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Breaking Down The Joe Flacco Trade; The Good And The Bad

Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP from 2012, is expected to be traded to Denver as soon as the new league year starts in March. The first major move of what looks to be an eventful offseason for the NFL is unsurprisingly divisive among fans. To weigh the pros and cons of the trade and ultimately discuss if it was a good or bad, Sports Al Dente’s Ian Van Roy and Tad Desai break down both sides.

Ian Van Roy’s Breakdown – The Sky Is Falling Mentality

Flacco Doesn’t Fit

Money, Money, Money

The addition of Joe Flacco creates a host of financial problems for the Broncos. Flacco is due $18.5 million in 2019 while incumbent quarterback Case Keenum is due $21 million. Between Flacco, Keenum and third-string quarterback Garrett Grayson (Kevin Hogan is an impending Restricted Free-Agent), the Broncos’ quarterback room is set to cost $40 million in 2019, making it the most expensive room in the NFL and six million higher than the New Orleans Saints according to Spotrac. Needless to say, if both Flacco and Keenum were to stay on the roster in 2019 with their current contracts, it would wreak havoc on the Broncos’ finances. 

Of course, the Broncos will try to whittle down Keenum’s slice of the pie either through trade or forced exit in an effort to save either $18 million or $11 million respectively. However, after Keenum’s ghastly performance in 2018, there is a real question as to if there is any real trade market for Keenum at his expected price point. Meaning, the Broncos are in real danger of having to cut Keenum because it is extremely unlikely that the Broncos will be content to have a $21 million backup behind Flacco. 

In the end, cutting Keenum is the most likely outcome, costing the Broncos $10 million. When combined with Flacco’s current cost, the true final cost of Flacco in 2019 is likely to be about $29.5 million which is tied with Matthew Stafford’s cost for 2019 as the second-most expensive quarterback in the league. Flacco is simply not worth that investment and this will cost the Broncos dearly in free agency. 

What Has He Done Lately?

With Joe Flacco under center, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012. Since then, Flacco has only appeared in the postseason once and hasn’t won his division a single time. 

In the end, quarterbacks are largely evaluated by wins and losses and Flacco has been losing a lot of games. In fact, he has been losing for long enough that there is a question as to whether he still actually knows how to win. 

Is He A Scheme Fit?

The Broncos hired one of the best defensive coordinators in the league to be their head coach, giving a clear indication that the Broncos are returning to the same formula that won them Super Bowl 50. During that run, the Broncos played safe, boring offense that minimized the quarterback’s risks while playing great defense in an effort to keep the ball away from opponents and turn each game into a long, drawn-out affair. 

In order to set up the offense in this way, the Broncos need a game manager. They need someone who doesn’t take risks. Joe Flacco is more of a gunslinger than a game manager. This means that the Broncos will be asking Flacco to change how he plays the game which is likely to feel like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

The Broncos tried to force a quarterback to play outside of his comfort zone in 2017 with Trevor Siemian and the Broncos finished that season with a 5-11 record. The Broncos are setting themselves up to repeat history. 

The Big Picture

Before acquiring Joe Flacco, the best move for the Broncos was to look to the draft for their next quarterback. Now, Flacco’s addition creates doubt on that future, even if general manager John Elway has been planning to draft a quarterback in the first round all along. 

The addition of Flacco has given Elway the ability to get cold feet on draft day which could doom the Broncos for years to come. 

With the newly acquired Flacco, Elway will be in the same place as last year. He will have a new quarterback with a history of sporadic success in his back pocket as he enters draft day. 

There is a small chance that the next Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady is in front of him, just waiting to be plucked. Conversely, there will also be Paxton Lynch’s and Johnny Manziel’s. The risk of drafting another Paxton Lynch or Johnny Manziel could frighten Elway out of trading up or even drafting a quarterback altogether, missing out on the perfect franchise quarterback in the process and dooming the Broncos for quite some time. To put it simply, if Flacco isn’t around on Draft Day, Elway would be more likely to follow through with drafting a possible quarterback of the future. 

