John Elway certainly has earned a reputation for playing hardball with negotiations. This has been met with mixed reactions from fans (including myself), and players.
While I don’t necessarily like to see veteran players cut and team stalwarts not retained due to age or salary, I believe Elway has earned a little bit of a a long leash specifically in these types of situations.
I’m not here to claim he’s perfect and the Broncos record over the last three seasons certainly indicate that there are core parts of the job in which he is under-performing. However, in player extensions/retention, Elway has shown a knack for keeping guys that end up working out, and releasing guys at just the right time, or that aren’t willing to play for the right price - and it has generally gone in his favor.
What started this line of thinking, and the honest question I would like to pose to Broncos Country is two-fold.
Who has Elway let walk that we now regret them leaving?
Who has Elway retained that we now regret keeping?
These aren’t trick questions or intended to be leading. They’re genuine questions I have been wrestling with and starting the conversation on the Twittersphere.
John Elway takes a lot of heat as a GM, but one area he's earned the benefit of the doubt is negotiations just like this.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) April 24, 2019
Who was the last guy Denver let walk that we regretted two years later? Danny T, maybe?
Conversely, what was the last bad extension John made? Champ?
The names that bubbled to the top upon further review of each question are Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall, as Denver remains in pursuit of a 3-down linebacker.
In hindsight, Denver was likely concerned with Trevathan’s ability to stay healthy over the course of a long-term deal, and Brandon Marshall didn’t live up to his contract largely due to injuries. Although, Trevathan struggled with his fair share of injuries in Chicago, logging 52% and 67% (respectively) of snaps in his first two years of his deal.
Perhaps Champ Bailey’s extension could be seen as one that didn’t live up to the potential, but was arguably the right move for the team at the time, and Elway was honoring a contract offer previously given by Josh McDaniels.
For the most part, across the time Elway has been here, the players he has let walk have not lived up to the deals they signed in free agency, or the ones they had when they were traded.
Demaryius Thomas is on his second team since being let go, Malik Jackson, while talented was cut after three years in Jacksonville and didn’t play quite at the level his deal indicated, Aqib Talib played in eight games and 38% of defensive snaps at $11M last year for the Rams, TJ.. Ward is struggling to find a team who will take him, C.J. Anderson, while finding success late last year in LA has bounced around and made much less than his deal here, and we all know about Brock Osweiler - although as Mile High Report’s Joe Mahoney pointed out, that may have just been luck that he declined Denver’s offer.
The jury is still out on Matt Paradis and Bradley Roby, whether or not they live up to their deals, but Elway’s track record in this area has been very good, in my opinion.
Additionally, Denver’s reticence to hand out big extensions has led to a pretty good hit rate on extensions made. I would classify Chris Harris, Derek Wolfe, Emmanuel Sanders, obviously Von Miller, and Darian Stewart as all successful extensions. Stewart is the closest to being on the fence, but his dead money hit was minimal when he was cut.
Smaller extensions like Virgil Green, Brandon McManus, have panned out with minimal risk to Denver. Jeff Hueurman’s recent extension would fall into this bucket as we wait and see how that turns out.
Overall, I believe Elway has done an excellent job as it relates to the two questions above. Denver seems to have found the sweet spot of letting guys walk at the right time (ala New England), and haven’t been trapped into a lot of big money extensions that failed.
However, here is where engaging in dialogue and debating ideas bring up good points and make for better overall conclusions.
This is a great point and piece of the equation. Denver has repeatedly missed on. If you're going to play hard ball, you better have a system/plan in place to draft/develop young guys to fill the veteran shoes.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) April 24, 2019
New staff is a fix, but Denver has clearly failed at this part. https://t.co/lcNtiVk4OV
As I dug into this discussion on Twitter today, local Broncos sports talk host, TJ Carpenter had a great counter point.
Elway has the hardball side down, and has done a good job moving on from veterans at the right time/not getting locked into bloated extensions.
However, where he and the organization have failed is in having a solid plan B in place to replace those players, which is why the team overall has suffered. In a vacuum, the evidence points to those being the right moves, but the Broncos failure to draft/develop young replacements for these stalwart players has been their downfall.
This seems like an area in which the front office is at least self-aware and have been working to remedy. The new coaching staff with emphasis on teaching and developing players, along with expert position coaches will hopefully begin to remedy this issue and pair well with Elway’s strategy of “next man up” when a veteran gets too old or pricey.
New England is a perfect example of not getting emotionally attached to players and creating the “next man up” mentality. They are also able to pay it off with plugging in new/young talent to keep the machine turning, which is why it works and no one questions their multiple draft whiffs (which there have been plenty), because they win anyway.
Until this happens, I think we’ll see Denver continue to struggle with overall roster building, but that doesn’t mean their strategy and approach to contract extensions isn’t right.
Regardless of how the Harris deal plays out, I think this is one area where Elway has proven that while not always the most palatable, his tactics in this specific area have achieved an optimal end result.
Give me your thoughts, Broncos Country? Agree or disagree? What retention or extension decisions has Denver made that you feel they shouldn’t have?