Love for John Elway as a general manager should not be unconditional

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John Elway gets burned in free agency
Mar 7, 2016; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos general manager John Elway speaks during the retirement announcement press conference for quarterback Peyton Manning (not pictured) at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Love is in the air.

For many, it’s love of a significant other – a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband or a wife. For almost all of those in Broncos Country, there is still a little room left over in their hearts for legendary quarterback John Elway.

If you grew up in Denver during the 1980s and ’90s (as I did), John Elway was likely your hero. Kids flocked to football fields, all of them wanting to play quarterback. When they chose numbers in Pop Warner, seven would typically be the first off the board.

Then and now, people in Colorado love Elway. They loved his arm, they loved the comebacks, they love his steaks and his cars, and, now that he is the general manager of the Denver Broncos, they love his mind when it comes to building a football team.

Elway is the man who drafted Von Miller, the man who brought in Peyton Manning. He has signed key pieces such as Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders. He has also negotiated long-term commitments from the likes of Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe at below-market value. After winning two Super Bowls as a player, he brought home another Lombardi Trophy as an executive.

There is plenty of merit when it comes to loving Elway as a general manager. The problem is, with a lot of Broncos fans, that love seems a little too unconditional.

“In Elway we trust,” is a common adage around these parts. That’s fine, to an extent. He has the keys to the kingdom, so there’s not really a choice in the matter. Some fans, however, believe that he can do no wrong, which is an issue.

The 2016 offseason was not kind to John Elway. He deserves credit for locking up Von Miller longterm, but that process got a little hairy. When it came to free agency and the draft, he came up short.

Looking to upgrade the offensive line, Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung did not live up to expectations. The biggest impact made by a free agent last season was probably by defensive lineman Jared Crick, who, despite having 53 tackles, was subpar against the run.

Out of the eight selections they made in the 2016 NFL Draft, the only consistent, regular contributor they landed was punter Riley Dixon, who was their final pick. Sure, Paxton Lynch, Devontae Booker, Will Parks and Justin Simmons all showed flashes, but the class did not do nearly enough to fill the holes created by players leaving in free agency and/or retirement.

There have been some issues with Elway’s past drafts as well. Sure, he looks like he hit with Shane Ray in 2015, but if you look at the Broncos draft classes since 2011, he has missed more than you may realize.

Since 2011, the Broncos have had 19 picks in the first three rounds. Out of all those players, only Miller, Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Michael Schofield were atop the depth chart for the Broncos last season; and the latter two struggled. Elway also gets credit for Ray and Bradley Roby, who, despite not technically being starters, made an impact.

Elway also should shoulder some of the blame for the Broncos’ early-round misses. Rahim Moore, Brock Osweiler, Ronnie Hillman, Williams, Montee Ball, Schofield, Cody Latimer, Ty Sambrailo and Jeff Heuerman have all failed to live up to the expectations the Broncos had for them when they were selected. Though he is young, learning and could still turn it around, so has Lynch, especially when you look at the success of someone like Dak Prescott.

No NFL general manager bats 1.000, and Elway is no exception. The point of this column is not to bash the Broncos GM. I actually think he has done a very good job, but he had a terrible offseason last year, and has his fair share of misses. To think of him as “all-knowing” is extremely shortsighted.

As with the Broncos team on the field, Elway has a lot to prove. He has large sums of money and (expected) draft capital to work with. How he uses the resources at his disposal in the next few months will dramatically shape the future of the franchise.

Some have questioned the hire of Vance Joseph as coach. Some have also questioned allowing Wade Phillips to leave and promoting Joe Woods to defensive coordinator. Regardless of how you feel about those two moves, he has made a lot of shrewd moves building a staff, creating quite the offensive cabinet (including Mike McCoy, Bill Musgrave and Jeff Davidson) and keeping much of the defensive staff intact, while also adding Marcus Robertson and Johnnie Lynn to keep the secondary elite.

Elway’s contract expires following the 2017 season. An extension seems like a foregone conclusion, but maybe it would behoove the Broncos to see what he does this offseason.

I don’t expect you to throw away your Elway jerseys. Hell, I have five of my own. Let’s just try to separate the man from the legend, and hold him to the same standards and expectations that we hold the team to. We love you John…we’ll love you even more when we’re back in the playoffs.

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