Thoughts On The Pending Trade For Joe Flacco

I’ve pondered for half a week, and through the weekend, on how I feel about the Broncos agreeing to trade for Joe Flacco, after considering the facts surrounding the proposition. Many of my thoughts will likely be repeats of what observers, both here and elsewhere, have already said, but some may be curious to see my opinion in tangible words. So here it is.

This starts as a gamble by Denver that the improvement at quarterback will be worth a 4th rounder and at worst $6-7 million in dead cash plus $3 million more in dead cap dollars.

To review how this tradeoff is determined:

  • The rumored 4th rounder is straightforward.
  • Keenum and Flacco have almost identical 2019 base salaries, at $18 million and $18.5 million
  • The dead cash comes from the $7 million of Keenum’s salary that is guaranteed. Due to offsets, that number falls closer to $6 million if he signs a veteran minimum deal for 2019. More or all of that could also be gone if the Broncos succeed in trading Keenum, though I would handicap that as less likely than not.
  • The additional dead cap dollars comes from money that was already paid from Keenum’s signing bonus, and was going to be on the 2019 cap no matter what.

In my opinion, that tradeoff is…not great. Flacco played better than Keenum in 2018, but in 2017 it was the opposite, and you have to go all the way back to 2014 to find a solid season from Flacco. I have doubts that improvements, if any, from going to Keenum to Flacco will be more than minimal, and likely won’t equate to the price paid as described above.

But at the same time, this tradeoff is nowhere near as disastrous or franchise crippling as some make it out to be. While I see it unlikely that Flacco will be considerably better than the status quo, I also see it unlikely that he’s going to sink to the Trevor Siemian/Brock Osweiler/Paxton Lynch cerberus that the Broncos trotted out in 2017. They do lose one more chance to hit on a cheap rookie contract in the draft, but a single 4th rounder is by no means a guarantee of getting one of those hits.

$10 million in dead cap space, meanwhile, accounts for only about 5% of the likely total salary cap space the Broncos have for 2019. There are many ways the Broncos can manipulate their contracts to make what they deem are the needed additions in free agency. For one, there’s already been reports that Brandon Marshall will not have his 2019 option exercised. You can play around with your own simulations here, but other transactions include, but are not limited to, extending Derek Wolfe or Chris Harris, Jr. that involve reducing 2019 cap hits, cutting Darian Stewart, restructuring Von Miller’s contract, or restructuring the contract of Flacco himself. I would not worry much about how the Broncos are going to be able to build a roster in this regard.

Flacco’s contract gives the Broncos more flexibility to improve the quarterback position as a whole than Keenum’s does.

If one looked at Flacco’s contract as it were a new one signed as if he were a free agent, it would equate to a three year, $63 million deal that thus has an APY of $21 million, mid tier among quarterback pay in the league. But the catch is that none of that money is guaranteed. That would be crazy to think of from a new contract. This means that it would be more accurate to see it as a year-to-year contract. That starts at one year for $18.5 million. As stated above, that’s near identical to Keenum’s pay.

But Flacco’s contract is two years longer than Keenum’s, and that should not be disregarded. Had the Broncos stayed with Keenum, they could have ended up in a situation where he was free to leave, and without securing a viable successor as a rookie in 2019, the Broncos could have ended up with no viable quarterbacks under contract.

John Elway does not want to be in that situation again. I say “again” because that was where he was in 2016, and we now know how that turned out. He does not want to have his hand forced into acquiring a rookie quarterback that he may not feel is appropriate to take there. This is why he acted quickly on signing Keenum last year, allowing him to take Bradley Chubb over Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. The same could be true this year if he doesn’t like the quarterbacks that are available at 10th overall.

Whether it’s Flacco or Keenum, this should not change the need to acquire a quarterback in this year’s rookie class.

I said as much back in January, and I am sticking to that statement. However, part of that statement also included that getting rookie quarterbacks need not be done at the top of the draft, or even in the draft at all. As explained above, Flacco’s longer contract, combined with the lack of guarantees on those extra years, gives the Broncos more flexibility to operate with in 2019.

But that flexibility comes with a caveat: they have no young quarterbacks on the roster to develop. Last year they at least had the possibility of Lynch or Chad Kelly taking a step forward. But they ultimately did not, and now the Broncos are left with nothing there. If Denver comes away with no quarterbacks from the 2019 rookie class, while it might be narrowly defensible given the circumstances, they will be yielding one season of potentially developing a young solution.

The Broncos need to be aware that Flacco is just as much of a short term fix as Keenum was, even if Flacco’s contract is longer in length., and that the ultimate solution at this position is more likely to come from rookie classes than the veteran market.