As a player, John needs no introduction, as his reputation and status as a living legend has already been firmly cemented in the minds of the masses. And rightfully so. John Elway, the General Manager, certainly has started to grow some fan following as well, but I wonder if sometimes his work flies at least somewhat under the radar.
Mind you, first and foremost, this General Manager I speak of is the one who lured in, and signed, the biggest free agent to ever hit the open market in the National Football League. And he did this all while about 12 other teams were trying to do the same. Obviously, I'm speaking of the Peyton MF Manning signing here.
The next year, this General Manager simply goes out and signs the best slot receiver the world has ever known, a little guy named Wes Welker. Not a bad encore, if you ask me. And what makes it twice as sweet is that with the Broncos adding this new rose, it would immediately become a painful thorn to the Patriots. Take that, Bill!
With a little help from Wes - along with a no-name nobody called Julius Thomas, whom Elway just so happened to have brought in as well - the offense then goes out and shatters pretty much every record known to man. Scoring, passing yards, TD's? Check, check, check. The team as a whole even made it to the big dance, despite losing roughly half of its defense to IR. As we know, the big game was a big loss, but the pieces? They were in place.
One win away from a ring, so what to do now?
John Elway knows what good managers spend their entire careers striving to always remember and to always keep at the forefront of strategy: complacency is cancer.
If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. Close isn't close enough. Sounds simple, right? Sure, but when's the last time you saw a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance actually go out and make free agency its bitch the way John did this offseason?
The answer is never, and I'm not sure it's even close.
DeMarcus Ware is the pinnacle pass-rusher of the last decade. That's a very true statement with more fact than opinion laced within it. He's consistent, durable and he's pretty much always on the top of his game. In this guy's opinion, he's the biggest free agent signing, league wide, since Peyton Manning.
Although, just like with Manning, there are going to be doubters as to how much he's got left in the tank, his health and whatnot. But these are fans, mind you, not GM's. If you want to know what other shot-callers around the league think of DeMarcus Ware, just look at their actions. At least a half dozen teams, that we know of, essentially dropped everything they were doing to go chase Ware the minute he hit the market.
Too slow, Joe. Back of the bus you go. John Elway always gets his man.
Aqib Talib is a top-three corner in this league, behind only Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. That's my opinion, but maybe you rank one or two other guys up there. Either way, he specializes in press-man coverage, and he's physical - two immediate and inarguable upgrades over last year's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I don't care who you are, that's good stuff right there.
TJ Ward is the most aggressive, hardest hitting Strong Safety in the NFL. He's the best Strong Safety in the NFL. Wanna argue there's someone better? Okay, maybe, but how about two? Are you picking up what I'm layin' down here? We can debate degrees of greatness with these guys, but the point is to realize that they truly are "great". On any scale.
Emmanuel Sanders is a wide receiver who is nothing like Eric Decker, so they're hard to compare from an upgrade/downgrade perspective. Sanders will be able to take the top off a defense in a way that Decker never could, but he won't be able to out-jump and box-out defenders the way Deck could with his much bigger frame. With Sanders, Elway traded size for speed, likely because it gives the Broncos a new dynamic to the pass-attack.
As something of an aside on Sanders, I think route running is the most underrated aspect to him, and also that it won't be truly realized until he actually hits the gridiron in Orange & Blue. Big Ben Rothlissberger isn't the type of quarterback who throws to a spot while anticipating the break... Peyton is. Sanders will be able to showcase some abilities in Denver with his run-after-catch on the short timing passes that he wasn't able to showcase in the Pittsburgh system.
Anyway, just look at all those "great" free agents as a whole, signing on with a team that's already coming straight off a Super Bowl appearance. Oh, the humanity, I tell ya!
Outsiders like to spout that John Elway is in "win now" mode. Their implication is that the Broncos are mortgaging their future in order to bring in these big time players in the now. The idea is that the money trail will eventually catch up, thereby putting the Broncos in "cap jail".
To this, I humbly say: Horse Shit.
The Denver Broncos under John Elway were good enough to make it to the big game last season, and yet the money was run so right to where they were able to go out and "win" free agency as well. Again. For the third year in a row. Cap jail? Mortgaging the future? Child please.
The Broncos currently have just under $118M in cap commitments for the 2015 season, which is a number that doesn't even put them in the "uh-oh!" half of the league. The Patriots, for example, have already committed $148M to next season. So, uh, tell me again, who's going to cap jail?
In effort not to bore you with all the little details and a barrage of yucky numbers, let me just say that I updated a spreadsheet today that estimates what it would cost to re-sign every single player that's even semi-important. It takes into account the 2015 draft picks, the number of players on the roster (making sure to include 51 salaries), the rollover, the projected salary cap, and also what I like to call "the rule of 20%" (ask below if you're curious). I assure you, no rock was left unturned.
The result is that after re-signing both Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas, and after re-signing all of the role-players such as Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein, Aaron Brewer, and Jacob Tamme... you then have a list of five players with whom you can keep about 3.5 of them. That's Wes Welker, Chris Harris, Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin, and Terrance Knighton.
So, to sum that up in a nut shell: This team is so well managed from a salary cap perspective that it can retain all of its stars and all but about two mid-tier guys next season. If the Broncos were to re-sign every single player on the team, they'd be about $8M over the cap. That's peanuts considering we're a year early.
More likely, injuries happen, 2nd year players step up, rookies step up, next year's 1st and 2nd round rookie might be expected to produce, etc.. The Denver Broncos won't even want to keep all but two guys next season, that's just the nature of the beast. But they could.
Cap jail? Mortgaging the future?
Seriously, next time you hear someone say that, just ask them a specific question about cap commitments for next season. They won't know the answer, I guarantee it. The reason I can guarantee it is because nobody who understands the situation would think the Broncos are in trouble. Our GM is better than their GM, and that's how we're able to bitch slap the market every year. And hey, you can tell 'em I said so!
Let's lock it up here by acknowledging that Peyton Manning threw the strikes last season. And Coach Fox prepared the troops. But John Elway is making it awful easy on ‘em by continually bringing in such a talented cast of supporting characters. And the best is yet to come.
The General Manager is accomplishing all this with cap-friendly deals, an aversion to long-term, high-risk situations, and with the steadfast mindset of giving the middle finger to those who say he wants to "win now". Instead, the moves he's been making are firmly aimed at winning "from now on".
And that favorite phrase of John‘s right there, in a couple years, it might just become famous once history tells this tale. The Broncos truly are poised "to win from now on", so long as John Elway has the keys, that is.