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The 'New' Era of John Elway

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Under the leadership of John Elway, the Denver Broncos have been one of the most successful franchises in the entire NFL. Let's take a stroll down memory lane and end with an assertion that the Broncos' 2017 offseason will be Elway's toughest to date.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When John Elway was hired as the Denver Broncos Vice President of Football Operations in 2011, the franchise he gave his body, blood, sweat and tears for was in the worse shape it had been since he retired from the game he loved after sixteen miraculous and memory-making years.

The Broncos were in desperate need of a makeover, in regard to both talent and culture. There simply was no better man for the job than Elway — whose passion and dedication to the game were unparalleled by any player in team history who had the privilege to don the historic orange and blue.

It’s been almost six years since he took charge of our beloved franchise, and fans couldn’t be any happier or more fortunate with the results thus far.

His tenure as overlord of the Broncos’ franchise has been one of resounding success and accomplishment — almost beyond comprehension and most certainly to a pinnacle few in similar shoes will ever reach. Five straight AFC West titles, two AFC Championships, two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl victory.

He has bucked the trend of former gridiron greats turned personnel men who have failed time and time again in their adjustment from the fields of glory to the front office. It is a testament not only to his prowess in the realm of football, but his an matchless business savvy and desire for excellence that has transcended the entire NFL landscape.

Quite simply, Elway has been and will forever be a winner — and for that, Broncos Country should always be grateful.

The number of free agent success stories that have transpired over the past five years are almost innumerable.

He was able to lure future Hall of Fame Quarterback Peyton Manning to Denver in March of 2012 with a lucrative five-year deal worth $96 million dollars. The move was lauded by many in the NFL, but also questioned by a myriad of talking heads who believed Manning’s best days were far behind him.

His acquisition of Manning was just the tip of the iceberg. Heralded players such as DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Darian Stewart all followed suit and carried on the storied tradition of the Broncos, each buying into Elway’s winning mentality and carrying that tradition on with dignity, honor and pride.

Those moves weren’t without criticism either — many thought Ware, who had battled a handful of injuries was too costly and over the hill. There were those who thought that despite his play-making abilities on the field, Talib wasn’t worth the trouble off of it and posed a significant risk due to that.

In the end, the doubters were proven wrong, as Manning and those who came to the Mile High City reached the same heights their boss had all those years ago — on top of the world, basking in the sweet aura of victory as a Super Bowl champion.

Clearly, Elway has a penchant for defying the odds and doing the unthinkable, but it is obvious that this coming off-season will be the hardest he has endured to date — and will have a significant impact on the identity and direction of the franchise he took the reins in 2011.

The current state of the Broncos is strong, but it’s humbling to see the adversity they are facing week in and week out after a half a decade of being the crème de la crème of the NFL.

The defense, spearheaded by the No Fly Zone continues to be the strength of the team. On the other side of the ball, the unit is struggling consistently in the trenches and has failed to pave the way for a prolific rushing attack that help’s Head Coach Gary Kubiak’s offense fire on all cylinders.

Time still exists for those deficiencies to change, but uncertainty at the quarterback position along with tenuous talent on the offensive line, tight end and even tailback make overcoming such issues quite the challenge this late in the season.

I’m not giving up on our Broncos just yet, but do believe that a keen eye on the future is necessary, and without question, Elway will do whatever is necessary to right what’s going wrong with the team right now when the opportunity presents itself.

Denver’s cap situation for the 2017 season is quite favorable. According to OverTheCap, the Broncos have just over 31 million dollars in cap space for next year. That’s with 36 players under contract, as well as a slough of ERFA and RFA players such as Brandon McManus, Matt Paradis, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Taylor, Shaquil Barrett, Todd Davis and Khalif Raymond who can be brought back at affordable rates.

Based on my calculations, the Broncos could bring back all those players and still have 22 million dollars in space. That figure does include the team picking up left tackle Russell Okung’s option, but doesn’t include a potential rollover of 7 million dollars the team will be able to bring into next season (unused cap space from 2016). Moreover, it doesn’t account the cutting of dead weight of under-performing players that could cause that number to rise even more.

If I were Elway, I’d invest strongly where the team is weakest — the offensive line. There aren’t a lot of top-tier players expected to hit the open market, but among them are Kevin Zeitler and Riley Reiff, widely regarded as some of the best players at their respective positions and two lineman who would provide necessary and immediate upgrades to the Broncos' woeful offensive line.

The Broncos could also use a few more players to add to their defensive line rotation. Calais Campbell, Domata Peko, Dontari Poe and Brandon Williams would all be solid acquisitions to a unit that desperately lacks depth and versatility. It isn’t likely that the Broncos could snag more than a few of the aforementioned on either side of the ball, but getting one impact player for both lines would go a long way to keep Elway’s "win now and from now on" statement ring true.

While the Broncos do have the cash to make a splash in the 2017 off-season, they also have a bounty of selections — ten in total — in respect to the upcoming NFL Draft.

Denver is slated to earn two third round compensatory picks for the departures of Brock Osweiler and Malik Jackson, as well as additional fourth and seventh round picks for Danny Trevathan and Ryan Harris heading to greener pastures. The team is without its original fifth and sixth round selections (given up in trades for A.J. Derby and Vernon Davis), but acquired a sixth round selection back from the Tennessee Titans in a 2016 draft day trade.

With that arsenal of selections, the Broncos will have the ammunition and ability to snag some of collegiate football's premier talent — as long as they play their cards right. If there is any justifiable criticism of Elway’s time as Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager it would be his questionable drafts.

There are a long line of bad decisions, especially in the second and third rounds that have not panned out as the Broncos’ brass had hoped. Players like Cody Latimer, Ty Sambrailo, Jeff Heuerman and Montee Ball for a number of reasons, never lived up to the hype. Elway’s free agent hit rate has been far more successful, but in order to have longevity and to continue on success of the past into the future — the franchise must get better at drafting and developing homegrown talent.  I have no doubts that this is something he knows to be true.

Fortunately, the 2017 NFL Draft is poised to be one of the strongest in recent memory, specifically at tight end, running back and defensive line where the Broncos could most certainly use reinforcements.  The offensive line class is ho-hum, but undoubtedly, there will be a handful of players who could contribute immediately and present themselves as upgrades to those currently in the teams’ ranks.

With that said — the future isn’t certain, but one thing assuredly is: Elway’s drive and passion to make the Broncos’ a formidable franchise is stronger than we can imagine and he will take any and every route possible to make sure the team is potent and powerful for years to come.

I look forward to the possibilities that this off-season will bring, and am thankful we have Elway as the man to lead us through that time.  It has been one heck of an era under his leadership and I fully expect that to continue now and from now on.