Two months ago John Elway declared that Colorado is and will remain his home and that, to quell any doubts about that, he would have a new contract in hand by the start of the season.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he vowed.
John Elway kept his word.
Three days before the start of training camp, the Broncos’ general manager and executive vice president of football operations agreed to a five-year contract, according to an NFL source, keeping him control of the team’s football decisions through 2021.
Elway’s value to the team as both a Hall of Fame quarterback and an executive is unparalleled. Although executive pay isn’t made public, Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome was said to be the highest-paid GM with an annual salary of $3.75 million per year. Seattle’s John Schneider re-upped last year and given a salary that was reported to “approach” top pay.
Terms of Elway’s contract were not immediately released, but he is fully expected to top all.
ESPN first reported the agreement.
Re-signing Elway before the start of camp was important for the Broncos, who knew full well his importance to the team and track record.
The team initiated discussions as early as the middle of last season with the hope of securing Elway on a long-term deal then. Talks stalled, not necessarily because of discord, but because Elway felt little urgency to hammer out his deal amid a Broncos coaching overhaul, a critical year in free agency and the draft — especially when his contract was months away from expiring.
Elway joined the Broncos’ front office in 2011 as vice president of football operations, then added general manager to his title and signed a three-year extension in 2014, following Super Bowl XLVIII. That contract ran until March 2018.
As time wore on, questions were raised of Elway’s possible interest in minority ownership. The Broncos are still owned by Pat Bowlen, but the team has been placed in a trust run by trustees Joe Ellis, the team president and CEO; Rich Slivka, the team’s counsel; and Mary Kelly, a local attorney. Those three have the power to sell the team, but Bowlen’s trust was created to transfer controlling ownership to Bowlen’s seven children and appoint one the representing owner.
Bowlen’s plan, Ellis has insisted, is the only plan in effect.
But Bowlen’s wishes had always been to keep Elway a part of the Broncos.
“It’s hard to imagine John Elway running another franchise,” former sports agent Joel Corry said. “He’s got more leverage than any GM has had in quite a long time, because what were the Broncos like before he got there? There was a bit of a lull before he got there, and it’s kind of hard to argue with the on-field success.”
In the 11-season gap between the end of Elway’s playing career and the start of his executive tenure, the Broncos made the playoffs only four times and won their division once. Only twice (2000 and 2005) did they record more than 10 wins.
In 2011, Elway took over an 8-8 team in disarray following the failed experiment with young head coach Josh McDaniels and immediately transformed the Broncos in to a 13-win club in 2012 and a five-time AFC West champion.
In that time, only the Broncos and the Patriots have won at least nine games (playoffs included) each year. The Broncos’ 73 wins since Elway took over is second-most overall.
To boot, Elway’s teams have led the Broncos to two Super Bowls over the last four seasons, first with the NFL’s most-prolific offense in history, and then again with the league-leading defense that guided it to its third title.
In the months in between, Elway has also signed 16 players who have combined for 32 Pro Bowl selections, acquiring elite talent off the street, on the open market, in the draft and college free agency.
Last season was the first in which the Broncos failed to make the playoffs under Elway’s watch, with a pair of young quarterbacks guiding the offense. As Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, Elway’s first-round pick of 2016, again battle for the starting job this summer, Elway will oversee first-year coach Vance Joseph and his new staff.
“Challenges excite me,” Elway said in January. “That’s what it’s about. That’s how we adjust. Things are going to happen, good and bad. It’s all about adjusting. This game is about adjusting. We can continue to work hard and so that’s what we’ll continue to do. Like I said, the goal and the plan have not changed. That’s how people win championships.”