The news that John Elway is graduating to the role of president of football operations means that the team’s next G.M. will have a chance to quickly graduate to the role of the franchise’s new John Elway.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the search for a new General Manager could eventually lead the team to someone who becomes, in a year, the primary and ultimate football executive with the team.
Much of that hinges on what happens with Elway after 2021. He has one year left on his contract. This new role could eventually result in Elway not remaining with the team in any capacity. At a minimum, any new deal would have to reflect Elway’s new role and responsibilities.
His existing compensation (believed by some in league circles to be in the range of $6 million per year) isn’t expected to change. But with a huge part of his job going to someone new, a huge portion of his salary (if he stays beyond 2021) presumably will, too.
The new G.M. also could end up with the kind of contract, in both value and duration, that provides security in the event that the current ownership issues result in a sale. In other cities, a six-year, fully-guaranteed deal has become, essentially, dysfunction insurance. The new G.M. in Denver could get something like that when hired in order to ensure that, if new ownership arrives within the next few years and wants its own G.M., there will be appropriate financial security.
With still no owner in Denver as trustees work to resolve a unique, intra-family Willie Wonka competition, Elway essentially becomes the de facto owner, as it relates to the football operation. That makes the Broncos G.M. vacancy fundamentally different than the openings in Houston, Atlanta, and Detroit, where other executives serve as a buffer between the G.M. and the owner. With the Broncos, Elway has the same role that an owner would have anywhere else. As it relates to football, there’s really no one over Elway, since Joe Ellis handles the business side of the operation.
Thus, while the job at first blush looked like it possibly would be G.M. Lite, the more accurate characterization is that it’s a traditional G.M. job, that the G.M. will have absolute final say on all football matters, that Elway will be not involved in the day-to-day grind, that Elway may not even be with the team come 2022, and the new G.M. will essentially be operating with the same type of autonomy that Elway has enjoyed, in the absence of a traditional owner.
Frankly, it seems that, in any other organization, Elway simply would have been relieved of all duties, receiving a one-year buyout. In Denver, an important role existed for Elway, because the trustees who have managed the franchise for several years still haven’t decided which child of Pat Bowlen gets the keys to the chocolate factory.