Note: This article was written at the time of the Joe Flacco trade, and personnel moves since the transaction will be the focus of this update.
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.
Update: That young passer is rookie Drew Lock, whom Denver chose with the 10th pick of Round 2. The belief is Flacco will be the guy as long as Denver is in contention of a playoff spot. Should Denver be awful out of the gates, it could be only a matter of weeks before Lock is thrust into action. Keenum was traded to the Redskins, where he, too, has to fend off a rookie quarterback.
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, and despite having three remaining years on his deal, Denver will not incur a financial penalty for releasing him at any point.
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 played 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.
Update: The offensive line was upgraded in the draft with the selection of right guard Dalton Risner. He’s capable of playing tackle, as well. Left guard Ronald Leary returns after missing virtually all of 2018. He should be ready to return from a torn Achilles in time for training camp.
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. While he doesn’t yet have a timetable for his return from the Dec. 5 injury, he sounds optimistic. “Once they told me I hit 19.2 [miles per hour] and it’s only four months in, I was like, ‘All right, I still got it,'” Sanders said in early May.
Update: Denver added tight end Noah Fant in Round 1 of the draft. He’s adept at splitting outside and playing in the slot as his inline skills need polish. Rookie tight ends generally struggle to make meaningful contributions, although Fant profiles as capable if his utilization is focused on maximizing his talents rather than pigeonholing him into a positional typecast. There is at least no doubt he is the most gifted tight end on Denver’s roster — and it isn’t even remotely close.
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. Even the addition of Fant doesn’t move the needle all that much for Flacco, and the vet will have a highly selected rookie breathing down his neck.
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. Keep the one-time Super Bowl champ in mind as a last-ditch fantasy reserve or a waiver-wire matchup play.