INDIANAPOLIS — John Elway doesn't need the job. He boasts two Super Bowl rings as a player. His closet includes a gold jacket, marking his Hall of Fame status. As an executive, he constructed rosters that have won five division titles and reached two Super Bowls, winning the big game in 2015. So why does Elway want to continue as the general manager? I asked him Wednesday at the NFL combine.
"Losing. I don’t like to lose. I think that we’ve had a couple of tough years. I think that it’s a goal of mine to get it fixed and get it back to where it should be. I feel like that’s my responsibility," Elway said. "I enjoy that challenge. I think we’re off to a good start. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
The Broncos fell from grace with a thud. They have missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, and posted back-to-back double-figure loss campaigns for the first time since 1967. Super Bowl 50 seems like a long time ago. The Broncos are 13-24 over their last 37 games. The four-game spiral to end last season pushed Elway to hire his fourth coach in six seasons, tabbing Vic Fangio, the brains behind the Bears' gnarly defense. When Joe Flacco arrives on March 13 -- he passed his physical, flying private to Denver and commercial on his return (his choice) -- Denver will be using its fifth starter since Peyton Manning retired.
Stability at coach and quarterback is critical to success. The Broncos hope they are finally on solid ground. While Flacco is the biggest news of the offseason in Denver, his acquisition requires additional moves to work. Elway weighed in on several topics – among them, the futures of Derek Wolfe and Emmanuel Sanders, Case Keenum's uncertainty and the plans for the offensive line.
On picking up $1.5 million option bonuses in March for Sanders and Wolfe (Sanders is due $10.25 million salary, but has no guarantee for injury).
"They’re good football players. That’s why we plan on exercising. They are different situations, but we’re planning on exercising both of those. ... Obviously, the only concern is a wide receiver coming off an Achilles injury. I love the way Emmanuel Sanders plays the game. I love his heart, I love his competitiveness. And there’s everything I like about Emmanuel Sanders and he’d be great asset for us. But the question is, how is he going to come off of that Achilles at 31 years old? So, we’ll be in that process and try to figure that out.”
On Case Keenum. The Broncos have three options: trade, cut or rework his contract. Elway will grant permission to his agent to seek a trade
"There would have to be an adjustment in the contract. I think we use $7 million no matter what. I’ll let you guys figure it out from there. But that’s not the reason why I’m saying we want Case back. I would like Case back because I think he’s a good football player that could help us. Now, like I said, I gave that flexibility to Case and look into that.”
On possible contract extension for Chris Harris Jr. The player's agent is expected to meet with Broncos at the combine.
"That has not been thought about just yet. We’ll see where things go. We’re going to get through this first wave and see what we can do in free agency. Then after that, we’ll look at different options. But that has not been thought of yet.” (Harris is interested to see what happens in free agency and draft, recognizing the Broncos are looking to find a fit to pair with him).
On the offensive line. The Broncos will let Matt Paradis test the market, but are trying to re-sign right tackle Jared Veldheer and guard/tackle Billy Turner before free agency opens
"We’re taking a look at Billy Turner and trying to get something done with Billy Turner as well as Jared [Veldheer]. Those are all what we’re going through right now is solving those issues and see where we’re going to end up on the offensive line. But (guard) Ron Leary is coming back; he’ll be coming off the Achilles, but he is coming back. And so with Paradis being hurt, those are all the scenarios that we’re going through right now.” (Leary's contract is guaranteed for injury, and he would not pass a physical in March. So he will return with hope he regains his strong form with improved health).
On the departure of Gary Kubiak to Minnesota and whether they will seek a front office replacement following his exit
“Gary and I have been together for a long, long time, and I’ve got a great deal of respect for Gary and always will have and will always be great friends. But it was just a situation that it didn’t work out between us. I wish him the best up in Minnesota. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of success up there, but I’m happy also with the way that everything fell for us, too. We have not looked at (filling) in that position at this point in time. But we will look at that in May and see where we are in May.”
On whether he will keep draft philosophy of drafting players with proven leadership qualities
"We looked at the experience that we had the year before, where we were as a football team. And so, we decided that we were going to emphasize that a little bit more.” (In other words, they remain tilted in this direction).
On how important it is to upgrade the inside linebacker position
“There’s a lot of places we’ve got to go. I think it’s a matter of trying to figure out where we can upgrade the most. You’re always trying to get better as a football team. I think Todd (Davis) and Josey (Jewell) did a hell of a job inside. You’re always looking for that linebacker that can play all three downs too. That’s where the game is going, is inside backers under 225 to 230 pounds that can really run and cover people. That’s the ideal situation, for them to play all three downs. I think Todd and Josey are very good football players and do a heck of a job for us. If we can help in that area, we will. We’ve only got so many picks and so much money.”
On how height affects a quarterback on the field (after Elway said he thought 5-10 1/8-inch Kyle Murray would be 'great' NFL player)
"I will say this, having played the position: when you’re shorter and you’re in shotgun, it doesn’t have nearly the effect because you see much better out of shotgun. So, if you’re in shotgun and starting in shotgun and that’s the only place you’ve ever been, you can see the field much better from shotgun. So, really, the height from shotgun doesn’t matter nearly as much if it does if you’re coming out from underneath center all the time because by the time you get back there the pocket a lot of times is caving on you. That’s where height does matter a little bit more. But if you’re playing in shotgun every down like a lot of these guys, then the height, to me, does not have nearly the impact that it normally would if you’re coming out from underneath.”