Elway puts it on the line again in latest comeback


Elway puts it on the line again in latest comeback

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) He could have stayed on the sideline. Instead, John Elway wanted back in the game.

The king of the comeback is directing his latest rally from the Denver Broncos executive offices. Just two years ago, the franchise was dissolving into irrelevance or, maybe even worse, a side show. But now, the Hall of Fame quarterback is turning the Broncos into winners again.

The centerpiece of the turnaround, of course, was the signing of Peyton Manning.

A decision that seemed, to some, like a risk when Elway made it is looking better with each game. And while ol' No. 7 refuses to look too far ahead, he does concede that, yes, things are going well - and that he knows he put his reputation on the line when signing a 36-year-old quarterback with a surgically repaired neck.

``By no means was it a slam dunk,'' Elway said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``But we knew after we did our homework and looked at the situation, it was the best thing for us. We were willing to take that risk. There's always risk to it, but we liked our chances.''

The Broncos carry a four-game winning streak into Sunday's game against San Diego. They are 6-3 and a win away from taking a three-game lead in the AFC West. Manning is on pace for a 4,800-yard, 37-touchdown season, though it's the strength of the supporting cast Elway helped put in place that made the quarterback-turned-executive feel good about going after a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the back end of his career.

One of Elway's most memorable quotes from the day the Broncos made it official with Manning was that he didn't have a ``Plan B'' if Manning got hurt or didn't return to his former effectiveness. The issue, the only issue, as Elway sees things, is to win Super Bowls, and the possibility of Manning at 100 percent could get the Broncos there quickest.

It's a focus that got drowned out in Denver over successive years of turmoil starting with the end of the Mike Shanahan era, continuing with the hiring of Josh McDaniels and concluding with Tim Tebow's tumultuous stint as Broncos quarterback.

``I think true Bronco fans understand what our goal is,'' said Elway, who spoke to AP while promoting the Dove Men+Care ``Journey to Comfort'' campaign. ``They've had a taste of what a Super Bowl is, back in `97 and `98. I think with where we are right now, the fan base is extremely excited because of what they see with Peyton. There were always high expectations when Mike was here. Those couple of years when it hit the bottom, it makes it that much more exciting now.''

When Elway retired after the 1999 Super Bowl, nobody would have held it against him had he left football forever.

But he didn't leave his passion for the game behind.

Yet as much as signing Manning - along with the corresponding move of jettisoning Tebow - the real risk the 52-year-old took was involving himself with the Broncos again at all.

After all, he was the man who could do no wrong in Denver, the man who simply couldn't be replaced - not by Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Tebow. The man who became the face of the city, suffered the Super Bowl heartbreaks, then won the titles, all the while directing dozens of dramatic, game-winning drives (40, to be precise, a record Manning now holds with 48) was putting his reputation back out on the line.

Elway had car dealerships and other business enterprises, even the Arena Football League team.

``But ultimately, this is what I wanted to do again,'' he said. ``I like the competitive side of it. The fact that you're graded, week in and week out. And that there's a big carrot at the end of the road if you do things right. That's the Super Bowl. The fact that I could do it in Denver made it even more special.''

So far, almost every high-profile move he has made since he arrived and assumed the title of executive vice president of football operations in January 2011 has improved the team.

-Choosing Von Miller with the second pick in the 2011 draft wasn't a huge risk, though with 10 sacks this season, Miller is, at the very least, living up to his billing.

-Willis McGahee, Brandon Stokley, Trindon Holliday - all have been brought in by Elway, who has also made significant progress in cleaning up Denver's bloated salary cap.

-Hiring John Fox, a coach with a 73-71 career record, was not considered a slam-dunk choice. Elway concedes he didn't know Fox that well.

``But you looked at this building when I got here and everyone was so demoralized,'' Elway said. ``One thing that stuck with me was John's positive attitude. He was outgoing, friendly, positive. To me, that was the No. 1 characteristic. He was someone who could get this organization rehabilitated, get everyone excited about playing football again.''

By setting aside conventional wisdom, Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy retooled their offense in 2011 and built a team that made the playoffs with Tebow at quarterback.

Now, with Manning, the coaching staff has re-created itself again. They are building around Manning, who has paid back the favor by becoming the NFL's top-rated quarterback through nine games.

