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In news that should surprise absolutely no one, the Denver Broncos entered 2019 near the top of the list of NFL teams in need of a boost at quarterback.
The first season of Case Keenum’s two-year, $36 million pact with Denver was a mess. The well-traveled passer regressed substantially relative to his 2017 breakout in Minnesota and the Broncos lost double-digit games for the second year in a row.
Speculation’s been rampant that the second year of that deal would include Denver taking a quarterback with the 10th overall pick.
It now looks like what it won’t include is Keenum.
As Mike Klis reported for 9 News in Denver, when the league year opens on March 13, one of the first orders of business will be the Broncos dealing a fourth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for veteran quarterback (and Super Bowl XLVII MVP) Joe Flacco. The 34-year-old made nine starts for the Ravens last year before being benched in favor of Lamar Jackson.
This is a move that could have a significant impact, not just in Denver and Baltimore, but also across the NFL.
Here’s a look at the effect the deal could have, both on those teams and all the others impacted by the QB carousel losing (and likely gaining) a horse.
Round and round we go.
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This much we know: Case Keenum’s days in Denver are numbered. Whether it’s via a trade or his outright release, Denver GM John Elway isn’t keeping $40 million worth of mediocre veteran quarterbacks on the payroll.
Even he’s not that desperate to fix things under center…I think.
However, there just might be a team that is desperate enough for a short-term fix to tie up a big chunk of their cap space on quarterbacks because their starter is hurt so badly it looks like his entire 2019 season is about to be wiped out.
That team is the Washington Redskins.
Redskins tailback Chris Thompson recently said what everyone’s been thinking for some time: After a horrific leg injury last November, veteran quarterback Alex Smith probably isn’t playing in 2019.
“When I did talk to [Smith], he’s staying about positive about it. We know and understand that it’s probably not going to happen that we have him this year,” Thompson told NBC Sports Washington on Tuesday (h/t NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman). “He’s a hard working guy, He’s gonna do whatever he can to get back, if he decides that he wants to put that workload on his leg again.”
Getting Keenum in under the cap wouldn’t be easy; his 2019 salary of $18 million would just about wipe out Washington’s cap space.
But every year we see teams manufacture cap space with cuts and restructures, and Keenum would give the team a stopgap starter they would only be committed to for a single season. Then they can re-examine Smith’s health and go from there.
Never mind that he could likely be had for a bag of Funyuns if it gets him off Denver’s books.
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If you’ve been scratching your head trying to figure out how Joe Flacco is a substantial upgrade over Case Keenum in Denver, you aren’t alone. In fact, Keenum’s been better than Flacco in just about every statistical category the past two years, whether it’s completion percentage, passer rating or touchdown-to-interception ratio.
He’s also nearly four years older than Keenum. By no stretch of the imagination is Flacco a long-term solution for Denver at quarterback. He’s the same thing Keenum would have been—a stopgap while the team grooms his young successor.
In other words, Denver’s plan for the first round hasn’t changed…much.
The odds of the Broncos selecting a quarterback like Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones or West Virginia’s Will Grier with the 10th overall pick on April 25 are still excellent. This trade only serves to underscore just how badly Elway’s feeling the squeeze to end his cold streak at acquiring a quality option at the game’s most important position.
However, whoever Elway picks will now much more likely have to come at No. 10 overall and not before. The Broncos just shipped one of their fourth-rounders to Baltimore to get Flacco (the team got an extra one in the deal that sent Demaryius Thomas to Houston).
The picks required to then move up this year would all but gut Denver’s 2019 draft class in a year where the quarterback crop isn’t viewed as a bumper one and Denver has both multiple holes to fill and not a ton of cap space with which to fill them–especially when you consider Keenum’s cap hit, which could be as high as $10 million.
That could be become a problem, because…
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We know a few things about the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback situation in 2019.
The first is that it isn’t good.
By all indications, Ryan Tannehill’s time with the team is finished. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported last month that the Fins are embarking on a ground-up rebuild, and one of the first steps in that rebuild will be showing Tannehill the door.
Granted, Salguero also speculated that the Dolphins were essentially prepared to punt on the 2019 season, possibly in the hopes of securing Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in 2020 or Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in 2021.
However, there’s an alternate strategy the Dolphins could employ that wouldn’t involve taking quite so many lumps.
Yes, the Broncos are all but certainly still targeting a quarterback at No. 10. But the odds of them moving up to grab one just went way down. That’s one less potential buyer for a high pick in a draft where seven of the nine teams in front of the Broncos could be sellers because they don’t have a glaring need under center.
It could be as many as eight if the Buccaneers decide to stand pat with Jameis Winston and the Jacksonville Jaguars acquire Nick Foles.
More on that in a second.
We go through this every year the class at quarterback isn’t hip-deep in awesome. Early mock drafts with only two or three selected in the first round. Growing buzz around a couple more. That much more buzz at the combine. A billion rumors about potential trades. And then at least a couple of quarterbacks going earlier than we thought.
