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Broncos focus on five candidates for John Elway’s GM successor

Denver interested in adding diversity
The Denver Broncos’ new general manager will join an organization embroiled in a family ownership feud and will work in the shadow of John Elway, whom team president Joe Ellis described as “the most important and impactful person” in franchise history.

ENGLEWOOD — The Broncos are focusing on five candidates to replace John Elway as general manager, including three with Denver roots and two who are Black: Terry Fontenot of the Saints and Champ Kelly of the Bears.

Team president and CEO Joe Ellis said last week it was “very important” for the Broncos to consider minority candidates in searching for John Elway’s replacement as GM.

“I think your organization gets better with diversity,” Ellis said, “and diversity is a lot of things. It’s people of different races, it’s people with different opinions, it’s people that add value in different ways.

“The Denver Broncos player roster is 75% black. We’re getting better at diversity as an organization, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Ellis said. “This is a chance to interview and learn, and who knows, maybe arrive at a candidate with great diversity.”

The Broncos completed their first round of virtual interviews Sunday with in-house candidate Brian Stark, their college scouting director.

Fontenot interviewed Saturday, as did Patriots executive Dave Ziegler, who broke into the NFL with the Broncos in 2010. Kelly and Vikings executive George Paton interviewed for the job Friday.

Finalists are expected to meet in-person next week with the Broncos’ search committee of Elway, Ellis, head coach Vic Fangio and chief communications officer Patrick Smyth.

Elway is moving into more of an overseer’s role as vice president of football operations in 2021 and has pledged to remove himself from the day-to-day decisions on the draft, free agency and roster while maintaining a say on the bigger decisions facing the franchise.

In the short term, those could include: whether to exercise Von Miller’s 2021 option; re-signing or re-tagging safety Justin Simmons and Drew Lock’s status as starting QB after a so-so second season in which he led the league with 18 turnovers despite missing three games and most of a fourth.

Looming over the $3 billion franchise is a family feud that has simmered for years and has led to a court case next summer in which a judge will consider a lawsuit challenging the trust of late owner Pat Bowlen.

Ellis has said the franchise could be sold if Bowlen’s children don’t all agree on Brittany Bowlen becoming controlling owner.

Elway, 60, has been Broncos GM since 2011, leading Denver to a 96-74 record, five AFC West titles, two AFC championships and the franchise’s third Super Bowl title to go with the two he won at the end of a Hall of Fame playing career in the 1980s and ‘90s.

The Broncos have failed to reach the playoffs in the five seasons since beating Carolina 24-10 in Super Bowl 50 and they’ve churned through 10 quarterbacks since Peyton Manning’s 2016 retirement.

That, of course, includes practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton, who was pressed into duty when the Broncos’ four QBs were disqualified for a game against the Saints in November over COVID-19 concerns.

The Broncos have gone 12-20 under Fangio, including 5-11 in 2020 when they were beset by a spate of injuries.

In addition to Stark, Kelly and Ziegler both have Denver roots.

Ziegler was a Broncos player personnel assistant and area scout in 2011 and pro scout in 2012. He has spent the past eight seasons in New England, where he was assistant pro scouting director from 2013-15, pro personnel director from 2016-19 and last season assumed his current role as assistant director of player personnel.

Kelly, the Bears’ assistant director of player personnel, spent eight seasons in Denver’s personnel department from 2007-14. He started out as an area scout in Denver before becoming assistant director of pro personnel. His time in Chicago overlapped with Fangio’s stint as Bears defensive coordinator from 2015-18.

Fontenot is the Saints’ vice president and assistant general manager in charge of pro personnel. He’s spent 18 seasons in New Orleans.

Paton is the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel and assistant general manager. He’s spent the past 14 seasons in Minneapolis, including the past six in his current position.

Stark has eight years of experience in Denver, where he’s been the director of college scouting since 2017.