field never sounded right from the beginning. Though not uncommon, many fans were upset in 2001 when the Denver Broncos went corporate with their brand new stadium—which was built using taxpayer dollars, no less. The fans got mild compensation by getting to keep their beloved "Mile High" in the official title, but that proved to be an annoying mouthful.
Now, however, with the newly renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High, John Elway seems to have struck a harmonious partnership. Sure, it's still a corporate mouthful, but at least Sports Authority is a local Colorado company that has made good—and is representative of what fans all hope the Broncos will be—a Colorado franchise that dominates on the national level.
Sports Authority Field at Mile High is a win for the Denver Broncos, a win for Broncos fans, and a win for the entire state of Colorado.
Champ Bailey was almost the final casualty of the Josh McDaniels era. Not interested in paying the aging bona fide Hall of Famer what he was worth, McDaniels seemed to be having "personality conflicts" with yet another difference maker on the football field.
Fortunately, McDaniels was shown the door, and in stepped John Elway, who publicly stated that re-signing Champ Bailey was of the utmost importance. More than that, Elway wanted to ensure that the Pro Bowler would finish his career as a Denver Bronco. Not too shabby for the first move of a VP!
Not only did Elway say all of the right things, but he put his money where his mouth is, and Bailey is under contract and happy for what will likely be the rest of his career. Maybe Bailey has lost a step since his prime, but his leadership in the locker room and his influence over the young talent the Broncos have invested in on defense (Von Miller, Rahib Moore, Cassius Vaughn) is invaluable. Oh—and he still happens to be one of the top shut-down cornerbacks in the league.
Elway demonstrated tact and leadership by mending relationships with Bailey, a Denver Broncos icon, and making good on his promises to deliver. It was a refreshingly welcomed change from how things have been done recently.
Drafting second in the 2011 NFL draft, the highest pick the Denver Broncos have ever had, John Elway and his team made the most of it by selecting Texas A&M LB Von Miller. Miller was certainly one of the most heralded players of the draft, as his size, strength and speed make him a huge defensive asset.
Perhaps taking the linebacker with the second pick was a no-brainer, but that's easy to say in hind sight—now that Miller has already begun to make an impressive contribution to the Denver defense. However, the Broncos had several needs to address in the draft, and there were multiple players that would have made sense at that pick. Fortunately, Elway and company had a distinct plan of how to go about addressing those needs, and it all hinged with the selection of Miller at No. 2.
It was nice to see the Broncos leadership actually taking players to fill areas of need, rather than, say, selecting first round running backs (or quarterbacks!) when there are glaring holes on the defensive side of the ball. That hasn't always happened in the recent past.
Von Miller and the rest of the young, upstart Denver Broncos are enthusiastic about bringing back the dominance of the teams from the not-so-distant past.
The Mile High Salute is as good a place to start as any!
When the Houston Texans elected to retain the services of Gary Kubiak, any thoughts of an all-Broncos reunion dissolved in the search for a new head coach. Some were throwing around names like Cowher, Billick, and Gruden—proven coaches with prominent national face-time and records of winning it all. But nobody at Dove Valley seemed to be saying those names. Even Jim Harbaugh, the new lightning-rod coach entering the league from the collegiate ranks, was interviewed for the job, but he walked away with no offer.
Instead, on January 13, 2011, John Elway and the Denver Broncos hired John Fox who had recently been released by the Carolina Panthers after leading them to a 2-14 record in 2010. It certainly wasn't the sexy pick for a head coach hire, but it might be just what the Denver Broncos really needed.
Fox's commitment to defensive dominance and a strong running game are areas where the Denver Broncos need significant improvement. Elway, despite his propensity for offense, was able to put his own interests aside and do what it best for the team and the organization - electing to assemble a team of football minded individuals who can approach the game from all facets. John Fox was the perfect choice to fill that void and provide the Broncos with some strength in areas where they have recently been very weak.
John Fox certainly has his work cut out for him—rebuilding an organization that has essentially been stripped of most of its talent over the past three years. The Broncos have struggled for several years on defense, and running the ball—particularly in the red zone—has been a liability of late.
Fortunately, these issues match up well with Coach Fox's skill set, and if anyone has the demeanor and wherewithal for the job at hand, he seems to be the man.
Believe it or not, there is a whole generation of Broncos fans who do not remember seeing John Elway play quarterback. Sure, they've heard the name, maybe they have even seen highlights, but their collective memory of Denver Broncos quarterbacks does not go back much further than Jake Plummer.
Still, John Elway has found a way to reach out and tap into that youthful, up-and-coming fan base: social media. Elway was on Twitter before becoming a Broncos executive, but the moment he came aboard in an official capacity, the way in which the Denver Broncos communicated instantly changed. They were now online.
Elway's Twitter account is linked to the Broncos homepage, as well as the Broncos official Twitter account, the team Facebook page, and even Cheerleader's Facebook page. Although these may have existed before, they certainly weren't as publicly or prominently displayed.
Elway himself, seems entirely comfortable in the world of Web 2.0. He regularly tweets out official team information on his personal Twitter, with no real regard for traditional media channels.
No one knows better than John Elway the value Broncos fans place on knowing what's going on with their team, and his reliance on the new tools of social communication has given the fan base a level of transparency with the organization that didn't exist before. That Elway has been so quick to embrace this medium has made him relevant again, even if he's only known as "that old Broncos guy on Twitter."
More than anything else, John Elway's mere presence in the Denver Broncos' organization automatically lends it an air of credibility, prestige and nostalgia that hasn't been present since he hung up his cleats in 1999.
Since 1983, John Elway has been the face of the Broncos' organization, and now he is again. Through the years, Broncos fans had lived and loved with Elway, wept and cried with him, and cheered him on to the pinnacle of Football achievement. They have never wavered, and neither has he. Even when the Broncos were down and all hope seemed lost, Elway taught Broncos Nation to trust him—to believe that he had what it took to lead the Broncos back from the brink and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And he did.
Now that he has returned to oversee the club as an executive, all of those glorious memories of past successes have come rushing back. Broncos fans know that what once was can be yet again. How? John Elway. Because the Broncos have him, and because he is leading the team to where they know he can bring them—all the way to the promised land!
Certainly, it is too early to judge Elway's entire body of work as an executive, but if the past 10 months are anything to go by, at least the Broncos have hope—hope in resurrecting the dominance and pride that defined the organization for so many years, most of which with John Elway calling the shots.