When you don’t have one, it’s that much easier to fall for one.
This isn’t to say the Dolphins will mortgage the future in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals to move up to No. 1. That would admittedly be an expensive proposition.
Moving up from No. 13 to No. 8 (Detroit) or No. 9 (Buffalo) wouldn’t break the bank though.
Don’t get mad at me. I just write what the Magic 8-Ball tells me to.
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Frankly, I don’t know that the Flacco trade had that much direct impact on the futures of either the Jacksonville Jaguars or veteran quarterback (and Super Bowl LII MVP) Nick Foles.
But every time a veteran signal-caller not named Nick Foles lands with a team not called the Jacksonville Jaguars, the odds of this long-rumored union happening increase.
Per Brandon Lee Gowton of SB Nation, NFL Network analyst Mike Garafolo indicated that Denver had kicked the tires on Foles, but the Jaguars have talked financing and looked at upholstery options.
“My understanding,” Garafolo said, “is that Denver had done a little bit of work on Nick Foles, but not a lot of work on Nick Foles. And now we know it’s because it was a fallback plan should the Joe Flacco situation not work out for them. So, I really didn’t see them as an aggressive [suitor]. So, now everybody’s making the connection to Jacksonville for Foles, and it’s an obvious one. And I do believe they are interested there, and there’s going to be mutual interest.”
There’s good reason why so many people have connected Foles to the Jags. Jacksonville is a team in a “win-now” window after investing approximately all the money ever in their defense. The team needs help badly enough at quarterback to be comfortable paying the rumored asking price of a third-round pick. Former Philly QB coach John DeFilippo is now in J-Ville. And the Eagles want no part of trading Foles to a team like the Giants or Redskins.
In case you were wondering, the Jaguars and Eagles don’t meet in 2019.
Frankly, a tag-and-trade might even be the best-case scenario for the Jaguars. In theory, it would offer the team a one-year audition with Foles before they commit a massive amount of cash.
You know, just in case he turns out to be Flacco 2.0—a so-so quarterback whose value was inflated by one magical playoff run.
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With the greatest quarterback in Ravens franchise history now unceremoniously shipped off to Denver, the Ravens are officially Lamar Jackson’s team. Most of what the Ravens do this offseason will be about building around what the second-year quarterback does well and trying to paper over what he doesn’t.
Time will tell whether that’s a wise plan, but make no mistake—that’s the plan.
Part of new general manager Eric DeCosta’s to-do list now includes finding a new backup for Jackson.
And to solve that problem in the present, DeCosta should (and would) look to the team’s past.
Veteran free agent-to be Tyrod Taylor spent the first four years of his career backing up Joe Flacco with the Ravens before moving on to start for the Buffalo Bills. In 2015, Taylor’s first year in Buffalo, he played under current Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
The result? Career-highs in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, yards per attempt and passer rating—and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, back in 2016, Taylor had only good things to say about Roman.
“Oh, it’s great to play for coach Roman,” Taylor said. “A brilliant coach, first and foremost. Does a great job every week of scheming.”
In addition to that familiarity with Roman’s scheme, of the available free-agent quarterbacks, Taylor’s skill set most closely resembles Jackson’s. Taylor has had some success at the NFL level (he did get the Bills to the playoffs, after all), and he’d be a fine mentor for Baltimore’s franchise quarterback.
It’s a union that makes too much sense not to happen.
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With all due respect to John Elway’s greatness as a player, he’s been abysmal at finding the Broncos a dependable quarterback.
Yes, Denver won a Super Bowl in Peyton Manning‘s fourth year with the team, and it was Elway who brought Manning to town. But that Super Bowl win was in spite of Manning, not because of him.
And outside of that one no-brainer acquisition, it’s been one disaster after another.
The draft picks haven’t panned out; three seasons after taking Paxton Lynch in the first round, he failed to make an NFL roster after the Broncos released him in 2018. The free agents haven’t fared much better, with Keenum serving as the latest (and most expensive) failure.
Well, until now, anyway.
There isn’t an objective measure that can be pointed to that indicates Flacco gets the Broncos a millimeter closer to respectability than the team would have been with Keenum. Not one. Yes, Flacco won a Super Bowl. But that was a long time ago.
Over the last four seasons—with a better supporting cast around him than he’ll have in 2019—Flacco was three games under .500. He threw 46 interceptions over that span and posted an 82.7 passer rating.
The Broncos didn’t save any money. In fact, depending on how the Keenum situation plays out, they could be on the hook for much more money.
The team is no better today than it was yesterday.
The loss of that draft pick leaves the Broncos three avenues where drafting a rookie quarterback is concerned. Roll the dice in later rounds (again), gut this year’s draft to move up or stand pat at No. 10 and wind up with the third quarterback taken—if they’re lucky.
None of those options are especially good.
It’s a move that’s more desperation than bravery. More panic than prescient.
Panic moves don’t work in the NFL.