ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After a decade of being the Denver Broncos’ chief football decision-maker, John Elway and the team have decided it is time for a fresh set of eyes to make the calls on the Broncos’ roster.
As the Broncos’ playoff drought has grown to five seasons after this year’s 5-11 finish, Elway said Monday that he will remain in place as team president, but the Broncos will hire a general manager “to make all football decisions, working in partnership with [coach] Vic [Fangio].”
The new GM will control the draft, free agency and the roster, according to Elway.
“I knew there was going to be a time at some point in time, this was a position I would, hopefully, move to,” Elway said. “It gave me the opportunity to move up and I think it’s the right time for me.”
Elway has already promised that the team will cast a “wide net” to find the best candidate, with former Broncos scouts or pro personnel evaluators like San Francisco 49ers senior football vice president Adam Peters, Chicago Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly and Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of player personnel John Spytek having already surfaced as possibilities.
Elway said Monday that the team has a long list of names and the goal is to pare the list quickly and efficiently to find the “best candidate, the best person for the job.” He said he also had a phone conversation with Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome in recent days about Newsome’s similar move after a long run as Baltimore Ravens general manager.
Matt Russell, the Broncos’ director of player personnel whom Elway called his “right-hand guy,” also announced Monday that he is retiring. Russell, after time in scouting with the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, was hired by the Broncos in 2009 as the director of college scouting, two years before Elway’s return to the franchise.
Elway said team CEO Joe Ellis, Russell and Fangio will be involved in the hiring of the new general manager.
Elway, 60, became a grandfather for the seventh time Monday morning and said, “There are some other things in life I’d really like to do, but I’d still like to be involved with football … my seventh grandchild was born [Monday] morning and it’s time for me to spend some time with them too … there’s nothing better than being a grandfather.”
It remains to be seen whether Elway will stay in the new role beyond next season, given he has a year left on his current contract. But he said Monday that he envisions a scenario where he does stay beyond next season.
“We haven’t had a chance to talk about that, [but] selfishly, yeah, that would be something I’d be interested in, but I think we’ll take a peek at that,” Elway said. “… It’s a role I kind of look forward to … we’ll see how everything goes.”
He has been the Broncos’ top football decision-maker since Pat Bowlen coaxed Elway back into the organization after a disastrous 4-12 finish in 2010 that included a dysfunctional locker room, a spying scandal and Josh McDaniels’ firing.
Elway’s first move was to hire John Fox as the team’s coach in 2011. The Broncos then selected linebacker Von Miller with the second pick of that April’s draft and began a run of five consecutive AFC West titles.
The Broncos signed Peyton Manning in 2012 and added other free agents like Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. In Manning’s four seasons, the Broncos won four division titles, won 50 games, went to two Super Bowls and won Super Bowl 50.
But the Broncos have not been to the playoffs since. And since Gary Kubiak stepped down as coach for health reasons after the 9-7 finish in 2016, the Broncos are 23-41 over the past four seasons with three seasons with at least 10 losses.
Elway said the team’s current ownership situation would not impact its ability to get the best candidate. The team is currently run by a trust, as some of Pat Bowlen’s children are waging a court battle over control to make the decision about which of Bowlen’s children would be the team’s primary owner. The sale of the team is an option if the family cannot come to an agreement. Bowlen died in June 2019.
“The way the ownership is, and I understand there’s some question out there with ownership, but the thing is on the football side we’ve had every opportunity we’ve ever had when Mr. Bowlen was here,” Elway said. “That had not really changed. We still had the resources that we ever had to try and put a successful team on the field.”
Elway’s place in the franchise’s history has long been secure. He was the Broncos’ first Hall of Famer after he retired following the team’s back-to-back Super Bowl wins to close out the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
With his Super Bowl 50 win as an executive, Elway has had a leading role in all three of the franchise’s Super Bowl wins and in 20 of the Broncos’ 23 all-time playoff victories.
Elway had talked over the move for the past two weeks, he said. When asked whether he would have made the same decision had the team finished 13-3 this season, he said he couldn’t say for sure.
“I’d probably feel a lot better about 13-3, feel a lot better about ourselves … I started thinking about what I want with my life, what I wanted to experience in my life. Being 60 years old, I want to take advantage of some of the hard work I put in.”