I’ll be the first to admit I was aghast when news broke that John Elway traded for Joe Flacco Wednesday.
After all, he’s the guy who denied quite possibly the best Peyton Manning Broncos team a Super Bowl when Rahim Moore
blew it made a critical error that would have preserved a 35-28 victory. What’s more, he’s the guy that has been a poster boy for QB WINZ and the bloated franchise quarterback contracts that have become the norm in recent years.
Once I dug into the details on the contract (it isn’t as bad as the $66 million number looks, as none of it is guaranteed) it wasn’t so bad. Still gross, but understandable once the initial shock wore off.
It’s been said a time or two before, but an important part of the Flacco deal is the length of the remainder of his contract. What if Lock isn’t there at 10? The Broncos could potentially trade down in the first round of the 2019 draft in order to get pieces that will provide ammo to chase a 2020 or 2021 passer. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated said it best:
Think of it like this: you’re looking to buy a house long-term and you’re on a flexible month-to-month lease in your current living situation. If you’re renting on a set yearly lease, you might feel antsy or take a counteroffer you shouldn’t, knowing there’s a real deadline coming—in essence allowing your short-term situation to creep into your long-term decision-making. But on a month-to-month lease, you can be patient. You’re operating from a position of strength.
Lest Broncos Country forget: Elway had two quarterbacks he was willing to spend the fifth overall pick on in 2018. All reports out of Dove Valley were that Baker Mayfield made Elway and Kubiak giddy. There was also word that Sam Darnold intrigued Denver. Both went in the top three, and Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen and Allen didn’t make the grade.
This year, all reports have linked Denver to Drew Lock of Missouri. Outside of mocks, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that Dwayne Haskins or Kyler Murray would be considered at 10. Even if they would, 10 isn’t an ideal spot to be in if you desperately need a quarterback. Chances are all three go higher than that.
What the Flacco trade represents to Elway is insurance. He’s both a stopgap to 2020 (or 2021, if need be) and an upgrade over the current Band-Aid™, Case Keenum.
Elway has already addressed two main components to his team: Head coach and QB.— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) February 13, 2019
Vance Joseph-Case Keenum vs. Vic Fangio-Joe Flacco.
On paper at least, Broncos appear much improved than they did six weeks ago. #9sports
But is Flacco insurance?
Let’s take a look at the narratives I’ve seen the last couple days.
“Joe Flacco is injury prone”
Let's tackle a few of your other freezing cold takes. Flacco is injury prone: has never started fewer than 9 games in a season (2018) and has started all 16 games in 9 of his 11 seasons.— Khalid Alshami (@KhalidHAlshami) February 14, 2019
All of the above in that tweet is true, but so is Flacco’s medical record.
I took a look at Sports Injury Predictor as I dug into this one. Here’s the short list.
12/2013: Grade 1 MCL Pull- Played through injury.
11/2015: Grade 3 ACL/MCL tear - Placed on IR.
10/2016: Shoulder pain - Played through injury.
7/2017: Vertebral Disc Hernia - Missed August with back injury but played week 1.
10/2017: Grade 1 Concussion
11/2018: Inguinal Hip Sprain
The site calculates the 34-year old Flacco’s chance of injury at 39.6% in 2019.
“Joe Flacco has a better arm than Case Keenum”
This one is a bit complicated.
Please stop win that argument that the @Broncos want Flacco for his ability to throw the deep ball, an area where Keenum was sorely lacking in 2018. Flacco has been mostly terrible at deep passing since he signed his big contract. pic.twitter.com/u2iQXFvO6g— Joseph Mahoney (@ndjomo76) February 14, 2019
I’m not one of those who will say that the Pro Football Focus numbers are gospel as I’ve seen too many former pros critique some of their grading. But they do a really standup job when it comes to analyzing quarterback play.
