John Elway was drafted by Baltimore in 1983 by then-Colts general manager Ernie Accorsi but instead was traded when the player refused to be coached by taskmaster Frank Kush, eventually playing every down of a Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos.
Part of the resume that helped Elway secure his bust in Canton included the infamous drive against Cleveland in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. The Browns' general manager that day: you guessed it, Accorsi.
Still, the two knew each other only peripherally until recently. Accorsi shook Elway's hands at the East-West Shrine Game all those years ago, but that was about the extent of it.
Yet, when Elway was hired in January as Denver's executive vice president of football operations he turned to the man he'd once tortured as a player and Accorsi become one of the ex-quarterback's greatest confidants during his first weeks on the job.
"We seemed to hit it off right away," Accorsi said. "And we covered a lot of territory for speaking in a narrow time frame."
The two were brought together by Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis, who had previously worked with Accorsi in the league office.
"When John talked to me, he laughed and said, 'Are you aware of our history?'" said Accorsi, who retired as an executive four years ago following a 37-career that began as a public relations director with the Colts and morphed into front-office positions with Baltimore (1982-83), Cleveland (1985-92) and the New York Giants (1994-07).
"And I told Joe I don't have anything against John for not coming to Baltimore," Accorsi noted further, adding jokingly, "I do have something against him for 'The Drive,' I'll tell you that."
Accorsi's newfound bond with Elway didn't include his providing insight into the state of the current Broncos since he'd had little exposure to the franchise in recent seasons. But through myriad e-mails and several lengthy phone calls he and Elway discussed the philosophy of building an organization, potential coaching candidates, the interview process, and tips that could prove helpful in meeting deadlines and staying within ever-changing league operational rules.
"He was a great reference to have," Elway said.
That held particularly true given Accorsi's history with John Fox, who once came within a hair's breadth of the Giants' head-coaching job. Jim Fassel worked out contract parameters after a Super Bowl appearance in 2000 in New York or else Fox was the coach-in-waiting. Accorsi discussed other candidates with Elway, too, but was able to provide great insight into Fox's demeanor, coaching philosophy and expertise having worked side-by-side with him in New York for five years (1997-2001).
"I thought he was a head coaching candidate right from the start," Accorsi said of Fox. "He's got it all. He's very smart. He knows his craft. He's got a charisma about him. And he's a natural leader."
At the same time, Accorsi, through that frequent contact with Elway, was able to gauge the latter's preparedness for his new job, the type of position that Elway had previously held only within the confines of the Arena League with the Colorado Crush.
"I was really impressed with his grasp," Accorsi said. "I've been around players that did have a feel for what went on upstairs and some that didn't. ... John was one of those guys where all of the time he was playing he noticed what was going on around him. And he just had a great sense of things."
Accorsi compared Elway's path to one he'd previously seen taken by another Hall of Fame player, Ozzie Newsome, in Cleveland. Following Newsome's retirement in 1990, he was headed for a position with the Browns' community relations department. But Accorsi knew the tremendous instincts Newsome had for personnel. Every summer he'd ask Newsome his analysis of the team's draft picks and new additions to the squad. The depth and breadth of his analysis was striking. Accorsi convinced then-Browns owner Art Modell to add Newsome add to the player evaluation staff instead.
Newsome continues to be one of the top NFL general managers, building a perennial power in Baltimore with the Ravens.
"John reminded me a lot of Ozzie in that it didn't look like there was any apprenticeship needed," Accorsi said. "John got his when he was playing. He was just very aware. He knew what works for an organization. A lot of players don't. And I could tell right away through our conversations."
Accorsi added that the instincts or "feel" Elway demonstrated was borne during the player's career, just like it had been with Newsome. Elway - perhaps unbeknownst to him then -- was practicing to eventually be in management by paying attention to the bigger picture through a 16-year playing career.
"It wasn't just the instincts. He learned," Accorsi explained. "He observed and asked questions along the way, whether to (team owner) Pat (Bowlen) or (former Broncos general manager) John Beake or whomever he talked to and was curious about it. Because he had a knowledge about it."
Beake was another veteran football lifer Elway leaned upon over the last couple months while re-establishing league connections.
But that was a relationship built on a mutual bond with the Broncos. Accorsi was a more out-of-the-box choice, given their history.
"It is interesting," Accorsi acknowledged.
But the two had an easy rapport from the start. Elway's public pronouncement that "he knows what he doesn't know," also voiced privately, impressed Accorsi and leads the longtime league executive to believe the one who once got away in 1983 will succeed in his new endeavor in 2011.
"When somebody says that, you know they're trying to learn," Accorsi said. "I don't have all the answers (either). I just have experience in the league. But John doesn't underestimate the job. He knows he has to learn the intricate parts of it. That's why I think he'll be successful. There's no question in my mind."
--There has been some back-and-forth dialogue between the Broncos and Jack Reale, the agent for pending free agent CB Champ Bailey, as the Feb. 24 deadline approaches for affixing franchise tags. The $15 million price tag for that one-year designation is likely too rich for Denver, and negotiations that would give the 10-time Pro Bowl selection more years for guaranteed money slightly larger than that payout aren't gaining traction.
It's come to the point now where it's an open question whether Bailey even deems it worth it to re-up with the Broncos, which pulled an offer the player thought was a done deal in October. Bailey already was tiring of losing and haggling after another standout season seems foolish after a while with several suitors expected to make a run at him coupled with Denver's lack of on-field success in recent seasons.
