While the time between the Super Bowl and the official start of free agency is usually filled with rumors but no actions, a Super Bowl MVP quarterback was traded this morning. Joe Flacco will be traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the Denver Broncos at the start of the new league year.
The writing was all over the wall for Flacco, who never returned from a midseason injury due to Baltimore’s success under a young Lamar Jackson. The Ravens playoff loss was foreshadowed to be Flacco’s last time suiting up for the team, and that appears to be the case. The 34-year-old signal-caller will take his 10-5 playoff record and his seven road playoff wins (the most in NFL history) to the AFC West.
For Denver, Flacco will be the 7th starting quarterback since 2010 in what has been nothing short of a rollercoaster for the Broncos. A decade ago, Kyle Orton was the starter, until a guy by the name of Tim Tebow came along and led the Broncos to a playoff win. Denver got rid of Tebowmania by bringing in Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who led the Broncos to two Super Bowl appearances and one victory. Things have been less exciting since then, with Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and Case Keenum. Denver is 20-28 over the past three seasons, with 9-7, 5-11, and 6-10 records in the last three years.
Can Joe Flacco elevate Denver back to a playoff team? The Broncos won five straight AFC West titles under Manning and Tebow from 2011-2015. But the division is highly talented now, with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers finishing tied for the best record in the AFC last year at 12-4.
Denver’s talented defensive group finished 22nd in yards allowed last season, which was extenuated by the offense’s lack of ability to keep long drives alive. Despite this bottom half ranking, the Broncos finished 13th in scoring defense, allowing only 21.8 points per game.
But on the offensive side of the ball, the Keenum-led Broncos finished 19th in yards and 24th in scoring (20.6 points per game.) Keenum was a serviceable game manager for the Broncos offense, but had a low passing touchdown total and barely more scores than turnovers. His 2018-2019 NFL season statline:
- 365 completions-586 attempts (62.3%)
- 3,890 yards, 18 TD, 15 INT
- 93 rushing yards, 2 rush TD, fumble lost
- 81.2 Passer Rating
Compared to Joe Flacco’s limited nine game sample size last year:
- 232 completions-379 attempts (61.2%)
- 2,465 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT
- 45 rushing yards
- 84.2 Passer Rating
Side-by-side, Flacco hardly makes a strong impression as the better quarterback. But with three straight seasons of 64% passing, five straight seasons of an 80.0+ passer rating, and playoff pedigree under his belt, Flacco is an upgrade over Keenum.
You could call both QB’s game-managers in their role with the Broncos. If the defense and running game can produce, the quarterback just has to be good enough and not turn the ball over. Keenum may have actually slung the ball more than your average game manager last year, but paid for it with 15 interceptions. I see Keenum in the same boat as quarterbacks like Josh McCown and Blake Bortles. When they’re above average to good, it puts the team in a great position to win. But these quarterbacks have trouble taking control of a game and willing their team to a victory.
I see Flacco’s role with the Broncos more similar to Alex Smith in his time with the 49ers. Smith wasn’t making highlight plays every game, but he was consistently solid and gave his talented San Francisco team a near-chance to go to the Super Bowl. Smith was often considered a game manager as well, but had the ability to make his own plays and lead the offense down the field. I would expect similar levels of production from Flacco with the Broncos offense. Flacco is still good for some long down-field throws that will keep opposing defenses honest.
In the 2019-2020 NFL season, the Broncos will play
- Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders (x2 each)
- The AFC West slate will be tough in Flacco’s first year with the Broncos. Four matchups with the Chiefs and Chargers could easily be four quick losses for Denver. If Flacco can compete and emerge with a positive split in these games, the Broncos will have a great chance at making the playoffs.
- Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans
- Looking at last season, it’s all about when you catch these teams. The Colts turned a 1-5 start into a 10-6 finish. The Jaguars were coming off an AFC Championship appearance but disappeared after Week 3. The Titans were streaky and the Texans had up/down stretches as well.
- Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills
- By virtue of finishing 3rd in the AFC West, the Broncos will play an exciting young Browns team as well as the Bills.
- Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions
- Quietly one of the most talented, if not under-producing, divisions in football is the NFC North. All four teams will have playoff aspirations next season and will give the Broncos a good fight.
Flacco’s slate of opponents seems tough for next year. Right now I would only see Denver favored in four or five of their sixteen games. Keenum’s 6-10 record from last year might be difficult to improve given the opposition.
Sak Sports Projection
Wins: Chargers, Raiders, Raiders, Bills, Jaguars, Lions, Titans, Vikings
Losses: Chiefs, Chiefs, Chargers, Colts, Packers, Bears, Browns, Texans
Joe Flacco finishes with 8-8 record in Year 1, but Denver trends in a positive direction
Header Photo: David Wass / Associated Press