DENVER — It took John Elway 15 years to experience a parade as a quarterback. As an executive, only five.
The Broncos general manager, however, won’t have much time to celebrate. Fresh challenges await the architect of Denver’s third NFL championship.
Job No. 1 is keeping this destructive defense together. That starts with re-signing Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, whose monster game helped Peyton Manning become the NFL’s first 200-game winner and set the stage for him to walk away a champion as Elway did 17 years ago.
Elway wants to keep Brock Osweiler, who’s set to become a free agent.
Manning and Miller were the biggest topics when Elway and coach Gary Kubiak met with the media before the Broncos parade through downtown Tuesday.
They again lauded the wicked defense that snatched both the leather and the silver footballs from Cam Newton’s grasp Sunday night in Santa Clara.
“I can still remember about a week into training camp I looked at Gary and said, ‘I think we are going to be a pretty darn good defense,’” Elway said. “To do what they did against a quarterback who is probably as good as anyone in the league was historic.”
While a franchise tag could buy Elway time to work out a deal with Miller that’s sure to top the $52.5 million guaranteed in Justin Houston’s contract, the Broncos could find themselves in a quarterback quandary if Manning retires and somebody outbids them for Osweiler.
Elway reiterated that he has no timetable for Manning to make up his mind about his future. Manning, whose offense managed a measly 194 yards in Sunday’s 24-10 win, turns 40 next month. He’s due $19 million next season in the final year of his contract.
“We will give him time,” Elway said. “It’s up to Peyton, where he is, what he thinks he can do, how he thinks he can play. You get 99 percent there in your mind, and then one percent is just as hard.”
Manning’s father, Archie, said after the game he felt his son was “done in Denver,” if not everywhere else.
Tens of thousands cheered the champions as they paraded through the city streets. Fans packed deep along the route while others watched from balconies and rooftops as the players rode by on a series of fire trucks. The first was labeled No. 18, Manning’s number. Manning himself was on board, along with Miller and Annabel Bowlen, the wife of ailing Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who held the Lombardi Trophy.
The Broncos went 5-2 in Osweiler’s starts, although Manning had to rescue them in the season finale, reclaiming the starting position for the playoffs.
Elway praised Kubiak for his handling of the delicate quarterback situation over the last half of the season when Manning was sidelined with an injured left foot before reclaiming his starting job.
“It was touchy. The way he dealt with that is what takes a coach from being good to great,” Elway said.
Osweiler is sure to get attention from quarterback-starved teams, but he’s more valuable to the Broncos because he knows their system, has been through a Super Bowl run with them and was under Manning’s wing for four years. But is Osweiler worth the megabucks and long-term deal he could get from someone else?
There are other difficult choices ahead, including those involving linebacker Danny Trevathan and defensive lineman Malik Jackson, pending free agents without whom the parade of firetrucks might have been winding through the streets of Charlotte instead.
“They are all priorities,” Elway said. “Getting Derek Wolfe (four years, $36.7 million) done was the first step, and we want to get Danny and Malik done. We want to try and keep the group together. But it’s a fluid process. We will talk to their representatives and see where we are at and get a feel for it.”
After staying out of the fray last week, the Broncos have been busy bragging.
They proclaimed after the game that they’re better than the Steel Curtain defense, the ‘85 Bears, the 2000 Ravens or the ‘02 Bucs.
“We’re the greatest defense to ever play the game. Ever,” linebacker Brandon Marshall declared. “It’s a bold statement, but top to bottom, we have the greatest talent, from rusher to safeties to linebackers. Better than anybody’s ever done it.”
T.J. Ward contended that while the Panthers were seemingly more interested in the pre-game party, dancing and fame, the Broncos were all about winning this trophy. And in a nod to the old Brylcreem slogan, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips trolled the Panthers with a tweet “A little Dab will do you but too much Dab will undo you!”
The fun and frivolity will soon give way to fretting over how to do this all over again.
“We love being the underdogs,” cornerback Aqib Talib said.
Good thing, because odds makers are already giving the Panthers, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Steelers and Cardinals better odds of winning the next Super Bowl, in Houston.
“That’s been the story of our lives,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders shrugged.
Miller told the hundreds of thousands who came out to celebrate he’ll see them a year from now.
Same time, same place.
“I think so,” Miller said. “Back to back, right?”