John Elway is now fully vested as the decision-maker for the Denver Broncos following Monday's parting of the ways with general manager Brian Xanders. While Xanders held the title of general manager, it was always quite apparent that Elway, as vice president of football operations, had the final say on all moves. With a year under his belt, Elway now seems to be well enough off that he can operate without someone holding the title of general manager.
From who the Broncos were looking at in the NFL Draft to signing free agents, we would all wait for what John Elway had to say, not Brian Xanders. And that's how it should be when someone with a brand like John Elway is brought on board to manage the team out of the darkness. This wasn't to be a move like Dan Marino made back in 2004 and then abruptly quit a few weeks later. Elway was brought in to do in the front office what he did on the field: to lead, to overcome, to win.
And Xanders just happened to be the middle man that got in the way of things running efficiently. Head coach John Fox deals with what happens on the field and Elway determines how the team gets to that point with his roster-shaping abilities (and the streamlined help from Matt Russell and Mike Sullivan). But that isn't to say that Xanders didn't leave a good mark on the team.
Xanders survived through two regimes in Denver before lasting just one year into the current era. As Lindsay Jones details over at the Denver Post, Xanders began his career with the Broncos during the last gasp of the Mike Shanahan era in 2008 as an assistant general manager, moving to full general manager just one year later at the start of the Josh McDaniels hegemony. Then two years later he was able to survive the transition to Elway and Fox. Finally, over a year later, Xanders now finds his run of surviving at an end.
In between that, Xanders has been involved in an operation that has missed on several draft picks (Knowshon Moreno, Robert Ayers and three second-round picks in 2009), whiffed on free agent signings (Justin Bannan and Jarvis Green) while at the same time bringing in Brian Dawkins (2009) and Willis McGahee (2011).
Xanders had to work within the confines of Josh McDaniels, who was the one who wanted Tim Tebow, the one who didn't want Jay Cutler, the one who traded for Brady Quinn.
As we saw once Elway took over, there was never any firm commitment to Tim Tebow. Elway had his vision for the Broncos and it didn't include Tim Tebow. "Let's give Tebow the time and the training to become an NFL quarterback!" we would hear all too often from fans. That is a problem for the New York Jets to deal with now (and they are ready to make Tebow a jack-of-all-trades -- well, at least until Mark Sanchez fails again). But Tebow's departure from the Broncos certainly is a big part of Elway's story.
If we want to place a point as to when Elway was ready to be the decider all by himself, wouldn't it be best to go with the Peyton Manning signing? That was the moment Elway could define himself as an executive. He could get the highest-profile free agent in possibly forever and he did. With swollen hubris, it is the move that will make Elway an immortal as an executive (he's already one on the field) or a crash-and-burn overseer. Remember, there is no backup plan (well, there is Caleb Hanie, and Brock Osweiler -- OK, Elway's right on this issue).
Just as he wanted Tim Tebow to do it, John Elway has pulled that trigger. Unlike Tebow's game-winning touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, Elway needs to wait a few more months to see the end result of that. Touchdown? First down? Incomplete pass? Bated breath and all that nonsense. . . .
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