Keep the Faith: The Case for John Elway

Late December is a very trying, albeit interesting, time in the NFL.  You have the playoff watch for one; who separates themselves as the elites, who gets in and who just misses out on the tournament?  There’s early free agency talk and of course, the coaching scenarios; who stays, who goes?  For the Broncos, a storied franchise, the future of their organization hinges on the decision at head coach and the man tasked with that critical job of determining the next direction:  John Elway.  The king of sports in Colorado not only holds in hands the fate of the states most popular franchise, his own job depends on his next crucial decision.  At 6-8, it’s more than likely Vance Joseph will need to dust off the ole resume as his days in Denver are numbered.  Has there been improvement from last year to this?  Absolutely.  But not enough.  Especially for an organization that hasn’t witnessed back to back losing seasons since the 70’s.  A new coach has 2 years, tops, to get it right in Denver.  Many fans are reluctant to give much more than 1 season as the “fire VJ” campaign has been in full affect since last January.  Unfortunately for Elway,  the pressure from the fans has made its way up to the front office and now, not even the Duke himself, the two time SB winning QB, one of the best EVER, is safe from the wrath of angry Broncos fans.  I think we can all agree that #7 is the best Broncos player of all time but because of his success as a player, he’s made managing and/or coaching in Denver a very, very difficult task.

So we can assume VJ Is out at the end of the season.  The next, perhaps bigger question is; is John Elway right for the job as VP/GM?  Based on the last two years, no.  5-11 in 2018 and at least no better than 8-8 in 2018 is simply not going to cut it….not around Denver.  But are fans really ready to give Elway the boot based on two seasons?  Since 2011 (Elway’s first year as VP) the Broncos have won 5 AFC West titles, 2 AFC Championships and 1 SB. That’s quite the resume in a 7 year span as top executive.  Critics will argue that without Peyton Manning, none of the Broncos recent success would be possible.  Ok…I can go along with that but then we can say without Tom Brady the Pats wouldn’t have 5 SB’s,  without Big Ben, the Steelers wouldn’t have won their last two…on and on and on.  Perhaps without that astonishing defense in SB 50, Manning would still have the one SB to his name? We can go round and round on “If they didn’t have” all day long but the fact is, they did have Manning.  They did have one of the best defenses.  They did win SB 50.

Other critics like to point out the fact that because Elway and company were too busy signing free agents and essentially purchasing a SB, they ignored the draft and that is evident today as save for a few great rookies from the 17′ class, Denver, offensively, needs work.  I will agree that Denver’s draft picks over the past few years have been less than stellar but they did build a championship team through free agents.  To me, it doesn’t matter how you win one, just that you win one.  I love home grown players that started with one franchise and finished with the same but if the NFL and any other pro sport is truly JUST about winning titles, then why should it matter where they come from?  That being said, two of the best players in the NFL wearing a Broncos uniform came from the draft (Von Miller) or signed as an undrafted rookie (Chris Harris Jr.).  It hasn’t been all bad in terms of building through the draft:  Gotsis, Wolfe, Miller, Ray, Simmons, Booker, Parks are all playing meaningful reps and for the most part, have been fairly successful.  Jake Butt and Jeff Heuerman could be very good  but injuries have taken hold of both young players.  Then there’s the 2018 draft class: Chubb, Sutton, Freeman, Jewell, Hamilton and undrafted rookie (now pro bowler) Phillip Lindsay.  Busts like Lynch, Bolles, Henderson, Roby (in terms as a starter), Williams and Ball tend to blind us when evaluating the draft as they were pretty big misses.

EVEN more critics will remind you that Elway is about to be on the hunt for his 4th head coach since he took the job.  John Fox’s Broncos were clearly not ready for SB 48 and the following season they put out an uninspired effort against the Colts in the second round of the playoffs.  So, Elway moved on from Foxy, citing that the two of them had different ideas as to how to win the big one.  Next up, Gary Kubiak.  Upgrade.  Kubiak helped Denver secure their 3rd SB in just his first year as head coach of the Broncos.  The following year, post Manning, Denver missed the playoffs by a game and ended the season at 9-7.  For many reasons Kubiak called it quits after 2 seasons and the Broncos were on the hunt again.  VJ, obviously is not working out so that’s a miss. I’d put Elway’s record in terms of hits and misses with head coaches is 2-1.  After Fox’s embarrassing SB loss to Seattle, Elway made the necessary change at HC and won a title because of it. That was a bold move;  to move on from a solid coach and risking a chance on a guy that wasn’t sure he wanted to be a head coach.

Does Elway have flaws and weaknesses?  No question.  He can’t seem to find a franchise QB, his eye for offensive linemen is failing him and letting Wade Phillips and Aquib Talib walk has proven to be a rather large mistake.  But do those weaknesses outweigh what he’s done in a 7 ear body of work?  He knows how to draft defensive players.  Miller and Chubb will likely both be two of the leagues best as soon as next year.  Clearly, he is excellent at bringing talented free agents to town and the 2018 draft leads me to believe he might be improving in that area.  Does the SB give him a hall pass?  Sure…for a time.  So does an A draft class from 18′.   After 2 rough years, firing Elway would be a disastrous move for Joe Ellis and the Broncos.  When you ignore 5 good seasons and magnify 2 bad seasons you become Cleveland or Oakland.   The Denver Nuggets are a great example.  Tim Connelly, President of operations for the Nuggets, has nowhere near the resume as Elway.  Yet after a failed hire in Brian Shaw, the Kroenke’s stayed the course and 6 years later, Denver is currently the best team in the league.

Is Elway untouchable?  No.  But more than half his career as VP for the Broncos has been very good.  Shouldn’t that buy him some time as he tries to right the ship?  I think so.

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