John Elway once saw Joe Flacco steal a shot at a Broncos Super Bowl title away from Denver, and now he’s going to give Flacco a chance to bring the Broncos a title. On Wednesday, news broke that Denver has agreed to acquire the former Super Bowl MVP in a trade with the Ravens, the first domino to fall on the offseason QB market.
CBS NFL insider Jason La Canfora has more on the deal, which was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
Getting a fourth-round pick for Flacco would be a pretty incredible haul for the Ravens, given his status with the team as a former starter replaced by a first-round pick at midseason.
This is a shocking trade, there are no two ways about it. The Broncos were thought to be players in the free agent market or perhaps even the draft, with Case Keenum serving as a mild-to-major disappointment in his only season with Denver. He didn’t put up numbers like he did in Minnesota, but surely the Broncos didn’t think he would?
Maybe they did, as Elway’s solution is now Flacco, who has been largely mediocre in his entire career save for a very hot stretch of football in the playoffs that led to the Ravens winning the Super Bowl and Flacco becoming the highest-paid quarterback in football.
It’s Jackson’s time in Baltimore
Flacco was out in Baltimore after the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson. No matter how 2018 played out, it was going to be Flacco’s last season with the Ravens. The only question was whether or not they could find someone to take on his contract in a trade. It seemed fairly unlikely, but then Denver popped up as a suitor, sort of out of nowhere.
Per Schefter, the Broncos saw “the demand at the position” and “pounced out of the gate on Flacco,” having spent the week of the Super Bowl studying Flacco and putting together a deal before the combine rolled around and trade chatter between teams really got hot and heavy.
Jackson took over for Flacco midway through the season with Flacco injured and the Ravens struggling. Baltimore retooled its offense on the fly, becoming a run-heavy team and eventually winning the AFC North and making the playoffs.
The Ravens would lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Chargers amid people calling for Flacco to take over at halftime for Jackson, but coach John Harbaugh stuck by his guns and left his rookie quarterback in there. Jackson nearly completed a comeback on Los Angeles, and it’s possible the decision to roll with Jackson helped to earn Harbaugh a large contract extension with Baltimore this offseason.
Baltimore committing to Greg Roman as offensive coordinator only further cemented their move to Jackson. Harbaugh also spoke about Flacco after the season, essentially confirming he would be departing this offseason.
For the Ravens, this is a massive win. They get Flacco out of town, sending him to a potential contender and making everyone happy in the process. They also don’t have to cut the guy who brought the franchise its second Super Bowl. The Ravens will take on a $16 million dead cap hit with the trade, but they were going to have to pay some price for Flacco’s deal in 2019 regardless. What a coup by Eric DeCosta in what is essentially his opening act as GM.
What were the Broncos thinking?
There are some concerns here if you’re Denver.
For starters, Flacco is 34 years old. He is not a mobile quarterback, so if Denver’s offensive line doesn’t improve, things could get ugly in the pocket. Additionally, he’s battled injuries lately. He tore his ACL and had a back injury in recent years, just to name two of the more serious problems.
Flacco’s contract isn’t terrible in the sense that it doesn’t contain any guaranteed money, but he’s certainly not cheap. He’ll cost the Broncos $18.5 million in 2019, $20.25 million in 2020 and $24.25 million in 2021. Those are his salaries and his cap hits.
The Broncos presumably will be moving on from Keenum at this point. Cutting Keenum will cost the Broncos $10 million in dead cap space while saving them $11 million in salary cap space, most of which will go to dealing with Flacco’s contract.
More problematic is the question of whether or not Flacco is actually good. Flacco has literally never led the NFL in a single meaningful passing category. Not even interceptions. He’s a tall, strong-armed quarterback who can wing the ball downfield. But he’ll be working with young receivers, as Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton profile as his top weapons.
Flacco’s best season was in 2016, when he passed for 4,317 yards and completed 64.9 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. That was his only season above 4,000 passing yards. His career high is 27 passing touchdowns. He’s never completed more than 65 percent of his passes. He’s only thrown less than 10 picks in his career once, and that was last season, when he only played nine games. His career high is 7.4 yards per attempt.
The debate about Flacco being “elite” was always sort of silly to begin with. He’s not. He was an average to above-average quarterback for a long time and he happened to black out and turn into Joe Montana during a playoff run. He’s a clutch quarterback and has won some monster games in the postseason. But he’s not some guy who is going to ramp up the Broncos offense.
If anything, as our own Ryan Wilson noted, he’s a taller Case Keenum. In fact, compare their stats from 2015 through 2018 (as Ben Baldwin of The Athletic did) and, uh, they’re the same guy.
Elway does not exactly have a history of smart offseason moves when it comes to acquiring quarterbacks. Landing Peyton Manning before the 2013 season was a master move and it resulted in some great teams and eventually a Super Bowl. But he’s also drafted Brock Osweiler with a second-round pick (and got lucky Osweiler left without a big deal), drafted Paxton Lynch with a first-round pick, signed Keenum and now traded for Flacco.
He’s got a type though: Osweiler, Lynch and Flacco are all at least 6-foot-6 and comprise a handful of quarterbacks that tall who have thrown passes and started games in recent years.
Flacco would be the exception to the rule if he goes to Denver and succeeds, making him yet another high-priced gamble by the Broncos at the position.