ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Now, John Elway's on the other side of the draft.
In 1983, he didn't want to play for Bob Irsay's Baltimore Colts and coach Frank Kush, and the former Stanford multi-sport star had some leverage as a farmhand of the New York Yankees. So, he engineered his departure to Denver, where he led the Broncos to five Super Bowls and two world championships.
Now in his 50s, Elway has rejoined the Broncos as their chief of football operations this year and has been busy learning the ropes from the other side.
He's now a big fan of the NFL draft as he scours the top talent from colleges and formulates the team's plans alongside coach John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders.
The Broncos own the second overall pick in the April 28-30 draft.
Asked if he saw any humor in his new role considering his history, Elway said it wasn't the NFL draft that he had a problem with in his younger days, "it was where I was going."
"You know, having been on both sides, I understand both sides of the conflict, let's say. I understand having been a player obviously you're restricted from going to where you want," Elway said Wednesday. "But then again there's not many opportunities to go out there and play a game that you love and make real good money doing it."
The Broncos, coming off the worst season in their 51-year history, a 4-12 debacle that cost Josh McDaniels his jobs as coach and de facto general manager, own seven picks in next week's draft, including four of the top 67 as they try to fix a broken defense and plug holes on offense.
Because of the league's labor impasse, every NFL team is doing things backward this year: they're drafting college players first and then will fill in the gaps in their roster through free agency, rather than the other way around.
That flip-flop might actually be a blessing to the Broncos, Elway suggested.
"I think my feeling on that is it actually helps us with the draft. Because now we can find the best players that are on that draft board ... and then really fill in with free agency," Elway said. "Rather than having free agency and then filling through the draft, because if you're filling through the draft, then you're drafting to need.
"I think there's several different opinions about that, but that's kind of my gut is that it doesn't put the pressure for us to draft a need in the draft."
The Broncos feel there's several difference-makers in the draft, although their biggest desire is a defensive tackle to put between pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers.
Among the intriguing possibilities are: Alabama's Marcell Dareus, Auburn's Nick Fairley and Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, although Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson have also caught the Broncos' eyes.
The Broncos have also interviewed plenty of quarterback prospects. They had Auburn's Cam Newton in for a visit this week, and Elway liked what he saw.
Of course, the Broncos are willing to listen to anybody who wants to trade for the second pick.
After all, there's no telling if there will be a rookie salary scale implemented in any new collective bargaining agreement or if that second pick will be in line for a $70 million contract.
Last year's No. 2 pick, Detroit Lions defensive stud Ndamukong Suh, signed a five-year deal worth $40 million guaranteed and as much as $68 million overall.
A rookie wage scale could put the Broncos on the hook for maybe $20 million or so over four years. Elway said he hasn't heard from any teams yet about a possible trade. This year, teams wouldn't be able to include players in any deal but only draft picks, and there's a possibility there wouldn't be a 2012 draft, so that's another risk factor.
And Elway knows the lack of certainty on a rookie wage scale might make teams reticent to move up.Comment on this story
"If the positions were reversed, I think there's no question that we would be thinking about what that pick would cost," Elway said. "Then again we may be getting a heck of a player at a heck of a price with whatever the wage scale would come back at if there is one."
Teams may not know until long after the draft if they'll be working with a rookie pay scale.
Elway said at the Super Bowl that if the system didn't change, the cost of the second pick would be a factor in the team's approach to the draft. He said he would sit down with team owner Pat Bowlen and formulate a plan in the coming days once the front office team settles on a wish list.
"It's obviously very beneficial for us with a wage scale," Elway said. "And not only the Broncos but the (teams with the) top-10 picks if the wage scale's in place."