John Elway was hired as Executive Vice President of Football Operations by the Broncos in January of 2011. He oversees the Head Coach and General Manager positions and reports his findings to team president Joe Ellis. The Broncos team as it is currently constituted was built by former GM Brian Xanders. The key players on the roster currently include Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumerville, Ryan Clady, Knowshown Moreno, Eric Decker, Demarius Thomas and Von Miller all of which acquired during Xanders' tenure. He was GM when Manning signed and he was responsible for the acquisition of all players either drafted or as free agents prior to May of this year. Xanders worked in concert with Elway, guiding John through his executive duties, since the day Elway was hired. He was fired by Elway in May of this year and Elway took over his duties. Therefore, Elway can only be given credit for any player moves made since Xanders termination. Of course, the one singular move with which Elway is given credit is the recruitment of Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning was recruited by numerous NFL team executives. He chose to become a Denver Bronco. Peyton's reasoning for selecting the Broncos, when asked at the time of his signing, was that Elway was one of his hero's growing up and he looked forward to working with him. But as important as Elway's presence was, it made sense for Manning to join the best team pursuing him. Do you really think Peyton, one of the smartest players in the history of the NFL, made the decision to continue his career without giving strategic consideration to which team to join? Manning had narrowed his selections down to four; the Cardinals, Dolphins, Titans, and Broncos. They were all willing to take the risk of signing him, so Peyton had to decide which of the four gave him the best chance to reach another Super Bowl. Peyton didn't want to play in the same conference as his brother, Eli and the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Scratch the Cardinals off the list. Miami plays in the same division as the perennial Super Bowl contenders, the Patriots. Sorry Dolphins. The Titans are in the same division with the Texans and they have questionable ownership in Bud Adams. So of the final four teams Peyton was choosing between, the team the made the most sense was the Broncos. They were already a playoff team within the weakest division within the AFC. Peyton Manning chose the best team with the easiest path to the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos. As much as Elway deserves credit for recruiting Peyton, Manning made the smartest decision for him.
So the argument as to why Elway deserves the title of Executive of the Year is because he signed Peyton Manning? Arguing that Elway deserves credit for signing Peyton Manning because Manning was considered a big health risk is faulty. As stated previously, it was a risk several teams seemed willing to take. The structuring of Manning's contract had as much to do with his agent, Tom Condon, as it did with John Elway. It is essentially the same contract that Condon had structured for for the Colts, that the Colts passed on. It is a five year 96 million dollar contract with 18 million guaranteed in the first year. Next off season, if Manning fails his physical for any reason other than his neck, the rest of the money will be guaranteed. If he fails the physical because of his neck, the Broncos do not have honor the remaining years of the contract. A calculated risk to be sure. So because Elway was just one of many executives who were to take the risk of signing Manning, that means he is the Executive of the Year? That suggests that the executive of any team who would have signed Peyton, and experienced relative success, would then be considered the Executive of the Year. That is not saying much for Elway.
There was much uncertainty facing the Colts going into the off season following the 2011 season. The day after the season ended, Jim Irsay decided to fire 5 time Executive of the Year Bill Polian and his son Chris, the GM. There were numerous issues facing whomever was to replace the Polians. Would the Colts stay the course, re-sign Peyton Manning, keep the coaching staff, and make minor modifications to the roster in order to take another run at the Super Bowl? Or would they decide to start over and completely rebuild the organization? Jim Irsay hired Ryan Grigson as General Manager on January 11th and, within a week, signs pointed to the Colts starting over.
Grigson first major decision regarded the coaching staff. He inherited head coach Jim Caldwell. Caldwell's time as coach was a mixed bag of results. He led the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009 and back to the playoffs the following. However, with Peyton Manning sidelined for the entirety of the 2011 season, the Colts went 2 and 14. Grigson's first move as GM was to fire Caldwell. Certainly a bold move and a sign of things to come. Grigson replaced Caldwell with Chuck Pagano, a first time head coach. Pagano filled out his coaching staff with hires of coordinators of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The story of Pagano's diagnosis with Leukemia, only weeks into the season, is well documented. He was not coach long enough for us to truly measure his acumen as a head coach. But it is clear that he forged strong bonds with this team within a short period of time. His illness served to unify the Colts and winning for him became the focus of the teams efforts. It has been the best story of this season.
With the coaching staff in place, Grigson's primary responsibility as GM began, rebuilding the roster. He resigned veteran free agents Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne, but chose not to resign Jeff Saturday. The Colts released Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett all on the same day. A move done to free up cap space for future seasons. With little free agency money to spend, Grigson made several key additions including Donnie Avery, Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski, Jerelle Freeman, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, and Darius Butler to name just a few. Through trades he acquired Winston Justice, Vontae Davis, and Cassius Vaughn. In fact, it is much easier to list the number of holdovers from last season's roster than it is to name all of the additions Grigson has made. Grigson's first draft class may have been the best in the league. Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard, and LaVon Brazil contribute more regularly with each passing week. They will form the nucleus of a dynamic offense for years to come. As you can see by his body of work, nearly every one of Grigson's decisions regarding the roster have proven to be shrewd.
John Elway is the titular executive of a team that he did not build and is given credit for a decision that numerous other GM's were ready to make. Ryan Grigson completed an overhaul of the Colts roster within five months. What appeared to be an expansion quality roster when he took it over, is poised to make the playoffs in his first season. His decision to cut some remaining players from the Polian era means that the Colts will have more salary cap space than any other team in the league this coming off season. In free agency, Grigson can add a couple of franchise players to an already promising nucleus. Couple this with his ability to draft well and the Colts appear to be positioned as one of the best teams in the league for the next ten years. The fact that all of this is apparent with three weeks left in this season means that this is not just the best resume for an NFL GM this year, but one of the best rebuilding jobs in recent memory. Who is the NFL Executive of the Year? The answer is clear.