"Any time you draft that high you have to make 'em count," Elway said, via KUSA-TV. "We've got a lot of picks so we have the ammo also [to trade], so we've got to make sure we make them all count."
It's important not to gloss over the part about a trade, because Smith is still under contract for one more year with the Kansas City Chiefs. Elway hasn't demonstrated patience for developing a quarterback, and with the current state of his team, he really doesn't have a reason to. Packaging that aforementioned ammo to land a veteran seems reasonable.
It also seems necessary for a team that has experienced quite a dropoff since winning Super Bowl 50. Patience is starting to run thin.
"You know, it comes with the territory," Elway said. "It's expectations. We have those same expectations of ourselves. Every time you go through a 5-11 year, it's miserable. I don't think people understand how miserable it is going through it. As hard as it is for them, it's hard for us, too."
Patience could also be tricky in such a scenario. Smith is owed $20.6 million in 2018, including a $2 million roster bonus due at the start of training camp. Kansas City is uncomfortably close to the salary cap and will be in need of relief in the new league year. It seems the best way to create significant space is to cut Smith -- if Kansas City can't find a suitable trade partner first.
Denver very well could ride out this period and spend the No. 5 pick on a quarterback, but the Broncos would risk spending their best capital available for use in a potential deal for Smith. Or they could sign Cousins and draft his eventual successor with no pressure on the latter.
As for the prospects, who would Elway -- who assembled a roster of three similarly average quarterbacks after Peyton Manning's departure -- select at No. 5?
"It is about the tape, but that's only part of it," Elway said. "You've got to find out what they're made of and if they love the game. It's a hard game. If they don't love it, it's hard for them to be successful."
Elway would know from his own playing days, which began by him refusing to play for the then-Baltimore Colts before being traded to Denver.
He spent some of the week at the Senior Bowl in an attempt to get to know the quarterback prospects there, which included Wyoming's Josh Allen (whose style looks a lot like two quarterbacks who were on Denver's roster in 2017) and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. He'll get plenty of additional time to survey them and the rest of the class before making a decision under center. It's a call that could prove to be Elway's most important of his executive career.