A Bridge To The Future

Elway can beat around the bush forever but if the Broncos are to win a Super Bowl, they will need to draft a quarterback high in the draft at some point, even if it is not this year. In the meantime, they will need a bridge quarterback to hold down the fort. By definition, bridge quarterbacks are not expected to win the Super Bowl. Case Keenum is not going to win the Super Bowl and is, therefore, a bridge quarterback. Joe Flacco is not even close to being a favorite to winning a Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos as a mediocre 34-year-old quarterback out of his prime. Flacco is a bridge quarterback. 

Granted, Flacco is a slight upgrade over Keenum. If one were to compare their touchdown-to-interception ratios, they would be right (Flacco has a 1.56 ratio while Keenum has a 1.52). However, they both have the same realistic chance to win the Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos: almost none. Boiled down, the Broncos are spending a 4th-round pick for a bridge quarterback to replace Keenum who is already a bridge quarterback. Why spend a 4th-round pick for something that they already have?

Why Flacco Doesn’t Fit

In the end, Joe Flacco is likely to cost more than his worth, hasn’t accomplished much since winning the Super Bowl, doesn’t really fit into the “formula” of 2015, will create a false sense of security for John Elway during the Draft and will ultimately serve the same purpose that Keenum would have. Essentially, this is a bad move for the Denver Broncos.

Tad Desai’s Breakdown – The Sky Is Not Falling Mentality

Flacco Does Fit

The Contract Isn’t As Bad As It Looks

Yes, Flacco’s price tag this season is big but his future earnings are deceptively so. Of the $63 million he is due for the next three seasons, the grand total of it that is guaranteed is ZERO. While $18.5 million is a high price tag for a small improvement at quarterback, it’s hardly a waste, and having a QB locked up for three years with zero guaranteed money is a blessing in itself.

The next “road bump” in the Flacco trade is what to do with Case Keenum. Yes, if he is cut it will cost Denver $10 million but that should, and likely will, be their last option. Some would question why a team would want to trade for Keenum given his poor performance this past season but teams like the Giants, Jaguars, Dolphins and Redskins are desperate for a viable starter given their current quarterback’s struggles. The Browns proved several years ago with their trade of Brock Osweiler to the Texans that a QB-needy team will take on a big contract if given the proper incentive (a second-round pick). If a trade isn’t in the cards, it is well within reason for Keenum to agree to restructure his deal rather than be cut and risk unemployment.

The price for Flacco is high but it is an improvement over Keenum and with the rising price of quarterbacks in general, one that is worth paying for a season.

The Scheme May Finally Fit

It is no secret that the Broncos have failed to find a proper quarterback since Peyton Manning’s retirement but this may finally be the one that proves to be suitable until they can find a long-term solution. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello comes from Kyle Shanahan’s coaching tree. Kyle Shanahan comes from Gary Kubiak’s coaching tree. Gary Kubiak, who served as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator in 2014, aided in Flacco throwing for nearly 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions.

Maybe it’s a stretch, but if Scangarello can replicate the system Flacco thrived in that season, then it is possible the Broncos can have a realistic shot at the playoffs next season. While that may seem like a lofty goal, teams like the Vikings, Eagles and Jaguars have proven over the past few years that with the right pieces around him, a mediocre quarterback can take you deep into the postseason.

What Is The Worst That Can Happen?

2018 proved Keenum wasn’t the answer to the Broncos’ future they were hoping for. That answer is likely to be found in 2020 so if Flacco bombs as badly as some are expecting then they are that much higher in the draft to take their next quarterback.

Worst case scenario: The Broncos end up with Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa.

Best case scenario: A strong Broncos defense is the powerhouse to a rebound season with Flacco proving to be the perfect game manager to keep them afloat. Some may ask is a 4th-round pick worth taking that risk and the answer is a resounding yes. Of the last five 4-round picks by the Broncos, only Max Garcia and Devontae Booker are still on the roster and the latter was recently buried on the depth chart by Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. So a 4th-round pick for the potential to right the ship is well worth it and while the price is high, remember, none of it is guaranteed.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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