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No NFL GM Is Playing With As Much House Money As John Elway

Getty Images
Getty Images

John Elway’s tenure as Broncos GM has been one aggressive dice roll after another. Sure, he’s been wildly successful, but he’s also been just plain wild, making bold decisions that most GMs wouldn’t dare consider — and he’s doing so with gusto.

For the latest example of Elway’s audaciousness, look no further than the Von Miller situation. The Broncos reportedly pulled their six-year, $114.5 million offer to the Super Bowl MVP after the two sides failed to reach an agreement before the team-imposed deadline of 10 p.m. Tuesday. Barring a renewal of talks, Miller will either play the 2016 season on a $14.1 million franchise tag or hold out hoping the Broncos capitulate and offer him a more lucrative long-term contract. The relationship between the Broncos (read: Elway) and Miller’s camp has turned ugly, and an eventual divorce seems more likely than ever.

For another GM, this would mark a career-defining showdown. But Elway manages the Broncos the same way he quarterbacked them — he takes risks. Consider the Broncos’ tumultuous offseason: In addition to the fruitless negotiations with Miller, the team has lost five Super Bowl 50 starters (and counting). Three went to free agency (Evan Mathis, Malik Jackson, and Danny Trevathan), and another was released (Louis Vasquez). Peyton Manning’s retirement was out of Elway’s control, but his questionable treatment of Brock Osweiler all but ensured that Manning’s long-term replacement would be found in the draft. (The Broncos ended up using their first-round pick on Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.) There was also the C.J. Anderson fiasco, in which Elway had to match Miami’s four-year, $18 million deal after failing to prevent the running back from reaching restricted free agency. Oh, and Aqib Talib may have shot himself (not Elway’s fault, but still!).

Riskiness has always been Elway’s M.O. In 2015, he moved on from head coach John Fox after four consecutive AFC West titles and replaced him with his own best friend. Elway hasn’t been afraid to splurge in free agency, either, nor has he avoided prospects with red flags in the draft. Even the move to bring in Manning to supplant Tim Tebow in 2012 — with Manning coming off four neck surgeries and Tebow notching a thrilling playoff win over the Steelers just months before — wouldn’t have been made by a more conservative GM content with a status quo that had worked well up to that point. Tebowmania was in full bloom, and Elway doused it with pesticides.

The Miller standoff is Elway’s heat check. After a 50–16 regular season record, two AFC championships, and a Super Bowl victory, he thinks he can get away with anything. And why shouldn’t he? Elway’s delivered more championships to the people of Colorado than the Nuggets and Rockies combined. He’s running the Broncos with the power of Pat Riley and the swagger of DJ Khaled, and it’s working. He’s dumping his rings on the table and telling arguably the best defender in football to get lost. Normally this would be cause for concern, but Elway is playing with so much house money it doesn’t matter — and “house” takes on a whole different meaning when you practically built the place.