DENVER – Grandchild No. 7 came a few days early but right on time for old No. 7.
Just hours after welcoming his seventh grandchild into the world, John Elway announced a major change in the Denver Broncos’ football operations Monday, saying he’ll hire a general manager who will report to him but have final say on the draft, free agency and the roster.
Elway will remain on as president of football operations in 2021, the final year of his contract, and serve as an overseer of the Broncos as they try to regain their competitive edge that long made them one of the league’s model franchises.
This will allow Elway to have a better work/life balance while maintaining his 26-year connection to the NFL.
“What I was excited about was the opportunity to move up, still be involved with the football team, still oversee the head coach and the GM and be involved not necessarily day to day, but to have input in the big decisions that we’re going to make,” Elway said.
“So, that allows me to still stay in touch. But also, my seventh grandchild was born this morning and it’s time for me to spend some time with them, too, and to be able to have that flexibility I looked at as a very good opportunity for me.”
Elway 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 Hall of Fame playing career in the 1980s and ’90s.
Elway said he sought the counsel of Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome, a fellow member of the NFL’s prestigious competition committee, who relinquished his GM duties a few years ago for an elevated front office role in Baltimore.
“I think it’s the right time for me,” Elway said. “With everything that’s gone on this year, being 60 years old and there’s some other things in life that I’d like to do, but I’d still like to be involved in football.”
Elway said head coach Vic Fangio will have a say in who’s hired as GM as will team president Joe Ellis. The new GM will be “empowered to make all football decisions, working in partnership with Vic,” Elway said.
“John Elway is the most important and impactful person in the history of the Denver Broncos,” Ellis said in a statement. “I have nothing but gratitude for how he accepted this challenge 10 years ago and helped us accomplish great things as an organization.”
Elway said he viewed the GM job as an attractive one despite the unsettled ownership situation following Pat Bowlen’s death in 2019. Feuding family members are set to go to court later this year to haggle over who which, if any, of Bowlen’s children should run the $3 billion franchise.
“I understand there’s some question out there with ownership, but the thing is on the football side ... we still have the resources that we always had to try to put a successful team on the field,” Elway said.
Elway said the new GM will bring a fresh perspective and won’t come in with any caveats, such as having to stick with QB Drew Lock, re-sign star safety Justin Simmons or exercise Von Miller’s club option in 2021.
Miller was Elway’s first draft pick and his status qualifies as one of the “big decisions” Elway will have input on.
“The goal is to get Von back and have him end his career here,” Elway said.
Elway contracted COVID-19 in the fall but said this move was unrelated to his health: “As far as I know I’m in pretty good shape, but there’s no health issues.”
Elway engineered a dramatic turnaround of the franchise when he returned to his beloved Broncos a decade ago.
Elway moved on from Tim Tebow after one season, luring Peyton Manning to Denver in 2012 for the second chapter of his storied career after the Colts cut their star quarterback following a series of neck fusion surgeries.
Manning led the Broncos to a 55-17 mark over his four seasons, which included two trips to the Super Bowl, a loss to Seattle in Super Bowl 48 and a win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50.
Manning retired a month later and the Broncos haven’t been the same since.
They’ve won just 32 of 80 games, posted four consecutive losing seasons for the first time in half a century and have churned through 10 starting quarterbacks (including a practice squad receiver in 2020), five offensive coordinators and three head coaches.
They finished 5-11 this season after dealing with an injury epidemic, the coronavirus pandemic and a series of self-inflicted miseries on offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
“I’m proud of my career as a GM. It’s what I wanted to do,” said Elway, adding, “the league is getting tougher and tougher and tougher.”
Also Monday, Matt Russell, the team’s vice president of player personnel, said he would retire soon.
“He was my right-hand guy,” Elway said, crediting him “for a lot of the success that we had.”
Ellis said that in recent weeks he and Elway huddled for “very positive and honest conversations” about improving the team and about Elway’s future.
“John arrived at this decision, and I am fully supportive of him and this new structure,” Ellis added. “With all of his experience and competitive fire, I know John will be a tremendous resource for the Broncos in this role.”
Elway said he’d like to stay in his new position beyond 2021, but for now he’s focused on finding the right GM and spending time with his grandkids.
“There’s nothing better than being a grandfather,” Elway said. “It’s much better than being a parent. You don’t have to discipline them; you get to spoil them and they always like you.”