John Elway and the Broncos are changing how they do things

In a departure from the past, John Elway traded away a valuable player in Emmanuel Sanders during the season, and he has begun to solicit advice from those closest to him this offseason. Justin Casterline/Getty Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The most important offseason of John Elway's tenure as the Denver Broncos' top football decision-maker actually started Oct. 22.

The Broncos were 2-5 at the time and still wobbly from an 0-4 start in Vic Fangio's first season as head coach. That's when Elway, often a poster child for the win-now club, did something a hectare outside of his comfort zone: He traded wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

It was the first of several things that Elway has done differently than in years past.

"It's against my nature to trade good football players, it really is, for future considerations as we did because that is not in my nature at all, so it was difficult," Elway said at season's end. "But looking at the big picture of where we were, where Emmanuel was, what was going on with our football team, the future considerations that we ended up getting, it made it all worthwhile. At that point in time, maybe losing a good football player was the best thing for our football."

The Sanders trade was the start of a slightly different approach for the Broncos' front office as it tries to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season. There are many in the league, as well as others who have known Elway throughout his career, who say the losing has pushed Elway in recent weeks to solicit opinions from those he respects.

It's a departure from what Elway said regarding his approach to team building when he took the job in 2011: "I know what I don't know."

But as late Broncos assistant coach Mike Heimerdinger once said, "You want to be right a lot. You want to be right all the time, but you can't start thinking you're right all the time. You gotta look at everything."

The Broncos adjusted how they looked at their own roster at the end of a season. Previously, the coaches and front office dove into evaluations at season's end. This year, they delayed that look, hoping to remove some of the emotion from the decisions -- the "false positive or the false negative," as coach Vic Fangio has called it.

"I've found out that you may have misgraded some guys after you have a chance to go and watch the season in its entirety and the emotional level, good and bad, has disappeared," Fangio said. "You make a better objective grade after you watch the entire season again in a logical manner."

"I think you get a better objective view when you get away and you're able to go back and look at it individually," Elway said.

The proof will be in what happens in the months to come. But with the biggest combination of draft picks -- the Broncos project for 12 in April -- and salary-cap room that Elway has had in his tenure, to go with a team that finished the season with the third-youngest roster in the league, all involved see an opportunity.

"This is the first time in three years that we've finished strong," Elway said following a 4-1 December. " ... It feels better to finish the way that we finished. ... Things are trending up. Now, that's not to say they're going to continue to go that way. We have a lot of work to do. We have to get better in a lot of spots."