``Everyone wants to look at the strength of his arm, but one thing they sometimes overlook is that he's tremendously accurate,'' Elway said. ``He throws a very catchable ball. The accuracy part is not given enough credit.''

Much has been made of the intrinsic quarterback-to-quarterback connection between Elway, the last quarterback to bring a Super Bowl to the Broncos, and Manning, who was brought to Denver to be the next one.

Elway says there were never any questions about Manning's work ethic and, at least from the Broncos perspective, the health issue was resolved.

``But there was, no question, a down side. It wasn't unanimous'' around the league, Elway said. ``I guess because I was the one sitting in the chair who had to openly make that decision, it was going to fall in my lap. I knew that. And I knew there were a lot of people out there who said `No way,' who have probably changed their mind by now.''


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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I have written about this before, but Jakub Vrana’s contract has to be priority No. 1. Vrana is absolutely going to be back, but he is going to take a sizable chunk of what little cap room Washington has remaining. General manager Brian MacLellan needs to know how much cap space he is working with this offseason before he can make any decisions about the other free agents like Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin.

The second most important move would be a trade to free up cap space. Everyone assumes that Matt Niskanen would be the player on the trade block, as you noted. With the free agents the Caps could potentially lose and a prospect pipeline devoid of any high-end offensive skill, I just do not see how the Caps can add enough quality forward depth this offseason without clearing cap space.

Fans should circle June 20-22 as target dates for a possible trade. June 20 is the NHL general managers meeting and June 21-22 is the draft. When you get all the general managers together in the same place, that can spark trade deals. Don’t forget, the draft was when Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer were traded to the Colorado Avalanche last year.

As for Backstrom and Holtby, while I am sure MacLellan would like to get those deals done if possible, these do not rank as high on the priority list as both players are still under contract for another season.

Maclellan was asked on breakdown day if he wanted those deals done this summer and he said, “I don’t think it matters. We’ll have conversations and if it feels like it’s going in the right direction, then we can get more assertive on it.”

The Caps have plenty of issues to deal with for this season to worry too much about Backstrom and Holtby right now.

Jacob C. writes: How does Washington adjust their offseason knowing that they have a $1.15 million dollar cap penalty? 

Washington was hit with a cap penalty because of some late performance bonuses that pulled the team over the cap ceiling.

The money situation was going to be tight for the team regardless of the cap penalty so it is hard to know if anything the team does will be directly related to that, but if I had to guess I believe the player the most affected by this will be Andre Burakovsky.

As a restricted free agent, the Caps will have to give him a qualifying offer of $3.25 million in order to retain his rights and prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. That is high for a player who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

Maybe you could justify the risk of overpaying him because the team could potentially see both Connolly and Hagelin walk, but with $1.15 million less to spend that may force MacLellan to not qualify Burakovsky and attempt to convince him to sign for less.

Jack Hughes.

OK, so obviously that is not going to happen. I assume your question is more aimed at who I think the Caps would want of the players who may actually fall to them at 25. The team’s philosophy when it comes to the draft is to take the best available player, which it should be, but the Caps have not taken a forward in the first round since 2014 and that lack of offensive talent is really starting to catch up with them. If forwards start dropping off the board, they cannot afford to wait and see who falls to them. My prediction is that that team is going to come into this draft with the goal of drafting a forward. They will have grades on every first round prospect and, if it looks like a number of forwards could fall their way, great. If a bunch of forwards get taken early, however, I would not at all be surprised if MacLellan tries to trade up to make sure he gets a high-end forward prospect.

Next, let’s look at where the Caps like to get their players from. In the last five drafts, Washington has taken nine players from the WHL and 11 players from European leagues. Knowing that, here are the players I would predict to be high on the Caps’ list:

Kirby Dach C, Saskatoon, WHL
Dylan Cozens C, Lethbridge, WHL
Peyton Krebs C, Kootenay, WHL
Ilya Nikolaev C, Russia
Nils Hoglander W, Sweden

The three WHL players I have seen go pretty high in most mock drafts so if you get down to say, pick 15 and one of those guys is still on the board, that’s when it is time to really pay attention and see if MacLellan tries to jump up to snag him.

It depends on what you consider to be “major.” As I mentioned above, if the Caps want to compete for the Cup next season, I do not see how they can avoid making a trade. If trading Niskanen for what would likely be draft picks would be considered “major,” then yes.

