That’s not really the easiest way to start the offseason.
The 2021 Denver Broncos are facing multiple unknowns, and ironically and suddenly, the GM to replace John Elway is the least concerning among them.
Elway’s announcement on Monday to step aside as GM but remain as president of football operations put Broncos among the NFL teams on the short list of searching for a new general manager.
But the Broncos are likely near the bottom of choices due to its two other unknowns – QBOTF and an owner.
And those are kind of important, no matter what Elway seems to think.
“As far as the way that ownership is—and I understand that there’s some question out there with ownership—but the thing is, on the football side we’ve had every opportunity that we’ve ever had when Mr. Bowlen was here. That had not really changed because we still have the resources that we’ve ever had to try to put a successful football team on the field. I don’t look at the ownership situation being a big part of this and the fact that we’re going to continue to try to find the best candidate, find the best person for that job, and get back to the same mindset, which has not changed. I know we got a ways to get there, but our goal is still to be back and compete for World Championships.”
On our Something Something Broncos podcast this week, Tim, Jess and I discussed the implications of searching for a replacement to #TYJE – a person who will have a gigantic legacy to follow even if the recent years have been lean for the GM’s championships – when no owner is in place and will not be before the next Broncos’ GM is hired.
Broncos’ ownership on hold
Currently Joe Ellis and two other trustees hold interim control of the team, presumably grooming Brittany Bowlen to take over and fulfill her father’s wishes of one of his children eventually becoming controlling owner. However, Ellis has also indicated that a majority of the seven Bowlen children will need to agree to that heir – and so far consensus among the children has been absent.
Beth Bowlen Wallace, Pat’s daughter from his first marriage, has expressed interest in becoming owner and has gone to court to fight for her right to be considered by the trustees. That lawsuit, delayed now until July, could be the final determinant in Beth’s or Brittany’s path to eventual owner.
The fact that Brittany is not directly part of the search for a new GM is perhaps a subtle hint of the trustees’ faith in her likelihood as future owner.
Ellis: Will go to court in July for resolution on validating trust before transferring ownership control to a Bowlen child or through sale. #9sports
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) January 5, 2021
But another wrinkle in the ownership debacle could indicate that a sale of the team is the most likely outcome.
Last November Ben Fischer of Sports Business Daily reported that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell now has the authority to fine teams up to $10 million per year if they do not have one person holding the minimum amount of equity in the team nor does that one person have final say over all matters on which teams periodically vote. And individual owners can be fined up to $2 million a year for not complying.
That new rule has particular relevance to the Broncos. In December, Ellis noted that if one child is not agreed upon, all the siblings and the team could be subject to the fines.
“[I]t is an option, and we’ve told the beneficiaries that, because if Brittany were to succeed and take over for her father, everybody else is going to have to sign off on that, most likely. That may not be a requirement, but it’s going to be necessary, I think, moving forward from a trustee viewpoint,” Ellis said. “That’s why a sale remains a possibility I think — given the circumstances we’re in.”
Quarterback not “locked” in
Tim also pointed out on the podcast that the second missing link – a sure thing for starting quarterback – is a pretty important piece because the fate of the GM is usually tied to the success of his QB.
And Elway was Lock’s biggest fan.
“I still have high hopes for Drew. I think he, obviously, is a young quarterback that’s got potential and I think he’s got potential to be a very, very good football quarterback in this league and play in this league and lead teams to victories,” Elway said. “Obviously, he’s very young and you never know how that reaction and how that transition is going to go, but I thought that he showed a lot of good signs this year. With young quarterbacks, you’re going to run into inconsistency problems, which Drew had this year, but I think when I look at Drew’s makeup and what he’s about, he wants to be great, he wants to learn, and he wants to get better.”
Even Mike Klis had to acknowledge that Lock’s future is up in the air now with Elway essentially out of the picture.
I’m not saying Elway leaving GM post is bad news for Drew Lock. I am saying no one inside Broncos headquarters had more faith in Lock than Elway. We’ll see how it shakes out but for every Bronco football employee, today’s shake was seismic. #9sports
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) January 4, 2021
Hard to replace “In John Elway We Trust”
No matter how you feel about Elway’s success as GM or recent non-success, and no matter how much credit you give him for drafting Von Miller and bringing in Peyton Manning, there’s no doubt that The Duke is going to be tough to replace.
On our podcast, I acknowledged that for me, seeing Elway “step aside” into a background role (whether that was really his idea or more one that Ellis gave to him), is bittersweet. I have never faulted Elway solely for the draft misses he has had. Evaluating how talent at the college level will translate to the NFL seems immeasurably difficult to me – especially at quarterback. And guessing which players will blossom and which will bust is as much a guessing game as a strategic plan. And the draft classes since the 2017 bust year have been quite good, even bordering on outstanding these last two years.
So while I see the benefit in “fresh eyes” helping to steer the Broncos back on a winning track, I’ll miss having our greatest quarterback not really associated with the franchise in a meaningful way anymore.
I like how Andrew Mason re-framed this, and I especially like taking time to remember how much success Elway has brought to the Broncos – both on the field and from the front office.
It’s a run deserving of all the Mile High Salutes available.
Thank you, John Elway.
The more I think about it, the more I’m happy that things worked out as they did re: Elway.
If the team had struggled again in ’21 … if it had been sold & a new owner wanted another GM … #BroncosCountry would have endured the dismissal of the biggest legend in team annals.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 5, 2021
Elway now moves to a different role. The process had dignity befitting someone who contributed so much to taking the Broncos to their peak accomplishments.
The last 4 seasons are what they are. But the Broncos are far better because Elway walked through their front door in 1983.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 5, 2021