John Elway is notorious for having no Plan B.
When the opportunity arose to sign Peyton Manning, Elway knew he must go all-in. When the team was embarrassed in Super Bowl XLVIII, he knew he needed to fix his defense. When the team surrendered in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, he knew he needed a new head coach. All of those decisions led to the Denver Broncos winning Super Bowl 50.
As Adam Malnati and I said on the latest MHR Radio Podcast, since Elway screamed, “This one’s for Pat,” it has never been more apparent that Elway has no Plan B that will put this team back on the right course. Given the last three seasons, he has no Plan A either.
Fans are right to question whether the Broncos legend has any clue what he’s doing as the current president of football operations and general manager. That is especially true at quarterback, where he’s made repeated epic failures since Manning retired. In that same time period, after Manning, not a single free-agent signing by Elway has paid off. Up until this most recent draft class, Elway has amassed an impressive collection of player busts — not of the statue variety. Elway does share some of the credit for this year’s stellar 2018 draft class with a former head coach who took a role in the front office earlier this year.
The #Broncos looked like a team that needs to hit the reset button against the #Jets. On the @MileHighReport Radio Podcast, @AdamMalnati16 and I can’t believe how far the team has fallen, and that all starts at the top. #BroncosCountry https://t.co/0LriLoq14b— Ian St. Clair (@IanStClair) October 8, 2018
Speaking of the most recent draft, this was the class to get your franchise quarterback. But there was allegedly only one who caught Elway’s eye: Sam Darnold. That highlights something that doesn’t wash. As a player, Elway never left anything to chance. He made the impossible happen no matter the circumstances. But Elway hasn’t followed that approach with the quarterback position post-Manning. Other than the move he made to acquire Paxton Lynch, Elway has followed a sit-back-and-relax strategy. We watched the New York Jets jump over Elway and the Broncos to get the quarterback Elway was fond of. There were no bold moves. He didn’t do what the franchise needed by acquiring a rookie quarterback who could lead the team into the future. Instead, he pinned his hopes on another trash quarterback who will likely have a short-lived role with the team.
Then there’s Elway’s decision to not only hire Vance Joseph, but bring him back for this season. And what about the decision to jettison Wade Phillips in favor of Joe Woods?
It would have been easier to list the things Elway has done well since Manning retired. Bringing Gary Kubiak to the front office is about the only thing I can think of, and I’m not sure that was Elway’s decision.
There is no doubt the Broncos need to fire Joseph and get his incompetence as far away from the franchise as possible. Might as well give Woods the axe as well. As for who replaces Joseph, go with Tom McMahon, who has coordinated the only functional unit for Denver since training camp. Allow McMahon to do for the Broncos what he’s done for the special teams. Once the season is over, go all-in on hiring Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo as the next head coach.
That’s only the start — Denver needs to contemplate moving on from Elway. There has been talk about moving Kubiak back down to the field to replace Joseph. However, Joseph is merely a symptom of the larger affliction. Joseph didn’t hire himself, bring him back for a second season or make all of these horrible personnel decisions. That rests with Elway. The other aspect to consider in all of this: Will a new head coach, who wants the ability to make personnel/roster decisions, be able to coexist with Elway?
There was a time not that long ago where this rank failure would be unacceptable. Moves would be made to correct these constant embarrassments. Since Manning retired, Elway has been given the benefit of the doubt time and time again. That tends to happen when your legendary resume includes a Super Bowl win and playing in two Super Bowls in three seasons — not to mention a Hall-of-Fame playing career. But in a “what have you done for me lately league,” Elway couldn’t lead the Broncos in the right direction with a compass, map and tour guide to assist him.
This all reminds me of the “lifetime contract” Mike Shanahan had in Denver. Pat Bowlen still made the tough but necessary decision to move on from the coach who brought the first two Super Bowl wins to his franchise.
That’s the bigger issue right now: Mr. B is no longer there to make the tough decisions. There is no leadership at the top. For all intents and purposes, the Broncos are a headless horseman. If Bowlen were around, he would know the move that needs to be made, and he would make it no matter how tough or unpopular it may be. If it needed to happen, he would move on from Elway.