If you’re too old school to appreciate the work they do, though, let me point you to another number - 6.3. That’s Flacco’s Yards Per Attempt average from 2015 through 2018. His Air Yards Per Attempt average is 5.9 over that same span. For comparison’s sake, Keenum’s is 6.9 and 6.6 yards.
Where the narrative gets blurrier is when you turn on the tape. The nine games Flacco played in 2018 were the healthiest he’s been since tearing his ACL in 2015, and he still has plenty of zip on the ball. His ball placement and ability to thread the needle with arm strength should be a clear upgrade over Keenum.
Talked to a well connected source said this:— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) February 13, 2019
"In terms of efficiency, their numbers are going to boil down similar, but Flacco forces you to defend every blade of grass on the field, Keenum doesn't."#Broncos
“Flacco’s never had a supporting cast like Denver’s”
This one depends on how you define supporting cast. The first four seasons of Flacco’s career coincided with an insane run of defensive excellence in Baltimore. From 2008 to 2011 they never finished below 6th in Football Outsiders DVOA statistic. Recent years have been a similar story, in fact the Ravens have only had a below average defensive DVOA in two seasons since Flacco entered the NFL. Over that span their special teams have been consistently among the upper crust of the league as well.
Offense has been another story entirely. For all Ozzie Newsome’s greatness identifying defensive talent, he’s had notable weaknesses when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. There’s a fair argument to be made that one reason the Ravens offered Flacco his gargantuan contract extension is that the ghost of Kyle Boller haunted their GM.
Judging by just the DYAR numbers, the best receivers Flacco had in his Ravens career were Torrey Smith, Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin. In that order.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) February 14, 2019
Could say Baltimore made a mistake letting Smith go, but they didn't have much in the way of cap space in 2015, IIRC. https://t.co/bFiLkdiBuU
Outside of receiver, the best talent Flacco’s played alongside on offense was clearly Ray Rice. Drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft out of Rutgers, Rice was among the league’s best backs until his production fell off a cliff in 2013. That, combined with his infamous TMZ scandal where he punched out his fiance, spelled the end of his career, but prior to 2013 the Ravens O routinely hovered around 12th in DVOA.
One thing Newsome has provided his quarterback over the years is a consistent performer at tight end. From Todd Heap in 2008 to Dennis Pitta in 2012 to Owen Daniels in 2014 to Mark Andrews last year, Flacco’s usually had a receiver that can threaten the middle of the field. None will make the Hall of Fame, but even if I gave you orange glasses, you’d be unable to find that player on the current Broncos’ roster. Hopefully it’s something Elway addresses this offseason.
Will the 2019 Broncos surround Flacco with more talent than he’s had in recent years? It really depends on your outlook. If, like me, you believe Courtland Sutton, and DaeSean Hamilton will make a jump in their sophomore years? They’ll immediately become the most dangerous young receiving duo Flacco’s had in his career. If you think Emmanuel Sanders can make it back from his Achille injury, or that Phillip Lindsay can round out the passing aspects of his game? Next year’s offense should excite you as much as any since Manning retired.
“Joe Flacco will be a great mentor to a rookie QB”
The jury is out, here. On the one hand, you have all the reports that came out of Baltimore after Lamar Jackson was drafted last spring.
The new Baltimore Ravens quarterback was asked during rookie minicamp Saturday whether he has had a chance to talk to Flacco — the 2013 Super Bowl MVP and incumbent starter — since he was drafted last month. “No I haven’t,” Jackson said, according to video of the interview posted on BaltimoreRavens.com. “I haven’t.”
Baltimore’s PR team worked to dispel the drama, but come training camp, reports were surfacing that it was Robert Griffin, not Flacco, who was serving as a mentor to the rookie. All parties painted it as “no big deal” but the quarterback room’s bad vibes seemed to hang over the earlier parts of the regular season.
Lamar Jackson is wide open for an easy TD but I’m gonna throw it into double coverage. pic.twitter.com/xAcDTYvof0— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 4, 2018
Everyone knows how it went from there, of course. Flacco got hurt. Jackson stepped into the lineup, and the Ravens seemingly rode their hot rookie to the playoffs.