Bailey gave a hint Tuesday by putting his suburban Denver home on the market.
The cornerback heard pitches from several prominent players at the Pro Bowl, selling the benefits of their teams.
"I don't ignore that," Bailey said after the all-star game in Hawaii. "Every guy I talked to I'll remember it and from here on out if those teams want to call and show interest, then I'll remember what those guys said and let them know I also talked to a few guys. It's nothing big or small about it, but one of those things I'll always remember."
--Wide receiver Eddie Royal spoke Wednesday about his recent hip surgery, and while he was reticent to go into details about the nature of his injury, he said some reports about the severity of his condition have been overblown.
"It wasn't a major procedure," he said, adding, "It's really not that drastic a thing."
Royal explained that he'll take his time in his recovery and that the May timetable he's been given is not only feasible but "is taking it slow." The receiver is due to ditch his crutches soon.
"I'm moving around great."
--Perhaps there were few NFL players following the government takeover in Egypt more than Broncos right tackle Ryan Harris, one of the league's rare players of the Muslim faith.
Harris frequently was on Twitter as the demonstrations in Cairo raged, giving his thoughts. That's not surprising, since he was a political science/economics major at Notre Dame. The Egyptian situation was rife with elements of both topics.
"As a Muslim it's great to see a peaceful, democratic protest be successful," Harris said.
"It's one of the first times the revolution really was televised."
--Defensive tackle Justin Bannan signed with Denver in free agency last offseason, which interrupted his normal routine to some degree while he got acclimated to new surroundings.
One of the items he skipped was a semi-regular routine he's done since he was five years old - practicing martial arts at a dojo near his hometown of Fair Oaks, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento.
Bannan plans on resuming that training in the foothills this summer to rekindle his relationship with his lifetime martial-arts teacher, who's now 78.
"It's something your dad drags you to and you don't know what you're doing," Bannan said of his initial experiences as a small child, kicking away. "I know what I'm doing now. When you're five, you're just a little kid running around. Now I know how to train."
The former University of Colorado star currently views the experience as a spiritual one as much as physical, helping center his focus before long training camps and seasons.
"It works different muscle groups and it's a different type of training, then you incorporate that with your football training - your sprinting, your lifting, everything. I've always seemed to have good success with that."
--Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Denver's No. 1 pick, suffered an Achilles tendon tear that required surgery Feb. 14. The team announced his recovery time as 6-8 months, putting a regularly scheduled training camp and season start in jeopardy.
"I have no doubt that Demaryius will overcome this setback," Broncos head coach John Fox said. "He's proven he can handle adversity and will get through this."
Still, Royal's injury coupled with Thomas' more serious ailment may alter the team's plans at the receiver position, which, until recently, appeared set.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a tough situation. He's a young kid who already has been through a lot in his little time in the NFL but he's a hard worker. I know he'll rehab it hard and get back where he needs to be." - WR Eddie Royal, on the latest injury-related setback for second-year WR Demaryius Thomas, who has had foot, ankle and concussion issues the last two years.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos have been preparing for the combine like a college student crams for an important final. The team not only has had to get its own players evaluated in recent weeks after John Fox's hiring and the addition of his staff, but the process of going through potential free agents and meeting with area scouts to fill out a preliminary draft board in preparation for the combine all were on the docket. Denver's staff did meet as a whole for the first time at the Senior Bowl and have been entrenched in Dove Valley offices since, trying to formulate the franchise's plan for restocking the roster ever since.
The Broncos' reticence to commit long-term to CB Champ Bailey should it turn into his departure will leave another crevasse in an already thin roster.
It opens the real possibility Denver could target LSU's Patrick Peterson with the No. 2 pick or trade down slightly to nab him. Peterson's size-speed ratio would fit any scheme and in Denver's case, provide a raw replacement for Bailey.
A possible Bailey departure, coupled with Denver cornerback Perrish Cox facing a possible suspension under the personal conduct policy and starting right cornerback Andre Goodman coming off an injury-ravaged year, is big trouble for a defense already ranked No. 32 in 2010.
VP John Elway did come out publicly in support of keeping Bailey and working towards a resolution but that may turn out to be more PR than reality at this point.
Overall, the Broncos will concentrate on rebuilding its front seven both in the draft and in free agency, while keeping tabs on right-tackle prospects with Ryan Harris due to hit free agency and seemingly on the outs with the organization.
A couple of free agents to potentially keep an eye on are running back DeAngelo Williams, who would help take some of the pressure off Knowshon Moreno while adding a playmaker to the backfield. They also desperately need a dual-threat tight end, with Owen Daniels and Mercedes Lewis two of the top names available.
1. Defensive tackle: The Broncos have tried a long line of patchwork fixes in the middle of the front four for years. Now is time to get serious about rebuilding from within. If Auburn's Nick Fairley doesn't go to Carolina at No. 1 in the draft, he'd have to be considered near the top of the team's list.
2. Safety: Denver has gone the free-agent route several times since 2000 and few have lasted for the long haul. Brian Dawkins remains a top-notch leader but doesn't have the speed-athleticism combination that Allen is looking to infuse within the defense. Free safety Renaldo Hill is a heady player but doesn't consistently make big plays and is limited in coverage.
3. Middle linebacker: D.J. Williams has moved around from strong to weak to middle linebacker and back again over the last five years. But in a base 4-3 alignment, he lacks the desired thump with which to build a defense around.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
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