John Elway is on the hot seat. I’ll be the first to admit it. Something has to change for the Denver Broncos and if hiring a new coach for the 4th time in 8 years doesn’t do the trick then perhaps the Broncos have to look at changing the man on top. However, it’s a much easier said than done type of task; letting the Duke go. He is by far the most popular and iconic Denver sports figure and is perhaps the biggest reason the Broncos have 3 titles; only 6 other teams have more and 2 others have an equal amount. When you think of the Broncos, both past and present, you think of Elway first. He still stacks up as one of the best QB’s of all time and likely always will. Hall of famers like Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis and now Champ Bailey fail in comparison to his state wide greatness. Not even Peyton Manning, a future hall of famer and perhaps an even better QB overall than Elway, can compete with what #7 did during his time as the man under center. His record as VP/GM is 78-50 and 6-4 in the playoffs since 2011. With 5 AFC West championships, 2 AFC championships and 1 SB trophy, it’s hard to say anyone could do much better in 8 seasons as boss.
Yet, here we are. Since hoisting the Lombardi trophy and declaring “This one’s for Pat,” the Broncos have missed the playoffs the past 3 years going 9-7, 5-11 and 6-10. During that time Denver saw it’s SB winning head coach, Gary Kubiak, call it quits and had to fire a hopeful up and comer in Vance Joseph. Even with the years of greatness backing him up, Elway isn’t immune to a downtrending cycle that typically leads to a change a the position.
Take Mike Shanahan for example. Not only was he the head coach but he essentially held the same title as Elway does now. He was a 2 time SB winning HC/GM for the Broncos and even he was fired by long time friend, Pat Bowlen. However, his body of work over a 14 year career with Denver was not quite the resume Elway built in a little over half that time. Since winning 2 SB’s in a row in 1997 and 1998, Shanahan went to the playoffs just 4 times between 1999 and 2008. In that span his Broncos only won the AFC West once, the same and only year post SB victories his team made it past the 1st round of the playoffs. After Denver lost in the AFC championship to Pittsburgh in 2005, Shanny failed to make the playoffs the next 3 seasons and was ultimately let go. Compare that to Elway year to year and there’s no doubt Elway has done nearly just as much in half the time. 2011-AFC West champs and a first round win over the Steelers. 2012 – AFC West Champs and a first round bye. 2013 – AFC West Champs, a first round bye and an AFC Championship. 2014 – AFC West Champs and first round bye. 2015 -AFC West champs, a first round bye, AFC Championship and SB winners. Yes, the past 3 years have been without playoffs but Mike Shanahan coached and ran GM for 14 seasons, making the playoffs half of that time.
Back in 2011 if I were to tell you Elway’s teams would win 5 out of 8 AFC West championships, go to 2 SB’s and sign Peyton Manning you would call that a huge success. But because of the draft failures, mainly at QB and offensive line, the pressure on #7 has never been higher. For all his success in drafting defensive players and signing big name free agents, his lack of finding a QB post Manning nearly trumps even his SB victory. From Brock to Trevor to Paxton to Keenum, one of the greatest QB’s of all time sure has a difficult time finding even an average one.
Enter Joe Flacco. Another free agent QB the Broncos are begging to come in and save this franchise. Sure he’s a champion but you’d be hard pressed to find many football fans call him elite. Most would put him in more of the Keenum department rather than the Manning side of the aisle. Nonetheless, Denver is asking him to run the offense at least good enough for the one time great defense to win games. But make no mistake; if Flacco fails, it will be considered one of Elway’s biggest flops at QB in a pool of already disastrous decisions. Not only will a playoff-less season likely result with a change at the top, it will severely damage a once great VP/GM legacy.
Should the SB 50 win give John Elway more time? I actually think so but Broncos Country won’t stand for it. 5 years of greatness just doesn’t outweigh 4 years of average to below. I hope Average Joe Flacco can recapture some of what he did back in SB 48. If not, Elway will be known as the guy that luckily landed Peyton Manning. Not the guy that built one of the best defenses ever. Not the guy that helped John Fox change the direction midseason with Tim Tebow taking over for Kyle Orton and yet still winning a playoff game. Not the guy that brought success back to a franchise that only tasted a hint of it since the late 90’s. No, failure to make the playoffs post Manning will forever brand Elway’s era as VP/GM the “good thing he had manning” era.