Was John Elway More Deserving of NFL Executive of the Year Than Ryan Grigson?

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystJanuary 28, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 7: John Elway of the Denver Broncos reacts before a game with the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 7, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Sporting News has handed their NFL Executive of the Year award to Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts. Grigson narrowly defeated John Elway for the award in a 9-8 vote of NFL coaches and general managers.

Did Elway deserve to win the award over Grigson? What separated the two men and would the results be different with a bigger pool of voters? Elway certainly seemed just as deserving for the job he did turning the Broncos into a powerhouse in 2012.

Elway convinced Peyton Manning to sign in Denver and traded Tebow with a seventh-round pick for a fourth- and sixth-round pick. The Broncos also won 13 games and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Manning had his choice of destinations that were probably willing to give him more money, and Tebow did almost nothing for the Jets in 2012.

Grigson took a 2-14 team to 11-5 and a playoff berth in his first season on the job. Grigson was lucky enough to draft Andrew Luck, but he also added several starters at other positions with his first draft class. Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen all contributed heavily in their rookie years.

Grigson certainly had the draft success and win improvement to make him a good choice for the award, but a big part of his team’s success was because of Luck. Grigson doesn’t really deserve much credit for drafting Luck because that was basically an organizational decision when the team released Manning.

Initially it appeared as though Elway did a superior job because Grigson didn’t deserve the credit for landing Luck, but that doesn’t quite credit him fairly with all the other moves he made to get the Colts on the right track. Grigson was certainly deserving of the award, but that still doesn’t mean they gave it to the right guy.

If we are going to decide fairly if Elway or Grigson deserved the award, it’s important to know the grading criteria. Each NFL executive has three tools at their disposal to add players: the draft, free agency and trade. There are three tools, and all of them are obvious areas where each NFL executive is evaluated.  

There is a salary cap that ensures an even playing field overall, but not necessarily from year to year. It’s not exactly fair if one executive can sign a great player because his team has $30 million in cap space and another starts by being over the salary cap by $10 million. In theory, the more cap space, the more a team is able to pay a player they need.

Denver had roughly $44 million to spend at the start of free agency while Indianapolis had only about $15 million. Not exactly fair to compare free-agent classes, but neither is it fair to compare draft classes when the Colts drafted at the top of each round. Call it even for the sake of this comparison.


The 2012 NFL Draft

There is obviously the Luck factor here for the Colts. I don’t think it’s fair to give Grigson much credit for the pick because that decision was basically made prior to his hiring. The Colts still had four other draft picks that contributed heavily.


Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard and Coby Fleener were all heavy contributors on offense. Even LaVon Brazill played a decent amount of snaps in 2012. Not including Luck, Colts’ drafted rookies played in nearly 3,200 snaps in 2012, according to ProFootballFocus data.

The Broncos got just 1,745 snaps from their drafted rookies and only Derek Wolfe became a starter. Ronnie Hillman had a role and Danny Trevathan played sparingly as a backup linebacker. At least in terms of immediate impact, Elway’s draft was not nearly as good as Grigson’s.

Advantage: Grigson


Free Agency 2012

This is where it gets interesting because the Broncos and Colts brought in about the same number of impact free agents. Both teams brought in eight players that played move than 300 snaps in 2012. For a 2-14 team, that’s not that surprising, but the Broncos were 8-8 last year.

Manning is obviously the biggest fish the Broncos landed, but they also added three other starters. Justin Bannan, Mike Adams and Joel Dreessen were all starters. Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme and Keith Brooking all had sizable roles.

The Colts did a fine job bringing in free agents considering they didn’t have as much money to work with as the Broncos. Mike McGlynn, Donnie Avery, Cassius Vaughn, Samson Satele, Tom Zbikowski and Cory Redding were all starters. None of these players are Peyton Manning, but still an impressive haul.

Advantage: Elway



The Broncos traded Tim Tebow with a seventh-round pick to the New York Jets for a fourth- and sixth-round pick. Considering some people believe Tebow to be nothing more than a gadget player, that’s a pretty good return. The Jets got almost nothing out of Tebow in 2012 and the Broncos got rid of a headache.

The Colts went the opposite direction by adding cornerback Vontae Davis by way of trade with the Miami Dolphins. The Colts traded their 2013 second-round pick and a conditional draft to get Davis who became an immediate starter. Davis played well in his first season in Indianapolis even though he only played in 10 games.

Both could be considered excellent trades, but the Broncos should get the edge for getting something for Tebow even though Manning had already been signed. The 2013 crop of cornerbacks is fairly deep, so that second-round pick might even yield a cornerback of comparable value to Davis.

Advantage: Elway



Both Elway and Grigson did a great job preparing their teams in 2012, and both probably have a bright future in the NFL. If volume is what matters, Grigson brought in far more players that played a significant role. If quality is what matters, Elway got his team the best players available at several positions of need.

One man had to get the award, and Elway just missed out because no one expected really expected the Colts to be 11-5 in 2012. No one expected Chuck Pagano would get cancer and the team would pull together and play well for Bruce Arians.

I initially thought Elway got robbed, but upon further review, Grigson was just as deserving. What do you think, Broncos fans?