Things are moving quickly in the Denver Broncos' search for a new general manager — just one week removed from John Elway relinquishing the job to "move up" into a higher executive role. If you're scratching your head, you aren't alone because although Elway won't be the GM anymore, he's still the Broncos' president of football operations — a title he's held since signing his contract extension back in 2017.
Ostensibly, Elway could have "moved up" to his president-only role at any time of his choosing but opted, fans are to believe, to wait until his seventh grandchild was born and the Broncos were coming off an unprecedented fifth-straight season of missing the playoffs after winning Super Bowl 50.
It feels like Elway was told he's moving up and relinquishing the GM duties but as the veritable 'Duke of Denver' and the most legendary figure in the history of Colorado sports, team president and CEO Joe Ellis perhaps took a tack that treats that legacy with kid gloves and the kind of PR respect it deserves.
In his presser last Monday, Elway talked about wanting to be involved in the "big decisions" the Broncos' new GM hire will make with input from head coach Vic Fangio while stressing that the final decision will always be in the hands of the GM. The next day, Ellis said during his presser that Elway will not "meddle" in the business of the new GM or micromanage.
One week removed, with the Broncos having completed the first wave of interviews with their top-5 candidates to succeed Elway, he told 9NEWS' Mike Klis something that deserves a little clarification next time the football czar speaks publicly.
“Vic and the GM are still going to report to me,’’ Elway told 9NEWS. “They’ll work together and come up with solutions themselves. With the big decisions, I’ll be involved in those. But ultimately the GM will have to be in control. All I want is input. I think I can add valuable input to any GM or even to Vic on the football side. But ultimately it’s going to be something where the GM is going to have the reigns and be able to make the decisions he wants.”
Elway walked it back a little toward the end of that remark. After all, there's a difference between wanting input and being at the top of the executive hierarchy in which the GM, and everyone else except Ellis, reports to Elway. Perhaps it was simply an imprecise choice of words but surely, whoever takes the GM job won't want to worry about the sword of Elway hanging over his head on any decision, including the "big" ones.
My read on the situation is that Elway's wings have been clipped considerably by Ellis. But staying on as president of football operations, the fact of the matter is, he's the top football executive, which means, in the dynamics of any hierarchy, he's the boss and ultimate source of accountability.
However, make no mistake, I doubt Elway will "meddle" much, if at all, in the day-to-day business of the next GM. I do wonder, though, just how assertive Elway will be when it comes to issues like Von Miller's future, Drew Lock's standing as The Guy in-chrysalis, and which prospect to take with the Broncos' first-round pick.
These are concerns that every candidate who has interviewed for the job surely has and maybe has even voiced in the interviews. In all likelihood, Elway and Ellis have assured every candidate that the duties and prerogatives of the GM job will be his alone, and while Elway will be 'upstairs' and available, his input will only come when directly sought out.
That's my guess. But if you're wondering who holds the ultimate keys of power now at Broncos HQ, look no further than New England personnel assistant, and interviewee for the GM job in Denver, Dave Ziegler — who called Ellis — not Elway — to formally withdraw his name from consideration on Sunday.
Minnesota's George Paton appears to be the most qualified of the five candidates interviewed, and the odds-on favorite to win the job. Paton (pronounced Pay-ton) is a man with options and has been sought after for GM openings each year for some time now. He has been patient, waiting for the right job to open up for him.
Although there seem to be some serious red flags for any prospective GM looking at accepting the job in Denver, we can safely assume Paton wants the gig, not only because he accepted the interview, but because he withdrew his name from Carolina's GM search to ostensibly telegraph to Ellis and Elway how interested he is in the Broncos gig.
Joining Paton among the finalists for the Broncos' GM opening are Chicago's Champ Kelly, New Orleans' Terry Fontenot, and internal candidate Brian Stark.
When Elway finally recedes into the background of Broncos operations and perhaps walks away in 2022, he should do so with pride. It didn't work out well toward the end of his tenure but he brought an unprecedented five-year reign of dominance to Denver from 2011-15, which included five-straight AFC West crowns, two AFC Championships, and the Broncos' third Lombardi Trophy. During his 10-year tenure, Elway drafted, signed, or extended the contracts of 21 players who have combined for 42 Pro Bowl selections with the Broncos.
That's a resume to be proud of.