The first of the quarterback dominoes of the 2019 NFL offseason has fallen. On Wednesday, it was announced that the Denver Broncos were trading a mid-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for veteran Joe Flacco.
Whilst the price Denver has paid isn’t particularly expensive, I’m concerned that this could be the latest in a long line of recent mistakes made by general manager John Elway in Colorado. Let’s break down the impact of this deal…
Broncos run game
Phillip Lindsay has made himself an undeniable focal point for the offence under new head coach Vic Fangio. The hometown hero became the first undrafted offensive rookie player to be voted to a Pro Bowl this season and racked up 1,037 rushing yards in his first season in the league. He’s also joined by downhill runner Royce Freeman, who Lindsay supplanted as the lead back this season.
We all know that Flacco’s biggest strength as a passer is his deep ball. That might actually play to the strengths of Lindsay and Freeman as defences won’t be able to stack the box due to the damage Flacco could inflict on them. As a result, the Broncos running backs could flourish this season, especially if Fangio and his new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello decide to emphasise the run game.
Flacco as a mentor
Flacco is an 11-year veteran in the league, starting all 16 regular season games in nine out of those 11 years.
He led the Ravens to the playoffs six times, winning the Lombardi trophy in 2012 whilst being voted Super Bowl MVP. If you’re planning on drafting a young QB this offseason or next, that’s a pretty great resume to have for the guy mentoring the future of the franchise.
None of that is designed to take anything away from last season’s starter Case Keenum, but Flacco’s experience of success in the league is worth noting as a potential positive for the Broncos. The team has tried, and failed, to solve its QB conundrum since Peyton Manning retired in 2016. Perhaps Elway sees the lack of veteran experience in that position room as contributing to the failure to develop a full-time starter in Colorado?
Broncos offensive line
Whilst quarterback has been a continuous position of need since Manning hung up his cleats, the performance of his successors has not been helped by the team’s Achilles heel: the O-line.
The unit showed some improvement last year, moving to the middle of the pack in terms of QB hits, whilst drastically reducing the number of sacks given up (from 52 in 2017 to 34 in 2018). However, centre Matt Paradis, who is regarded as a key part of that line is an unrestricted free agent, as well as tackles Jared Veldheer and Billy Turner. Offensive lines tend to improve as chemistry on them develops, and that progress made could be disrupted by losses this offseason.
Flacco’s ability to stretch defences vertically depends on having time to let the play develop. The Delaware product isn’t going to be able to buy that time himself like Russell Wilson, so if the Broncos’ big men up front can’t hold off opposing defences for long enough, any advantage the Broncos have, may soon dissipate.
At first, my instinct was that this move seems to demonstrate that Elway doesn’t really regard the QB prospects in the 2019 draft very highly. However, on second thoughts, and given the fact that the Broncos have now started trying to move Keenum, this trade may actually be a precursor to Denver moving up in the draft to snag a young QB they like. We saw this a few seasons ago, though slightly different circumstances, when Chicago signed veteran Mike Glennon to act as a veteran stopgap to the rookie they eventually took in the draft, Mitch Trubisky.
The Broncos have the 10th pick in the draft, but above them there is only really the Giants, Jaguars and possibly the Raiders who are likely to have a quarterback in mind with their first-round pick. That makes moving up much easier for Denver who have the draft capital to do so.
The signing of Flacco might also indicate the type of QB Elway is looking at. Possibly not someone in the mould of Kyler Murray who is a very different type of quarterback to Flacco. Instead could Drew Lock or Daniel Jones be making their way to Mile High Stadium?
Another season of quarterback questions
Elway’s repeated lack of success at the QB position since Manning left town is the sort of thing that might have got a general manager run out of town at any other NFL franchise.
This offseason, he simply needs to get it right.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the former Broncos QB throw resources at the position to see what sticks. He’s picked up a QB with an enviable record as a starter and who won’t have to put the team on his back given the talent at running back and on defence.
Nonetheless its worth asking whether Flacco is on the decline as a starting NFL quarterback. Whilst his 2018 season was cut short by injury, his completion percentage of 61.2% was his lowest since 2013. In addition, the team Flacco led to a 4-5 record in his nine starts (which also featured a stifling defence) went 6-1 with rookie Lamar Jackson under centre.
Can Flacco do in Denver, what he didn’t do in Baltimore, where he also had a strong offensive line?
Also, who will play the role of John Brown for the Broncos? Brown, as a deep threat, was thriving as Flacco’s downfield target, but Courtland Sutton is more of a possession receiver, whilst Emmanuel Sanders is working his way back from a torn Achilles.
Overall, I’m not convinced that this move will lead to significant success at the position for Denver next season. But Elway clearly looked at the existing talent on his roster and was convinced he had to act to provide some certainty at the position. The Broncos don’t have a lot of cap space available and wouldn’t be able to get into a bidding war for someone like Nick Foles. Instead they’ve gone for a low-cost option (we will find out the exact cost once Flacco’s contract is reworked) but one that might mean another season of quarterback questions.