Denver trades for Joe Flacco to avoid fight in free agency

Denver trades for Joe Flacco to avoid fight in free agency

Player Analysis

Denver trades for Joe Flacco to avoid fight in free agency

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(Philip G. Pavely, USA TODAY Sports)

The Denver Broncos have agreed to trade a midround selection in 2019 for the rights to quarterback Joe Flacco. The Baltimore Ravens seemingly won this deal, because he likely would have been released, and he is hardly the long-term solution in John Elway’s hunt for a franchise quarterback.

Flacco, however, is an upgrade over Case Keenum, and he is capable of serving as a stopgap while the Broncos groom a younger passer to eventually take over.

After nine starts in 2018, Flacco lost his starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson. The Ravens were scheduled to have $18.5 million in base salary tied up in Flacco for 2019, which is now a Denver’s problem; expect a renegotiation in short order. The Broncos will eat $10 million in dead money this year for releasing Keenum, so it may boil down to whether he is willing to restructure to serve as the backup. He could be designated a post-June 1 cut. Restructuring seems as though it would be in his best interest, since he is hardly guaranteed as spot on any roster, let alone while making a few million to hold a clipboard. However, it may be out of his hands if Denver drafts a quarterback early.

Denver gets a big arm out of the trade, but there just isn’t any upside in Flacco. He has a dink-and-dunk mentality and has exceeded 7.0 yards per attempt only four times in 11 seasons. Not all of that is his fault, as systems and personnel play a role, yet Flacco is too conservative with taking chances down the field all while throwing at least 10 interceptions in each of his healthy seasons. After struggling to top 60 percent passing in the first half of his career, he has safely accomplished the feat in five straight years. The veteran has only one 4,000-yard season to his credit and hasn’t thrown for more than 27 touchdowns in any campaign.

Entering his age-34 season, it is highly unlikely he will change his stripes at this stage of his career and become a vertical attacker. Flacco will be asked to play as a safety-minded game manager — in an offense that will feature a pair of second-year receivers and hasn’t a proven tight end on its roster.

The Broncos also have a new, first-time head coach in Vic Fangio and a virgin play-caller on offense. Rich Scangarello is expected to utilized pocket movement and set up the pass through the ground game. He has demonstrated modest success getting the most out of his his quarterbacks.

The running game was better than anyone could have expected in 2018, although it would be irresponsible to automatically assume Phillip Lindsay is poised for an even better year in a new offensive system. One could make a coherent argument whether he is capable of even repeating last season’s success. Meanwhile, the jury is out on Royce Freeman developing into a consistently effective contributor.

The offensive line will need to be addressed in free agency with center Matt Paradis and right tackle Jared Veldheer set to hit the open market in March. Left guard Ronald Leary is returning from a torn Achilles tendon and will be 30 in April. He comes with an $8.15 million salary to boot. His primary backup, Max Garcia, is slated for free agency, as well. At a minimum, depth will need to be a focus during the offseason.

Denver ranked 11th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders, and it is imperative to operate in that neighborhood or better with Flacco’s limited mobility. He’s not a total stiff in this area, but expecting his feet to bail him out of tight spots is unfair and asking for a problem.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) is also working his way back from a catastrophic injury and is on the wrong side of 30. He will carry a $12.937 million cap hit and is on the bubble.

Denver could be a sneaky player in the trade market for Antonio Brown. Elway has proven time after time that he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger to win now. Brown would immediately upgrade the offense from a number of angles, but it will come at a price, and the Broncos are in a tight spot with the salary cap without restructuring and/or cutting several players.

Fantasy football takeaway

The addition of Flacco certainly boosts the young receivers in DaeSean Hamilton and Courtland Sutton. However, they alone will not be enough to carry his value into the upper tier of backups. Keep him in mind as a last-ditch fantasy reserve or a waiver-wire matchup play.

The addition of Brown would be a game-changing move. Until then, Flacco will be asked to play smart ball, rely on the running game, and allow the defense to keep the score close — none of which is a recipe for fantasy success.

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