The truth was a bit more nuanced. Through their first nine games, the Ravens averaged 4.9 percent DVOA. Stretch that over an entire season and they would have finished between Tampa Bay and the Giants (but closer to the Buccaneers). Baltimore’s offense was more efficient during the first nine games of 2018 than once Jackson stepped into the lineup. The rookie did improve over the last two games of the regular season but crashed to Earth in the wildcard rematch against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Things got so bad in that playoff game that fans (and Tony Romo) began calling for Flacco to be inserted back into the lineup to save the season. It didn’t happen. If the wily old vet was disgruntled, he had his chance to throw shade. He took the high road.
“You can’t even go there, man,” Flacco said. “I thought Lamar did a great job of hanging in there and giving us a chance at the end.”
One would think that with the Broncos he’ll step into his new role fully aware that the hook could come quickly. You would need to be blindly optimistic to believe that he’ll help pave the way for his replacement though. History suggest that he’s closer to Tom Brady than Josh McCown in this regard.
“Flacco is a better system fit than Keenum”
Does Joe Flacco fit the Rich Scangarello offense better than Case Keenum? If you have any trust in the new coaching staff, you’d have to say “probably.” But we can’t say definitively because there’s no NFL tape to suggest what a Scangarello offense is really like. There’s hints that it will be similar to the Shanahan 49ers offense, though, which is a descendant of the Gary Kubiak system. Guess who had his best offensive season as a pro in the Kubiak system?
Generally when one thinks of the Kubiak system, plays like above are the first thing that come to mind - outside zone, cutback lanes, play action bootlegs. All those things will likely be key parts in order to play to the 2019 roster’s current strengths, but Flacco provided the 2014 Ravens with something 2018 Keenum clearly couldn’t give the Broncos.
With the Ravens facing 3rd and 13 at their own 34, down 20-15 in the 4th quarter, the Steelers knew Baltimore would air it out. Kubiak obliged, going empty. Three receivers run vertical routes with Marlon Brown and Owen Daniels running a pick play inside. There’s plenty of time left on the clock, so Flacco doesn’t need to make a desperation heave up the sideline. He simply needs to put his receiver in position to catch the ball in stride and find yards after the catch.
What makes the play above more encouraging? Pittsburgh had completely suffocated the Ravens rushing offense in order to make Flacco beat them. With that conversion and a 21 yard touchdown on the following drive, he did just that.
Obviously 2014 is a long time ago. Flacco has spent most of the time since as a shell of himself or playing hurt. But if you turn on 2018, there are still signs that he’s the kind of quarterback that’s capable of carrying the offense at times. After watching Jared Goff completely fail to do this when the Patriots shut the Rams rushing offense down, that’s noteworthy.
Flacco doesn’t come without warts. His accuracy can become a bit erratic under pressure, and in the games I watched, he has a tendency to lock on to his back too soon when faced with incoming rushers.
Don’t be shocked if the media gripes about this at length next year if the offense stalls out even as Sutton or Hamilton open up on a deeper route.
All of this would suggest the answer to my original question is a resounding “yes.” It isn’t, though it could be. On paper, Joe Flacco fits Elway’s prototypical model QB to a T. He’s got a strong arm, he’s tall, big and has a first-round pedigree. There is little doubt that he has more natural talent than Case Keenum ever did or will.
Where questions surface are the details. Keenum hasn’t had a significant injury since 2015 when he suffered a concussion against Baltimore.
What the trade means for next year is that the Broncos should be more exciting, good or bad. Come camp time, the offense will have more potential than a Keenum-led one could have provided, but things could look like a house of cards.
Which could help Elway land his franchise passer, so maybe it isn’t all bad.
How ya’ feeling about your new QB now?
This poll is closed
Better. It’s at least change.
Still hate it.
I was fine with it before; fine with it now. Elway’s call.