In all likelihood, Joe Flacco will not be a significant upgrade for the Denver Broncos.
For that reason alone, investing a fourth-round pick and $18 million in salary on the former Baltimore Ravens starter is an uninspiring move.
But you can at least see John Elway’s thought process in reportedly acquiring Case Keenum’s replacement.
General managers (and coaches) always sell themselves on the ceiling of a strong-armed quarterback, and while Flacco’s arm isn’t quite the howitzer it used to be, it’s not Keenum’s pop-gun. After years of deteriorating play in Baltimore, Flacco looked sharp to open the 2018 season before tailing off some, providing room for optimism.
Elway’s biggest hope might be that Flacco plays like he did in 2014 — 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, his best stretch since the Super Bowl XLVII run — when Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator in Baltimore. New Broncos coordinator Rich Scangarello’s offense comes from the same outside-zone-heavy scheme under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. If the offensive line improves under new O-line coach Mike Munchak and the running game — which was great at times in 2018 — is more consistent, Flacco could deliver average or even above-average play.
Perhaps more important for Elway is the flexibility the move brings.
With Keenum surely not an answer beyond 2019, the Broncos appeared locked into using the 10th overall pick (or trading up from No. 10) on a quarterback in a draft class that has myriad questions. Now, Elway could conceivably pass on a quarterback early, allowing him to use the 10th pick on a top offensive lineman or cornerback. And, if Denver does like Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray or Drew Lock, trading for Flacco has concealed those intentions somewhat.
Flacco probably isn’t much more of an answer than Keenum, but — barring a new contract — he’ll be playing on essentially a one-year, $18 million prove-it deal that the Broncos can move on from with no consequences.
If Flacco impresses, Denver could let it ride another season for $20.25 million in 2020, again with the ability to move on without dead money.
If the Broncos are able to trade Keenum — even a swap of seventh-round picks would be worthwhile, to save $7 million against the cap and in cash — their quarterback cap figure for 2019 would be much more palatable ($21.5 million, plus whatever rookie or backup is added).
Whether Flacco will actually provide an upgrade over Keenum remains to be seen. Even if he does, the Broncos’ hopes in 2019 will lean much more heavily on the infrastructure around the quarterback. That includes Munchak’s unit up front and the offensive skill players, but also a defense that remains talented but has plenty of holes. By acquiring Flacco, Elway might have freed the No. 10 overall pick to plug one of those holes.
–David DeChant (@DavidDeChant), Field Level Media