New Broncos owner Rob Walton may be rich but GM, coach, QB, roster matter more than money in NFL

New Broncos owner Rob Walton may be rich but GM, coach, QB, roster matter more than money in NFL

Still, as Pat Bowlen proved in his 30 active seasons with the Broncos, a good owner can be pivotal to a team’s success.

DENVER — This ain’t baseball. Money doesn’t buy championships in the NFL.

The league’s salary cap payroll system neutralizes big spenders, and the roughly $10 billion the league generates in annual national revenues are split equally among its 32 teams.

It’s a system that allows a small-town franchise like Green Bay, which has no owner and plays in the 69th-largest TV market, and Kansas City, which plays in the 34th-ranked TV market, to enjoy much greater success the past decade than the Giants and Jets, the two New York teams that play in the country’s No. 1 TV market.

Still, there has been evidence that an owner can make a difference between winning and losing. See Pat Bowlen in the period from 1984-2013 when his Broncos had as many Super Bowl appearances (5) as losing seasons (5).

>>Video above: What does Rob Walton’s wealth mean for the Broncos?

RELATED: Walmart heir Rob Walton agrees to buy Denver Broncos for record $4.65 billion

A good owner first gives its football operations all the resources necessary to succeed. That includes touching the top of the NFL’s salary cap — $208.2 million for the 2022 season – and modernizing all components of its practice facilities and headquarters from equipment to nutrition to workout and trainer’s rooms.

The Broncos should be in good shape there, as the reported net worth of owner-in-waiting Rob Walton is at least 3.5 times greater than the NFL’s second-richest owner, Carolina’s David Tepper. Then again the Broncos, with essentially no owner since Bowlen was declared incapacitated in December 2013, have reached the salary cap limits each season and dramatically upgraded their facilities and yet missed the playoffs the previous six years.

By itself, an owner’s financial wherewithal does not necessarily correlate with team success. A look at some of the NFL’s richest owners (according to Forbes estimates) and how their teams fared in 2021:

  • Carolina, David Tepper, $16.7 billion, 5-12
  • Rams, Stan Kroenke, $10.7 billion, 12-5 (Super Bowl champs)
  • Cowboys, Jerry Jones, $10.6 billion, 12-5
  • Patriots, Robert Kraft, $8.3 billion, 10-7
  • Dolphins, Stephen Ross, $8.2 billion, 9-8
  • Jaguars, Shahid Kahn, $7.6 billion, 3-14
  • Falcons, Arthur Blank, $7.1 billion, 7-10
  • Texans, Janice McNair, $4.2 billion, 4-13
  • Commanders, Dan Snyder, $4 billion, 7-10
  • Browns, Jimmy Haslam, $3.8 billion, 8-9

More vital to an owner building a winner is hiring the right people for the team’s football department. And then empowering them while holding them accountable without meddling. The Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and Washington’s Dan Snyder have poured plenty of money into their franchises, but it’s been said their interference in football matters has been a detriment. Dallas hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since the 1993 season and it’s been since 1991 for Washington.

This is where Bowlen mastered the art of setting a championship culture. He inherited Dan Reeves and let him and quarterback John Elway be. Then he gave total control of the team to Mike Shanahan. Bowlen met with Shanahan the morning after each game. Everyone knew the boss was around.

But Bowlen wasn’t reactive to public criticism – he stayed cool and composed to media and fan condemnation, at least to employees who were in his presence around the building. If Shanahan or Elway got ripped, Bowlen threw his support behind them. And the people inside team headquarters relaxed.

The management side of ownership is where the Packers, sans an owner, made good decisions in hiring general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson and coaches in Mike McCarthy and Matt LaFleur – who in turn brought in quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

The Giants, meanwhile, struggled through the final six years of Jerry Reese’s GM era and the disastrous four years under David Gettleman, who fell into a head coach hiring slump of Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge.

The reason why Robert Kraft has often been hailed the previous two decades as one of the league’s great owners? He put Bill Belichick in charge of football, a decision that led to a shrewd sixth-round pick in Tom Brady. Now that Brady has taken his quarterback talents to Tampa Bay, Belichick and Kraft don’t seem so smart anymore.

The Broncos with Joe Ellis as CEO and Elway as GM had a terrific five-year start, winning five consecutive AFC West titles and reaching two Super Bowls, winning one. They had a good run of coaches in John Fox and Gary Kubiak and one superb quarterback in Peyton Manning. But when Manning got old and retired and Kubiak got sick and retired, funny how Ellis and Elway lost their magic touch.

RELATED: Broncos to hold reunion for 1997 Super Bowl team

There is a good chance Ellis got it right before he helped pick Walton as the Broncos’ new owner. Elway agreed to step back and was replaced as GM by George Paton, who had a strong draft in 2021 and acquired star quarterback Russell Wilson here in 2022. The big question going forward is whether Paton hit on new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, an upbeat, high-energy type with no previous boss experience. But Hackett’s personality was a needed jolt to a Broncos organization that had fallen into a losing malaise.

It will be a different set up with the Walton group. Rob Walton will be the controlling owner, but he is about to turn 78. His son-in-law Greg Penner will be the team’s CEO, sources tell 9NEWS. And Carrie Walton Penner – Rob’s daughter and Greg’s wife – will also have day-to-day authority.

Ellis will stay on through the 2022 season to help in the transition. One of the first tasks will be to find Ellis’ replacement as team president, a role that may tilt more towards business rather than the football side of the franchise’s operations.

Peyton Manning will have a chance to join the Broncos either as a minority partner or advisor – or both. Whether he decides to go forward with his opportunity is for a later date. It’s unclear whether Elway will receive the same opportunity, although that’s moot for now as he is an “outside consultant” to GM Paton for the 2022 season.

Walton and the Penners figure to be in place before the start of the preseason. Ellis and his fellow trustees, Rich Slivka and Mary Kelly, seemingly are leaving the franchise in good shape. For their first year in charge, Walton and the Penners could do worse than sit back and observe and absorb and run an extensive market analysis on whether the Broncos need a new stadium to play in on Sundays.

Broncos podcast: Klis’ Mike Drop

Denver Broncos headlines, game previews and interviews with our 9NEWS insider Mike Klis.

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