ORLANDO, Fla. -- Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen was not at the league meetings this week, but by all accounts he's happy with the people who represented his team at the annual spring gathering and the direction they have taken the team over the last three years.
The Broncos just completed their third season with John Elway as the chief decision-maker on the football side with Joe Ellis as team president. A painful, somewhat embarrassing Super Bowl blowout last month aside, the results have been three consecutive AFC West titles, a favorable enough salary cap situation that allowed them to aggressively work free agency, and fan interest back where Bowlen always wants it to be.
All things, as the Broncos decision-makers adjourned from the meetings this week, have made Bowlen a happy team owner.
"He feels, we feel, the franchise is headed in the right direction," Ellis said as the meetings drew to a close. "Certainly hiring John Elway established the foundation, beginning of a trust that needed to be re-established with our fans, that was No. 1. No. 2, bringing John Fox on helped shift the culture both outside the building and inside the building. Those two hires have kind of re-established trust and re-ignited interest in the team."
Ellis said Bowlen likes the disciplined approach Elway has taken in terms of which players have gottten the long-term contracts that carry heavy salary-cap risks. In the four high-profile deals the Broncos signed with free agents this month -- Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders -- Ware's contract is the only one that carries a significant risk toward the salary cap beyond the 2014 season if Ware doesn’t play how the Broncos expect him to.
Ware is also the only one of the four who is more than 28 years old. The Broncos have taken similar approaches in the previous two forays into free agency when, beyond the deal for quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012, the longer -- three years or more -- bonus-heavy deals have largely gone to younger players.
"John has done a very good job of bringing in players to help us win and he’s done it with the short term in mind and the long term in mind," Ellis said. "He doesn’t waver from that, sticks to his plan with discipline. I know Pat feels this way and so do I, we have the right team in place in football to have short- and long-term success. We’ve established a program that should allow -- they’ll be blips in the road -- but should allow for sustained success."
Ellis added that both he and Bowlen believe the Broncos’ approach has to be draft first and supplement with free agency if the team is to succeed both with Manning behind center and in the post-Manning era.
"People say we’re all-in because of the players we signed, I don’t see that way and John is very open and very honest in how he goes about shaping the roster," Ellis said. "He doesn’t talk about this year, he talks about this year and beyond … . He and Mike Sullivan structure deals that make sure we’re talking about this year and beyond."
"The clubs that have success, that have good performance over time, are the ones that stick to a discipline when it comes to picking players and paying players," Ellis added. "And at times in the past we may have gotten off track by signing players who were fix-it-now type players with fix-it-now type contracts and not showing any regard for financial discipline. Listen we need to spend to the cap to be competitive, we believe that, but you can’t spend recklessly. Some say you’re doing this through free agency, but I don’t think John, and I don’t want to speak for John, but the draft is equally important, if not more, to the organization."