Do I see them making a big multi-player trade for significant pieces? No. Do I see them pursuing a big-name free agent like Erik Karlsson or Artemi Panarin? No. Even if MacLellan does trade Niskanen that only frees up another $5.75 million in cap room and the Caps will need just about every penny to fill in their bottom six.

We could see a Niskanen trade, we could see a them trade up in the draft and the team will almost certainly be active on July 1 to find forward depth, but they are not in the running for any of the big name free agents.

Todd Reirden said on breakdown day, “We're going to go through a full review of all that stuff, but I do not anticipate any changes to my coaching staff."

Obviously, he left himself a little bit of wiggle room there, but it does not appear the team is going to make any changes to the staff.

In terms of how they operate, I anticipate Reirden taking a more hands-on approach to the defense. He really made a name for himself in the league for his defensive acumen and the improvement he brought with him as an assistant coach was not as evident last season with him as head coach.

I do not anticipate any major changes to the system the team plays, but I am curious what they do on special teams. I have not seen a team that consistently utilizes the slingshot well on the power play so I am hopeful the breakouts get an update to get rid of the slingshot. I do not know how you could evaluate the team’s play from last season and say, yeah, let’s keep doing that. But, the sling shot was all the rage across the NHL so clearly someone thinks it actually works.

Second, the penalty kill has to adjust for the personnel it has. The Caps tried a more aggressive penalty kill and it did not work for much of the season. Really, it did not seem to click until Hagelin came on board at the trade deadline. If he stays or Washington gets someone on the roster who can run it as effectively as he could, great. Otherwise, you hope the team can accept the fact that a guy like Chandler Stephenson just is not the same player as Hagelin and adjust accordingly. 

First, the defense as that seems like the easier prediction. I see a second pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen. I expected that to be the plan the moment the team re-signed Jensen. The bottom pair will be Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos. The Caps need to add too much on offense to commit the money to another defenseman. Siegenthaler looked good in the playoffs and Djoos will be entering his third year in the NHL so it is time for both players to step up. I think we could see someone like Tyler Lewington come in as a cheap No. 7 and as someone the team feels no pressure to get into the lineup.

The offense is trickier as this is where the team may add some free agents. Lars Eller and Nic Dowd will be the centers. That much we know. Travis Boyd remains under contract. I predict MacLellan will be able to work something out with Burakovsky and he stays. A return for Stephenson also seems likely. At that point, the Caps should have about $7.5 million of cap space for two more forwards. I think they could make a run at either Connolly or Hagelin, but not both. It just depends on where their priorities lie heading into free agency. If they cannot get any, they have to turn to free agency and hope they can find a top-nine player they can plug into the third line.

Now here’s where things get interesting. You have the money for one high-end bottom six guy (Connolly, Hagelin or their replacement), but a Stephenson, Dowd, Boyd line does not inspire much confidence. Looking at the prospects, the only prospect who seems close to the NHL is Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, but it is hard to tell given he only played 16 games in Hershey last season.

If the Caps think he is ready, they could look to Jonsson-Fjallby as a Hagelin replacement. If not, could they actually consider bringing back Dmitrij Jaskin? After all, Jaskin will be an RFA and the team could probably get him for pretty cheap. If they do that, Reirden would have to actually use him, but the cap situation makes this not outside the realm of possibility.

So here is what I would say for the third and fourth lines:

Free agent – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Dmitrij Jaskin
Travis Boyd

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.



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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens rank higher than expected in preseason rankings

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens rank higher than expected in preseason rankings

Kick off your Wednesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including a high preseason ranking for the Ravens.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Ravens ranked higher than expected in Peter King's preseason rankings. King ranked the Ravens at No. 12, surprising for a defense that is working on development during this offseason. However, with the Ravens' signing of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, maybe he will bring the fire the Ravens need on defense.

2. With day 2 of OTAs in the books, the focus has been on quarterback Lamar Jackson. Ravens writer, Kevin Eck noted that during the offseason, Jackson had been working out with Ravens quarterbacks coach, Joshua Harris along with receivers Jordan Lasley and Jaylen Smith, so it remains to be seen throughout the summer on whether or not he has improved namely his passing game. 

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.