ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – If John Elway gets to choose, his quarterback next season will be Peyton Manning.
His coach: To be determined.
During a news conference Tuesday, Elway said he did not press Manning for a decision on his future when they met the day after Denver’s 24-13 loss to Indianapolis in the AFC divisional playoffs.
The Broncos GM and executive vice president said he expects to reconvene with Manning in about a month to see where he stands – although he’ll touch base with the five-time MVP as he conducts his coaching search.
Elway said he has not contacted anybody about his open head coaching job but said coordinators Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase, candidates for other openings, would get a look.
He described the parting with John Fox as the culmination of a disagreement over what it takes to win the Super Bowl and stuck to a statement that has lived with him since he signed Manning: “There is no Plan B. Plan A is still the same – to win a world championship.”
On behalf of owner Pat Bowlen, Elway thanked Fox for leading Denver to 49 wins and four AFC West titles along with a trip to the Super Bowl in his four seasons in Denver. But Elway said he was disturbed by the team’s propensity to play sluggishly and disjointed in the playoffs.
Nobody had a better regular-season record in any of the last three seasons than the Broncos. Yet, Denver lost two first-round playoff games as heavy favorites at home coming off byes and suffered a 35-point thumping in last year’s Super Bowl.
“There is no one person to blame by any means. Everybody’s a participant in this and obviously we have not chosen to peak at the right time,” Elway said. “I think if you look at our seasons, we come out of the gate a lot faster than we finish.”
Their last two seasons have ended with poor performances in the playoffs as the coaching staff failed to make adjustments and players largely displayed a lack of competitive fire.
“You want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming when you’re right there,” Elway said. “And I think two years in a row it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming.”
Elway said he had no set timeline for hiring Fox’s replacement but added, “Peyton’s going to be involved” in the process.
While coaching candidates will be eager to know the quarterback’s plans, Manning will certainly want to know how much things will change under a new coaching staff in 2015.
Of equal importance to Manning is figuring out whether his late-season slide was primarily due to scheme, age or health – he played with a strained thigh on his plant leg for the final month – and also whether he believes Elway can bolster his protection in free agency and the draft.
The Broncos made four changes in their offensive line during the season. But pressure, especially up the middle, was a constant concern for Manning, who needs the time and space to step into his throws post-spinal fusion surgery as more of his thrust comes from his hips than his right arm.
That was especially important when teams used Seattle’s Super Bowl template and took away the crossing routes underneath and dared Manning to beat them deep outside the numbers, where his accuracy dipped dramatically.
He threw for 39 TDs this season but just three in December, to go with 17 interceptions.
After spending $60 million in guarantees to bolster Denver’s defense last year, Elway will have to address his O-line this offseason.
“Having been a quarterback, he knows that I’m going to try to take care of him and that offensive line,” Elway said. “We always want to protect the quarterback. I think a change in scenery for those guys might help them also and we’ll do what we can do this offseason and try to help that also.”
That presumably doesn’t bode well for guard Orlando Franklin, one of 17 impending free agents, and several others. Blindside protector Ryan Clady was one of Denver’s nine Pro Bowlers but his play slipped drastically in 2014 and he allowed a sack-strip on Sunday that caused a turnover.
Elway brought Fox to Denver in the aftermath of the Josh McDaniels era in 2011, saying he was looking for someone who could create some positive vibes in a locker room that had been beaten down by a losing culture and a videotape scandal.
“John was the perfect guy for the job at that time,” Elway said. “The tenaciousness, his exuberance, his energy at that time was perfect. And he never lost that.”
What he did lose was too many playoff games, going 46-18 in the regular season but 3-4 in the postseason.
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– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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