By Dave Bruning
John Elway is quickly developing a reputation as football’s version of EF Hutton. When he talks to NFL free agents, they listen. Not only that they quickly sign their names on the dotted line of a lucrative NFL contract.
Elway’s latest free agent haul includes DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib and TJ Ward. All three players represent significant upgrades to a makeshift defense. This is the third year in a row Elway has broken the bank in free agency. His signings from the two previous years include Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez and some guy named Peyton Manning.
Elway deserves kudos for aggressively attacking the weaknesses in his football team. Too many times the Broncos have been content to sit on Revis Island waiting for some kind of football miracle instead of taking a cold, hard look at their roster. I like his no-nonsense, take it or leave it approach with the free agents he pursues.
A General Manager must make some difficult decisions about players within that cold, hard look at the in-house talent. I think perhaps the most difficult decision a GM must make is weighing the value (salary) of a player versus their perceived performance on the field, presently and in the future. Mistakes in these evaluations are why the salary caps of many NFL teams are in disarray. Two teams that have traditionally been very good at these evaluations are the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Elway had four excellent examples of difficult evaluations entering the current free agency period: Champ Bailey, Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno and Zane Beadles.
Elway cut the future Hall of Famer Bailey. Emotionally, it had to be a difficult decision. Bailey exemplifies class and accountability. He was the face of the Broncos, but his elite playing days are over. The move saved the Broncos $10 million.
On the offensive side of the ball, all three productive players were allowed to openly test the market. Decker signed with the New York Jets, Beadles inked a deal with the Dolphins and Moreno is still a free agent. The point is Elway made the decision that these players could be replaced. More importantly, that money addressed more pressing needs, specifically on a porous defense.
NFL reality dictates the Super Bowl window does not stay open very long for any particular team. Denver probably has two more seasons with Manning at quarterback before their current window closes. The free agency savvy of Elway has the Broncos reloaded and better prepared to win a Super Bowl.