On Wednesday afternoon, the lead story on DenverBroncos.com was about Joe Flacco. So were the website’s top three featured videos. The team also posted about Flacco on Twitter and Facebook.
All of that happened while Flacco, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, was still officially a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
In the Broncos’ latest attempt to solve their quarterback problems, they are expected to trade for Flacco, but the N.F.L. calendar does not allow the deal to be completed until March. That leaves the team in the awkward position of trying to acknowledge the move without stating that it happened.
Provided the deal, which was first reported by ESPN, does not fall apart, the Broncos will presumably be replacing Case Keenum, the incumbent starter at quarterback.
Flacco, 34, got off to a 4-5 start last season with Baltimore before missing some time with an injury, then lost his job because of a remarkable performance by his substitute, Lamar Jackson, whom the Ravens had chosen in the first round of the 2018 draft.
Flacco, a first-round pick by the Ravens in 2008, had started 157 of Baltimore’s 163 games leading up to the hip injury that effectively ended his time with the team. His tenure included five 10-win seasons and reached its peak in 2011, when he led a thrilling run through the playoffs that culminated in a win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Broncos, who signed Keenum as a free agent in the last off-season, finished a disappointing 6-10 in 2018, the third consecutive year in which they failed to make the playoffs.
Despite having John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, running the team’s football operations, Denver has struggled considerably at the position in recent years.
Peyton Manning was a shell of himself as the Broncos’ quarterback in 2015, but the defense and running game did enough to dominate the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. A parade of quarterbacks since — Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler and Keenum have all started games — have failed to live up to that standard, combining to go 20-28.
Now the Broncos appear to be turning to Flacco, who has no guaranteed money left in his contract but has base salaries over the next three years of $18.5 million, $20.25 million and $24.25 million
The notion that Flacco is an upgrade from Keenum is debatable. In his lone season with Denver, Keenum, 30, completed 62.3 percent of his passes, with 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and an adjusted-yards-per-pass figure of 6.1. Those numbers were well below what he had produced as a fill-in starter for Minnesota in the previous season. But the numbers make him, at the very least, competitive with Flacco, who is more than three years older and had 12 touchdowns, six interceptions and 6.4 adjusted yards per pass.
Keenum, who is guaranteed $7 million of his $18 million salary next season, will presumably be shopped to other teams.
The move, while somewhat questionable for Denver, makes sense for Baltimore. The team was in a tailspin when Flacco was injured, and it appeared that Coach John Harbaugh’s job was in jeopardy.
After Jackson stepped in, the offense was reborn as a run-first attack unlike anything the league had seen in decades. Jackson went 6-1 as a starter, and while his passing clearly needed work, he ran for 695 yards, or 4.7 yards a carry.
Despite a devastating wild-card round loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Ravens were presumably already committed to Jackson as a starter going forward. The Broncos are expected to send the Ravens a fourth-round draft pick, giving Baltimore a decent return on a player who had gone just 24-27 over the last four seasons.