Since John Elway became General Manager of the Denver Broncos, the franchise has been the league’s hot spot destination for pinnacle free agents.
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Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib are just a few of some of the high-quality players that have been acquired during Elway's reign as leader of the Broncos football operations.
Some of the contracts were hefty, but in hindsight, many have been bargains relative to the productivity those players have brought to the team.
At $5 million a year, Sanders has been an absolute steal — vastly outproducing players at his position who cost significantly more.
When Talib signed his six-year, $57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed, many in the media felt it was a significant gamble and overpay for a player who had nagging injury and off-the-field concerns over the course of his career.
Two years into his deal, Talib has earned back-to-back Pro Bowl honors due to his top-tier level of play and has picked off seven passes, returned four for touchdowns and accumulated over 100 tackles. His prowess in coverage is a primary reason the No Fly Zone is feared by offenses across the NFL.
Yet, Elway's success on the free agent market doesn’t end there. He has hit home runs with in-house free agents within Dove Valley as well.
With the help of salary capologist Mike Sullivan, who joined the team in 2012, they have been able to retain key internal free agents such as shutdown cornerback Chris Harris Jr., rising star defense lineman Derek Wolfe and promising running back C.J. Anderson — all at affordable deals that have earned the ‘hometown discount’ designation from player personnel staff and agents across the league.
Some of those agents believe that the deal brokered with Derek Wolfe has clouded Elway and Sullivan’s judgment when it comes to their approach to free agency. Moreover, that it has been a reason players such as Malik Jackson and Brock Osweiler have headed for greener pastures and could eventually lead to chaotic gridlock in negotiations with franchise outside linebacker Von Miller.
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According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, Sullivan has earned a larger role in the assessment and contract discussion process and at times, is acting unilaterally in such fashion. Some agents feel that there is a sense of arrogance being displayed that have proven to be prohibitive when brokering potential deals with free agents league-wide.
From the article above, an anonymous scout states: "I think the Derek Wolfe deal screwed their heads up," one agent said. "It made [Mike] Sullivan believe he could get everyone to do bad deals. There is a lot of arrogance there."
That source wasn’t alone in his opinion and another scout shared a similar indictment, insinuating that Sullivan has turned off agents with ‘low-ball’ offers that have been counterproductive in negotiations and remarked: "[He] tries to make everyone eat a [expletive] sandwich. And we have long memories."
Unfortunately, it isn’t Sullivan’s job to befriend agents or necessarily be favorable in such processes. At the end of the day, he is tasked with formulating a numerical scenario the gives the team flexibility and longevity in regard to the cap not only now, but for years to come.
Just as people shouldn’t begrudge former players for making the most out of their careers and maximizing their profits on the gridiron, they also shouldn’t pile on those bargaining on the other side of the table. After all, general managers and capologists like Elway and Sullivan have their own business model and at the top of that model most certainly is what is in the best interest of the franchises they represent.
Elway and Sullivan should be applauded, not ridiculed, for their steadfast approach and diligence in negotiations with free agents in-house and outside of Dove Valley.
What’s "fair" in one’s eyes may not be so from someone else’s point of view. On the outside looking in, it would be hard to argue that Denver's offers to players like Jackson ($12M a year) and Osweiler ($16M a year) weren’t fair based on numerous factors.
It’s self-evident that an agent's job is to maximize profit for his clients, but what cannot be lost is the perspective that Elway and Sullivan must concoct a formula that has a bottom line of being sustainable, most importantly, a winning recipe for success.
And if you’ve been paying attention, it certainly has.
When the rubber meets the road, there is no doubting that their bravado has paid big dividends for the franchise to date — most notably with the hoisting of a Lombardi Trophy.
Players come and go, but building a franchise that endures the test of time is a venture worth pursuing.
If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Keep sticking to your guns, John and Mike.
As a duo, you’ve created a championship roster that is the envy of the NFL — and for that, the rest of Broncos Country and I are eternally grateful.