Elway steps down as GM: Now what for Vic Fangio, Drew Lock and Von Miller?
Change is coming
In the end, John Elway had the decency to quit.
He’s No. 7, the author of The Drive, among many other memorable comebacks. Elway is the Helicopter Play and his tenacious pursuit of the two Super Bowl wins in the 1990s. Given that Elway could run for governor of Colorado for either major political party and win with 80 percent of the vote, even after a decline from Super Bowl 50 with 9-7, 5-11, 6-10, 7-9, 5-11 records, no one could fire John Elway, especially with the Bowlen daughters fighting over the franchise.
So Elway did the right thing and kicked himself upstairs, retaining the title of president of football operations.
Immediate reaction: Thank the deity of your choosing. This franchise has been a mess for the last five years with the usual list of suspects — the quarterback position (or lack thereof), questionable coaching hires, and the entire AFC West progressing ahead of the Broncos. Since Peyton Manning left, the franchise has been spinning its wheels.
Immediate reaction No. 2: No, Peyton Manning will not be the next GM. Stop that right now. We did the legend quarterback as GM already. What’s more, the buzz is Manning is looking at ownership, not management.
Immediate reaction No. 3: Now, the work begins.
• So what now? A new general manager usually means a lot of changes, so let’s start with coach Vic Fangio. Does he come back? In fairness to Fangio, did he have much with which to work these last two years? No.
Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and Phillip Lindsay all started at quarterback for Fangio in 32 games. Ouch. FYI, Lindsay was officially the starting QB for Denver during the COVID-19 No Quarterbacks Bowl against New Orleans.
Speaking of which, Fangio’s second campaign in 2020 essentially ended when Von Miller went down in a heap six days before the opener.
But even if Fangio had the tools and just better luck, was he the right pick for the job? He’s a lifelong defensive coordinator in an offense-oriented league. Fangio’s clock management is also quite suspect. That was evident … again in the team’s Week 17 loss to the Cal-Neva Raiders.
Throw in that a GM usually likes to have his own coach to install his vision and Fangio doesn’t seem long for the Broncos.
• What about Lock? This was not the season for which he was hoping with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 13 games. He threw for 300 yards or more, not exactly the milestone it used to be in the NFL, only twice and did not exactly show tremendous leadership by not wearing a mask in team headquarters before the New Orleans game, leading to Lindsay and Kendall Hinton playing under center.
Lock had some moments — the comeback against the Chargers in Week 8 — but what other moments do you remember, Broncos fans, that made you sit up and exclaim, “We’ve got our guy?”
Fair or not, we seem to be in an NFL world where you get about a year-and-a-half to prove yourself or you’re out. This is only exacerbated by the Chiefs having Patrick Mahomes, the Chargers drafting Justin Herbert, and even the Raiders having a better QB in Derek Carr.
The Broncos will be picking ninth in the first round of the draft. Early mock drafts have Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and BYU’s Zach Wilson long gone by No. 9.
If Lock isn’t “The Guy,” do the Broncos trade up for a shot at Lawrence, Fields or Wilson or do they look at Florida’s Kyle Trask or Alabama’s Mac Jones? (I don’t touch Jones unless he comes with Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Najee Jones. That would probably make Jerry Jeudy happy.) Or do the Broncos stick with Lock?
The elephant in the room
What about Von Miller? He’s 32-years -old, coming off a severe right-ankle injury, makes $17 million in 2021 and is a free agent after next year.
Stipulated, Miller is awesome, a Broncos legend, an honest-to-God good draft pick by Elway (No. 2 overall, behind Cam Newton in 2011) — OK, it was pretty obvious, but give No. 7 some credit — a surefire Hall of Famer and the stud who anchored the Super Bowl 50 win.
But … if Denver fires Fangio (bordering on certain) and goes shopping for a new quarterback, Miller’s value to the Broncos changes. The Broncos can’t resign Miller after the 2021 season if they’re going through a hypothetical rebuild. In this scenario, Miller becmes a tradeable asset.
It’ll be hard to tell how healthy Miller is until offseason activities begin — hopefully — or even training camp. That will diminish his trade value initially, but if Denver can get him back playing and show he’s as best he can be, Miller is primed for a regular-season deal next fall.
It’s tough to think this way, but one cannot afford to be nostalgic in personnel decisions.
Get a football person
The Athletic is reporting Champ Kelly (Bears, but formerly with the Broncos), George Paton (Vikings), Lake Dawson (Bills), Rick Smith (Texans), Louis Riddick (Most recently of “Monday Night Football”) and Adam Peters (49ers and formerly with the Broncos) as potential candidates for the job.
Smith has been a GM with all but Riddick as candidates with major front-office experience, seemingly ready to make the step to GM. I’m not crazy about Riddick coming from the TV booth. That only works so often.
Yes, I’m a Niners fan, but look at how San Francisco has drafted the last few years — Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk (2020); Nick Bosa (yes, obvious at No. 2 in 2019, like Miller in 2011) and Deebo Samuel and Dre Greenlaw (not as obvious in 2019); Mike McGlinchey and Fred Warner in 2018 and George Kittle in the fifth round of 2017?
That is Peters’ work as the executive vice president of player personnel for the 49ers. Whether it’s Peters or someone else, it needs to be a true football guy, a person who’s observed how organizations are going to more analytics and knows how to implement newer thinking to the Broncos.
No one said this was going to be easy, but, thanks to John, Broncos fans are looking at a whole new world.
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