Since John Elway has been in the front office of the Broncos, he has made many mistakes, but he has also done some legendary things since 2011. Elway has put together two Super Bowl teams, the greatest offense of all-time, arguably the greatest defensive team of all-time and five straight division winners.
Last week, we focused on Elway’s biggest mistakes. So this week, let’s focus on his greatest hits.
5. Discovering Chris Harris Jr.
The Broncos have always had a history of finding great undrafted players, from Rod Smith to Phillip Lindsay. In 2011, Elway signed Chris Harris Jr. out of the University of Kansas and gave him a $2,000 signing bonus.
With Champ Bailey at the end of his career, Harris quickly became the No. 1 cornerback in Denver and one of the best in all of the NFL. Harris was selected to the All-Rookie team in 2011, along with Von Miller, and was the only undrafted defensive player to be placed on the squad.
Harris would then go on to four Pro Bowls and earn first-team All-Pro honors in 2016. From 2014-16 Harris would also be part of one of if not the greatest secondary in NFL history – the “No Fly Zone” – and would help the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.
Elway has been successful in finding undrafted players, but nobody has performed as well as Chris Harris Jr.
4. 2014 Free Agent Class
The free-agency period in March has been exciting every year under Elway, dating back to 2012 when he signed Peyton Manning, followed by a number of impact players including Wes Welker, Joel Dreessen, Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tracy Porter, Shaun Phillips and more. But in 2014, The Duke struck gold again.
That year, Elway signed hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward, and that was just the beginning. The Broncos were in contract talks with pass rusher Jared Allen until the Cowboys announced that they were going to release future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware. Elway then stopped negotiations with Allen and gave the same contract to Ware to team up on the other side of Von Miller.
Later that night, Elway would steal away a Patriots star in elite cornerback Aqib Talib. The Broncos went from the 19th-ranked defense in 2013 to the third-ranked defense in 2014. Just when you thought Elway would be done, he went out and added another weapon for Manning when he signed Emmanuel Sanders.
Denver would get knocked out of the playoffs that season, due to coaches already planning their jobs with other teams. The following season the Broncos would hire the correct coaches and this team would go on to win Super Bowl 50.
3. Hiring Gary Kubiak
After the Broncos “mutually parted ways” with John Fox, Elway went ahead and hired the perfect person to lead this franchise to a Super Bowl. Elway brought in his longtime teammate and best friend Gary Kubiak.
The Broncos hadn’t won a Super Bowl since Kubiak quit calling plays for the franchise and might not have won another one if he didn’t come back. Elway knew what winning a Super Bowl felt like and knew how hard it was to win one. Even Kubiak knew what it took to win a Super Bowl.
Elway knew that Manning had one more final chance at bringing a world championship back to the Mile High City and he knew that Kubiak was the only guy he could trust with the job. Kubiak brought the offense that won him Super Bowls in the past and knew it would work again even with Manning at quarterback.
Now, don’t forget that the hiring of the legendary Wade Phillips came because of the relationship he had with Kubiak during the years dating back to their time with the Broncos and Texans. Phillips was able to put together arguably the best defense in NFL history and Kubiak was able to run an offense just well enough to help the defense out to let them lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory.
The most important part of the 2015 season was how Kubiak handled the quarterback situation with Manning and Brock Osweiler. Kubiak could have stayed with Brock Osweiler in the Week 17 game against the Chargers, but after five offensive turnovers, he decided to go back with The Sheriff to bring some momentum and excitement to the team, and into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.
Kubiak had convinced Manning that in order for this team to win in the postseason, they were going to have to run the ball; he tailed the offense to the way he wanted to and not the spread style Manning ran almost his whole career. It worked, as Manning bought in they became Super Bowl 50 champions.
There is no other coach in the NFL that would have handled the 2015 season better than Gary Kubiak.
2. Drafting Von Miller
This might seem like an easy choice, but it’s not. The 2011 NFL Draft could go down as one of the greatest in NFL history with a number of future Hall of Famers being drafted.
With the second-overall pick, Elway and the Broncos could have went in many directions. They could have built on the defensive line with Marcell Dareus, in the secondary with Patrick Peterson to replace Champ Bailey, or even at wide receiver with Julio Jones or A.J. Green.
Elway went with a position of need that haunted him over his career playing quarterback and that was at pass rusher. It’s safe to say that his first-ever draft selection was his best and might remain his best when it’s all said and done. That said, he almost couldn’t have gone wrong with any of the selections in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Miller would go on and become the best pass rusher in the NFL with 98 sacks in his eights years in the NFL, despite missing nearly all of the 2013 season. Miller would go on to be a seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro and a Super Bowl MVP.
Without Miller playing in Super Bowl 50 and destroying Cam Newton, Elway might not be a GM with a Super Bowl win to his name.
1. Signing Peyton Manning
March 20, 2012 will go down as one of the greatest moments in Broncos history because Elway signed the greatest free agent in NFL history when he landed Peyton Manning.
After coming off of four neck surgeries, the Broncos were taking a huge risk in signing the future first ballot Hall of Famer. This could have been one of the greatest things for the Broncos or the worst mistake in team history.
Thankfully, it was great. Not only did Manning play great, he played the best he’s ever played before.
Manning took the Broncos to two Super Bowl appearances and put together the greatest single season any NFL player ever has in 2013 when he and the Broncos offense broke every offensive record you could think of. Manning didn’t just have an impact on the field, but off the field to because he helped attract the star free agents that Elway signed.
Players wanted to play in Denver because of Manning. In 2015, after the quarterback went down and was replaced by Osweiler midway through the season, the five-time MVP realized that he didn’t have to carry the whole team on his shoulders anymore like he did for the previous 17 years.
When Manning came into the game in the third quarter of the Week 17 game against the Chargers, he sucked up his pride and ego, bought into Kubiak’s offense and understood that he had to do just enough to have his defense carry the team through the playoffs.
With that being said, the Broncos don’t win Super Bowl 50 with anyone but Manning playing quarterback. In fact, if Brock Osweiler started in the playoffs, Denver never would have made it to the Super Bowl because the players would have never bought in and believed in him. The team believed in No. 18.
Yes, John Elway has made mistakes during the years, especially since Super Bowl 50. But remember that without Elway, the Broncos would not have any world championships here in Denver.
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