Having been kicked around by a host of NFL “analysts” for failing to install a long term quarterback option since the departure of Peyton Manning, John Elway was always going to make some moves at the position this off-season. Turns out he decided not to wait for the new league year to start as ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that the Broncos will acquire Joe Flacco from the Ravens. Mike Kliss for NBC 9News in Denver reports that Denver is giving up a 4th round pick in the deal, but no details will be made official until 3/13 when the new league year begins.
This move likely signals the end of Case Keenum’s short tenure in the Mile High City and it most assuredly will topple some dominoes throughout the NFL.
Domino #1: Keenum is now available and Joe Flacco is not. Whether you’re sold on him or not, Keenum is a veteran QB with some track record and will undoubtedly serve as a consolation prize to any team who doesn’t want to over-pay for Nick Foles. Whether a team trades with Denver for Keenum, or waits to sign him after the Broncos release him, Keenum will be a more attractive addition than virtually every other free agent QB on the market except perhaps Teddy Bridgewater. It also means that any team eyeing Flacco must look elsewhere. That list potentially included Jacksonville who has a Top 10 pick and may now be forced to reach on a Drew Lock type.
Domino #2: Denver is unlikely to draft a QB at #10. All that talk about Elway’s love for Drew Lock is going to slowly fade away and it presents an entirely new outlook on the Top 10 given that the Broncos had widely been considered likely to take a QB with their pick, or even trade up from a passer like Dwayne Haskins. Flacco’s contract is structured in a way that Denver can cut him before 2020 and only have $8m in dead cap space, so it is still possible Elway takes a QB early this year. But it is far more likely that the Broncos look to a project like Will Grier or Gardner Minshew later in the draft secure in the knowledge that Flacco is under team control through 2021 if necessary.
Domino #3: With Denver not in play for a QB in either free agency or the first round of the draft, that means they’ll be in play to fill other holes and the resources that might have been allocated to a QB are now free to use on other positions of need, primarily the secondary, offensive line and perhaps wide receiver. Expect Denver to use the #10 pick on a corner back like Greedy Williams or DeAndre Baker, which will alter how other teams prepare their draft boards, but more importantly expect the Broncos to spend heavily on offensive line and perhaps an upgrade at safety (Earl Thomas/Landon Collins) or receiver (trade for Antonio Brown?). This move opens up a lot of possibilities, especially given the Broncos strong position with over $30m in cap space, which is where they’ll likely be after moving on from Keenum and restructuring a few other team contracts.
Flacco’s arrival in Denver gives Elway a proven veteran with playoff success who had his best NFL season in 2014 when he was playing in Gary Kubiak’s west coast style offense, the same offense new Broncos OC Rich Scangarello runs. Flacco had 27 TD and 14 INT that year and made the playoffs, but that season and his 24/4 TD/INT ratio in the post-season over his last 10 playoff games are about the only positive statistical data on the veteran’s resume. Flacco has been a model of inconsistency as a QB and there’s no guarantee he’ll be any good at all in Denver. He’s a good enough QB that you can win with him if the rest of the team is good enough, but he will hurt you in games from time to time. The Ravens soured on his game so much that they benched him for a QB that literally didn’t even throw the ball last year.
Still, the move makes sense on several levels. Flacco will be under team control through 2021, all be it at some pretty high prices, and that means that no matter what else happens Elway will have a proven veteran QB in place for the next three years. There is value to that. But Flacco’s contract is also easy to get out from under with minimal cap damage if the Broncos cut him after 2019. Most likely, Elway is looking at this as a somewhat expensive safety blanket. Making this trade buys him some healthy PR around the league for making a “good” attempt to solve the QB conundrum and frees him up to let the next two NFL drafts come to him instead of having to force them.
Elway will undoubtedly add a QB in the 2019 Draft, but he no longer has to make that move at #10 overall and can instead wait on some developmental prospects. This next season will allow him to then assess two things: does Flacco have anything left? does my developmental QB have a real chance to be great? If the answers to both of these questions are no, Denver will likely finish well below .500 for the 3rd season and it will be time to throw the entire 2020 and 2021 drafts at a Top 5 pick and one of the highly touted 2020 QB prospects like Tua Tagavailoa, Justin Herbert and Jake Fromm. On the flip side, if Flacco and/or his 2019 draft pick pan out, the world is a happy place.
Moral of the story is that this move has bought John Elway and the Broncos front office some breathing room and it’s also altered the NFL landscape on several levels. The 2019 off-season is off to a quick start folks, which is more than we can say about the MLB’s off-seasons.