John Elway made the free-agent signing not only of the spring, but of the decade. Heck, signing future Hall-of-Fame QB Peyton Manning, who is playing at a high level and is an MVP candidate, could be the best free-agent signing ever.
Signing Manning while ridding the franchise of Tim Tebow, who, as polarizing as he was, had quite the following in Denver, was more than enough to make an argument for Elway to be the front-office executive on PFW’s Midseason All-Pro team.
There are some detractors regarding that decision. For one thing, while Elway certainly was instrumental in getting Elway to sign with Denver, naysayers will point out that going after Manning and trading Tebow was a “no-brainer,” a decision that anyone in Elway’s shoes would have made.
One comment that circulated on Twitter on Tuesday came from columnist Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. Kravitz tweeted, “Pro Football Weekly named Elway as top midseason exec. He’s 5-3 WITH Manning. Colts 5-3 without him. Make mine (GM Ryan) Grigson.”
The fact that the Colts are 5-3 with that roster coming off a dismal season and are starting a rookie QB is more impressive than a 5-3 Broncos team that made the playoffs last year and has Manning at quarterback. And Grigson should be lauded for keeping Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis in Indy, while adding veteran starters such as OT Winston Justice, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele and CB Vontae Davis. His rookie class has performed well outside of Luck, too, with solid contributions from Coby Fleener, T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard.
I'll give Kravitz all of that, and this is not to take anything away from what is happening in Indianapolis, or from what Grigson has done in his first year. But it’s short-sighted to ignore Elway’s moves beyond the addition of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Let’s take a look at how the other Broncos pickups have fared this season:
S Mike Adams — Replacing Brian Dawkins is no easy task, but Adams is second on the team with 49 tackles and leads the club with eight passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. He rarely misses a snap.
CB Tracy Porter — Porter started 4-of-5 games before running into some health issues. He had six passes defensed, two tackles for loss and an interception, and was the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week in Week One, as his pick-six clinched a win over the Steelers.
MLB Keith Brooking — Brooking took over as Denver’s starter in the middle in Week Six and the team has not lost since. He has 29 tackles and a forced fumble.
S Jim Leonhard — Now healthy, Leonhard is able to contribute as a reserve safety and he has a tackle for loss and interception. He also is a trusted, though undynamic, punt returner.
C Dan Koppen — Added as insurance, the former Patriot has filled in admirably for the injured J.D. Walton as the starting center. The veteran has not allowed a sack and has only one penalty this season.
TE Jacob Tamme — In eight games (five starts), Tamme, who played with Manning in Indianapolis, is third on the team in receptions and fourth in receiving yards.
TE Joel Dreessen — The former Texan has started all eight games for Denver and is tied for fifth in receptions with 21. He is tied for second on the team with four touchdown grabs.
WR Brandon Stokley — Manning’s former slot wideout in Indy is third on the team with 278 receiving yards and has three touchdown catches.
RS Trindon Holliday — The newest Bronco, Holliday returned a kickoff 105 yards (a club record) for a touchdown against Cincinnati and is the team’s punt returner as well, upgrading both units significantly.
DE Derek Wolfe — The team’s first pick in April, Wolfe has exceeded expectations as a rookie, starting every game and recording 25 tackles, five for a loss and three sacks.
LB Danny Trevathan — The Broncos’ sixth-rounder, Trevathan has seen his playing time increase steadily over the past few weeks — he played in 42 percent of the team’s snaps in Week Nine. He has 16 tackles and one sack.
RB Ronnie Hillman — Hillman needed time to get acclimated, but did break out for 86 rushing yards against New Orleans in Week Eight. He is the team’s No. 2 back.
In sum, Elway brought in eight starters (including Manning) via free agency and the draft, and five other steady contributors. The aforementioned players have combined for 48 starts this season. Sure, some of the Broncos’ top players are holdovers — Von Miller, Champ Bailey, Ryan Clady, Willis McGahee, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Elvis Dumervil — but Elway’s additions have made a huge difference.
All midseason awards are tough to hand out, and Elway’s Broncos still have half a season to go, but all signs indicate this will be a playoff team, and a tough out at that. Elway signed an MVP candidate who is good enough to bring the Broncos back to the Super Bowl, and that’s significant enough. If the Broncos make it to the promised land, Manning will be quick to defer credit to his teammates, and Elway deserves all the credit he gets for putting those pieces around Manning to keep Denver atop the AFC West for a second straight season.