SAN FRANCISCO – Congratulations, John Elway. You won the Super Bowl.
Seventeen years ago, as a Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl MVP, the answer was, “I’m going to Disneyland!” Monday morning, not so much.
Monday morning, Elway was the general manager going back to work on a Denver Broncos team that woke up with the Super Bowl 50 Lombardi Trophy, 17 free agents and a legendary quarterback who isn’t expected to return. Monday morning, Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller was a free agent whose starting point in negotiations is the six-year, $101 million deal that Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston signed.
Monday morning, six starters and 13 of the Broncos who played in the 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers the night before were free agents. Three of the front-seven defenders who terrorized league MVP Cam Newton while stuffing running back Jonathan Stewart every time he touched the ball are free agents.
Jordan Norwood, the guy who had the Super Bowl-record 61-yard punt return? Free agent. Malik Jackson, the defensive end who scored the first touchdown? Free agent. Danny Trevathan, the linebacker who tied a Super Bowl record with two fumble recoveries? Free agent. Brock Osweiler, the guy who is expected to replace Manning? A promising but unproven free agent who could command $10 million a year.
Running back Ronnie Hillman is a free agent. Left guard Evan Mathis and left tackle Ryan Harris? Free agents.
The decisions don’t stop there. What about left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed the season because of a knee injury? Do you bring him back and, if so, do you try to make him restructure his contract to help pay for these defensive superstars?
And don’t forget about evaluating other teams’ free agents. That’s how Elway infused the toughness he desired so quickly after the 43-8 Super Bowl beatdown the Broncos suffered to Seattle only two years ago. Who becomes the next DeMarcus Ware (Dallas)? The next T.J. Ward (Cleveland), Aqib Talib (New England) or Darian Stewart (Ravens)?
Then there’s the draft. The first time Elway dabbled in that roster-enhancing process was 2011, when he picked Miller, whose AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl numbers include five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Like all strong competitors, Elway is motivated by the deep valleys of his career. He didn’t win two Super Bowls as a player until he had lost three Super Bowls. As general manager, he didn’t dominate the Panthers until he was dominated by the Seahawks.
“There is nothing worse [than losing the Super Bowl],” Elway said. “Everyone crash lands unless you are the team that wins it. It is always a crash landing for the other 31 teams.
“Watching [Seattle celebrate] and having been through that, [you appreciate] how special it is to be able to go through that.”
But, again, now what? The ultimate game is played every year. There’s a reason there hasn’t been a repeat Super Bowl champion in 11 years.
Unless Elway retires from his second job with the Broncos at the tender age of 55, he will head to the scouting combine in a couple of weeks with the goal of becoming the first player to win consecutive Super Bowls as a player and as a general manager.
Staying focused will be harder for Elway after standing in a shower of confetti, raising the Lombardi Trophy and shouting, “This one is for Pat!” — a nod to ailing Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who did the same thing to Elway once upon a time.
“John is so competitive in everything he does,” said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, Elway’s backup QB for nine seasons. “He is a very bright man. John is a great people person, too. He knows how to put people in place and let them go do their job and support them.”
He did that at a championship level this year. But in this league, the confetti barely has time to fall to earth before the story line shifts.