Elway gets 3-year extension, new GM title
ENGLEWOOD — John Elway led Denver to the Super Bowl faster as a front office executive than he did as a quarterback.
On Wednesday, the Broncos extended his contract, which was set to expire after this year, through 2017 and added general manager to his title of executive vice president.
Team President Joe Ellis lauded the work Elway has done so far, saying he’s “demonstrated great vision and leadership in his role, assembling a championship caliber team and positioning it for sustained success.”
Elway, who will speak publicly on Friday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, said in a statement that he was grateful for the opportunity and “we remain relentlessly committed to delivering a world championship” to Denver.
The Broncos are coming off their first AFC title in 15 years but they were blown out 43-8 by Seattle in the Super Bowl, a result that was eerily similar to the first three of Elway’s five Super Bowls before he capped his Hall of Fame playing career with back-to-back titles in 1998 and ‘99.
Asked at his end-of-season news conference last week how long it took him to get over those losses, Elway said, “I’m not over them yet. I just added this one to it.”
The Broncos have gone 37-17 since Elway rejoined the team on Jan. 5, 2011, when owner Pat Bowlen brought him back to rescue a franchise reeling from a nosedive under Josh McDaniels that bottomed out with a 4-12 season, Denver’s worst in four decades.
Elway’s first order of business was hiring coach John Fox, who has led Denver to three straight AFC West titles and is expected to sign his own long-term extension soon.
Next on Elway’s to-do list was changing the losing culture that had enveloped his beloved Broncos while he was away honing his managerial skills by running restaurants, car dealerships and an indoor football league franchise.
That began with a roster makeover.
“I think No. 1, we had to clean up the locker room. We had to get to get the locker room right,” Elway said last month. “... that is really the life bread of what the organization is all about. How that locker room fits is the most important thing.”
Although it’s early to render a verdict on his draft acumen, Elway has unquestionably hit the jackpot in free agency, first by luring Peyton Manning to Denver in 2012 and then last year by signing Wes Welker and Louis Vasquez, who in 2013 became the NFL’s only free agent signee to earn All-Pro first-team honors.
Other free agents — notably Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Terrance Knighton and Shaun Phillips — helped Denver’s defense weather an injury epidemic in which six starters missed significant playing time.
“It’s been my goal to really continue what Pat Bowlen created in the fact that people want to play here,” Elway said last month. “So players will come here late in their career when they know they have a chance to win a world championship.”
Manning has thrown for 100 touchdowns and 11,336 yards in his two seasons in Denver and this season won his fifth MVP award. He is planning to play in 2014 and perhaps another year after that.
Elway has said he doesn’t want to just win now, but from “now on,” and how backup quarterback Brock Osweiler performs whenever Manning retires will go a long way in determining whether Elway’s long-term vision will pan out as well as his short-term fixes have.
The Broncos ended a six-year playoff drought in 2011 when they went 8-8 with Tim Tebow at quarterback, beating Pittsburgh in the playoffs before losing to New England.
Elway lured Manning to Denver that spring and traded away Tebow the next day.
“Tim Tebow was so popular, John Elway is the only one who could have pulled that off,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said.
The Broncos went 13-3 in 2012 but a crushing loss to Baltimore in the playoffs left a scar that drove them to another 13-3 season last year. This time, they beat San Diego and New England in the playoffs to reach their first Super Bowl since Elway was leading them from the huddle.
Elway has made more than 600 transactions since rejoining the Broncos, and he acknowledged some difficult decisions await as he shapes the roster for 2014.
Although the Broncos came up way short in the Super Bowl, Elway promised to navigate this offseason with the notion that this loss will drive Denver to do something no team has done since Buffalo in 1993 — reach the Super Bowl the year after losing it.
“The bottom line is we’re going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder, and continue to do that with the mindset that we want to be world champions,” Elway said, “and we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”