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  • Elway is not-so-subtly dropping hints that things need to improve in Denver ... or else. How much pressure can Joseph take?
By Conor Orr
October 17, 2018

While it’s true that, in 2018, passively bullying your subordinates in the media qualifies as a notable leadership strategy, it doesn’t mean that what John Elway is doing right now will help him or the Broncos in the immediate future.

It’s quite obvious that Elway, the gifted athlete turned hyper-competitive general manager, does not approve of the job head coach Vance Joseph is doing (as would most executives when the team has a 2–4 record). Earlier this week, he called the Denver defense “soft,” which, in NFL parlance, is typically a code word aimed directly at the person in charge of aligning and motivating those players, even if Elway added that the problem “starts with me.”

And on Tuesday, the team’s official Twitter account dropped this interview with Elway from Broncos team reporter Phil Milani that contained the following passage:

John, for the second week in a row, the Broncos gave up a big game on the ground to the opposing running back. What’s it going to take to make sure that doesn’t happen again?

Elway: “Well, that’s a good question. I think obviously it’s always been a point of emphasis to try and stop the run game, and we’ve done a good job really, up until the last couple of weeks and then have really struggled. So, hopefully we can find a solution in a short week against Arizona going down there but, ah, it’s very frustrating. Even though we’ve played good football teams—the Rams, [Todd] Gurley is a very good football player—but ah, the way they went about it, that’s something we gotta get fixed in a hurry.

Not the standard around here for sure. I mean, especially with guys like Domata Peko, Derek Wolfe, uhh….

Elway: “No it’s not. Especially with a lot of people on the defensive side that we’ve played with the last few years and had a lot of success with. We’re not having success with [them] now. We’ve got to get it figured out.”

The line of questioning, especially referring to the inherent ability and toughness of Peko and Wolfe, plays into a narrative that Elway seems to be playing up. Sure, they were good against the run when I brought them here, but now the team is 27th in total defense…

Colleague Robert Klemko brilliantly profiled Elway with a focus on his search for another franchise quarterback (in a way, a search for another John Elway). This foot-on-the-pedal mentality has caused him to ignore some of the typical warning signs often heeded by other post-Super Bowl general managers who saw their team’s core rapidly aging and instead made a play for the sustainable future. Elway kept pressing for one more run and took a significant swing and miss on a first-round quarterback, Paxton Lynch, who remains a free agent to this day.

To name a few of the team’s top players, Demaryius Thomas will finish the season at age 31. Emmanuel Sanders will turn 32 at the beginning of free agency in 2019. Chris Harris turns 30 after the season and Brandon Marshall hits 30 around opening day 2019.

In short, it’s not all Joseph’s fault. Elway hired the bright young coordinator after Joseph’s first season calling his own defense in Miami. He had to know that Joseph would need time to gain his footing—a process made quite difficult with Lynch and Trevor Siemian as his quarterbacks in 2017 and Case Keenum under center in ’18.

If Elway is leading a hunt for the next Broncos head coach after this season (or after Thursday night’s game against the Cardinals, as some beat reporters have hinted), will the next candidate think twice about walking into this type of situation? And if Elway goes back to his comfort zone, installing head coaches who are good friends and former teammates, how long can that be a productive candidate pool next to a new generation of bright, young offensive minds?

Maybe this was part of a larger message. Von Miller, after all, said the Broncos were going to kick Arizona’s you-know-what on Thursday Night Football. Maybe it’s a top-down directive to start walking with some swagger around the building again. But maybe Elway is leaning too hard into a head coach who is scrambling to clean up a mess he didn’t create.

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PRESS COVERAGE

1. Speaking of the Raiders, Jon Gruden defended his record and attacked a few pointed media criticisms during a lengthy, pre-bye week press conference. It was strange.

2. Various reports have the Bills expecting a Josh Allen surgery. Oh, and they’re apparently on the verge of losing the locker room if they start Nathan Peterman again.

3. Jerry Jones does not seem as bullish on a Jason Garrett extension as other Cowboys employees.

4. Giants owner John Mara returns serve on Odell Beckham Jr.

5. It’s Ito Smith time in Atlanta.

6. Philip Rivers: MVP?

7. The Patriots are winning. The Sox are still in the playoffs, and apparently, Boston has America’s best pizza. What the hell is happening? 


THE KICKER

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