The moment he returned to Dove Valley everything changed. The Denver Broncos had just finished a 4-12 season, the worst in franchise history, and were in total disarray. The team had just fired their head coach, the fanbase wanted a quarterback who couldn't pass the ball as the team's starter and worst of all, they were blown out and embarrassed by archrival the Oakland Raiders in Denver.
Broncos fans here and abroad were embarrassed and ashamed of what Hurricane McDaniels (Josh McDaniels) did to the team during his short tenure. While a gloom hung over Dove Valley and the city of Denver, everything changed with one simple hire. On January 2nd, 2011, the Broncos hired John Elway as Executive Vice President of Football Operations. With the new year came a new direction and a new confidence in the Denver Broncos.
Under Elway's watchful eye, the Broncos have compiled a 46-18 record. The team has advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs in each season. Elway managed to bring Peyton Manning to Denver in quite possibly the greatest free agent pursuit in the history of the game. Since then, Denver has been an attractive destination to other star players, including Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware.
Elway has also built a winning track record in the draft, taking stars like Von Miller and Julius Thomas, along with a host of key starters and contributors in Orlando Franklin, Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Rahim Moore, Nate Irving, Virgil Green, Danny Trevathan, Ronnie Hillman, Omar Bolden, Montee Ball and Bradley Roby.
Cody Latimer is expected to be a big part of the offense this season after a quiet rookie year. The 2015 draft is bound to produce a number of future starters and a potential star in top-10 talent, Shane Ray. Elway has also unearthed undrafted gems in Chris Harris Jr. and C.J. Anderson—two players who were among the top of their position last season.
One thing Elway has not shied away from is "problem" players. In 2012, linebacker Von Miller was suspended for violating the league’s drug policy. Elway and the team stuck by his side and helped him turn his image around. In 2014, the team signed cornerback Aqib Talib—a player who has had a number of and off-the-field issues dating back to his time as a Kansas Jayhawk. However, since coming to Denver, Talib has been a professional and gone about his business while staying out of trouble.
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Talib was named on two separate occasions in reports reminiscent of former troubles, but both reports turned out to be false and no charges were ever filed. Also in 2014, the team drafted Bradley Roby at the bottom of the first round, after he was charged with misdemeanor battery and suspended for the 2013 season opener by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. As a rookie, Roby went on to play a big role on the Broncos defense and outperformed Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Jason Verrett and Darqueze Dennard—the other corners drafted in the first round ahead of him.
Just recently, Elway took another chance in the 2015 NFL Draft on Missouri outside linebacker Shane Ray. Ray was infamously cited for possession of marijuana just days before the draft. A player who had no history of drug use or any run-ins with the law was subsequently taken off a number of teams’ draft boards and a top-10 talent fell into the bottom third of the first round. This is where Elway pounced, trading up to grab Ray with the No. 23 selection.
The expectations at Dove Valley have changed. The Denver Broncos are not competing to be good—the team competes for championships. Every player that sets foot in Dove Valley understands this expectation, because it starts at the top. “The Bronco way" has raised the bar, and the championship expectation has returned to Denver, with John Elway running the ship.
Losing is unacceptable to him. Instead of accepting a team culture of postseason failure and any semblance mediocrity, Elway was willing to risk blowing it all up to part ways with John Fox and hire Gary Kubiak. But Kubiak and Elway are on the same plane. They've spent much of their lives creating and cultivating the Bronco way.
Elway takes chances in the draft and free agency. He runs his front office the way he ran the Broncos huddle in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He drafts "troubled players," and signs stars away from conference and division rivals. It took him three short years to go from 4-12 to the pinnacle of the sport, the Super Bowl. Although there have been a lot of changes this year, expectations in Denver are sky-high. John Elway is the reason for that.