Tale Of The Tape: John Elway vs. Ryan Grigson

As most Broncos fans know well, a grave injustice was done when Ryan Grigson edged out John Elway for Executive of the Year in 2012.  While this subject will always contain a little bit of soreness, history has vindicated this injustice, as can be illustrated in these respective links for Grigson and Elway.

Now that the Grigson era has ended in Indianapolis, I feel that we should close the chapter on this by taking a detailed look at the transactions that Elway and Grigson each executed during their overlapping reins as GMs.  This means that I’m not giving Elway credit for 2011, and his stellar acquisitions such as Von Miller, Julius Thomas, and Chris Harris.  But as you’ll see, he doesn’t even need that year.

This list represents the opinion that I’m expressing in this article.  The grades that I’ve given each transaction are subjective, but I feel they are also fair.


Yes, this starts off good for Grigson by literally lucking into Andrew Luck, and the top of his 2012 draft was very strong, as he stole another Pro Bowl talent in TY Hilton, and got two solid starting tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.  But Day 3 of Grigson’s 2012 draft is littered with largely non-contributors that are no longer with the team.  Elway, on the other hand, has yet to draft a Pro Bowler after 2011, but 2012 is still exceptionally strong with three players that I’ve classified as “High Starters”, starters that may not have received postseason honors but are still a step above your average starter.  I feel that Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, and Danny Trevathan all earn that grade, and whether they collectively match with Luck and Hilton could be an entertaining debate for another day.

But the major difference, and this shows up clearer beyond 2012, is that Elway has done a much better job of avoiding outright bust picks than Grigson has.  On the list, I’ve identified only 9 such players for Elway, with 16 draft picks at least becoming backups on the roster.  For Grigson, the ratio is inverted: 18 busts and 9 backups.


On draft weekend, the job is not over when the Mr. Irrelevant pick is made.  Acquiring UDFAs is a key function of building an NFL roster.  Elway signed 12 UDFAs that ultimately made a roster, while Grigson signed 14 .  But while none of Grigson’s have become anything more than backups, Elway found CJ Anderson.


When teams sign UFAs, most of them are signed with the intention of becoming at least starters.  That’s what you see with both the Broncos and Colts, respectively acquiring 18 and 16 players that achieved that grade.  However, the quality of those UFAs are stark.

Among some of Grigson’s more adventurous UFA signings include:

Indeed, the only UFA signing in which Grigson got something better than an average starter was Frank Gore, who has proven to be a true freak of nature as he continues to spit out 1,000 yard seasons despite his age.

As for Elway?  He dominates Grigson with just 2014 alone from the trio of Aqib Talib, TJ Ward, and Emmanuel Sanders–a UFA class that may go down as one of the best in recent NFL history.  Other Pro Bowlers or high starters identified include Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Darian Stewart.


Elway has not shown much of a penchant in trading for players–he’s only acquired four such players that ultimately made a roster.  Of those four, Brandon McManus has proven to be a cut above most of his peers at kicker.

Grigson has been much more aggressive in trading for players–a total of 13.  And he must be given credit for the shrewd move of acquiring Vontae Davis from the Dolphins for a second round pick.  Unfortunately for him, that move is more than outweighed by sending a first round pick to the Browns for Trent Richardson.  I had to give that transaction a unique grade of its own.

Street Free Agents, Waiver Claims, and Practice Squad Signings

Peyton. Fucking. Manning.  I’m not sure when, if ever, there was a street free agent signing of this high caliber.

DeMarcus. Fucking. Ware.  SFA signings of this caliber might be less rare, but the production and leadership that he produced were valuable.

At this juncture, it’s important to emphasize that both of these transactions required a high excellence of negotiation in order to execute.  Unlike with Luck, Manning and Ware were free to sign with any team that was willing to offer them a deal.  These deals alone demonstrate just how superior of a negotiator Elway is to Grigson.

Who does Grigson have in this category that can even come close?  The list of starters that I put together would be Jerrell Freeman, Matt Overton, Darius Butler, Jack Doyle, Lance Louis, D’Qwell Jackson, Trent Cole, and Kendall Langford.

But Elway can counter that list with Brandon Stokley, Keith Brooking, Trindon Holliday, Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Evan Mathis, and Casey Kreiter.  He doesn’t even to use Manning and Ware in this calculus.

But history absolute will use Manning, Ware, and all the other moves that were made to earn the Denver Broncos Super Bowl 50 and all the accolades that went with it.  As for the Colts, enjoy your playoff win that you were able to get over the Broncos.