Once veteran Joe Flacco lost his starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson last season, it became relatively clear that the quarterback’s 11-year tenure with the Baltimore Ravens was set to come to an end.
Given Flacco’s lack of on-field success since leading Baltimore to the Super Bowl title back in February of 2013, no one really thought the team would get anything for him in a trade. Instead, common logic suggested Flacco and his bloated contract would hit free agency.
However, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, a man that continues to struggle with quarterback evaluation, disagreed. On Wednesday, Elway agreed in principle to acquire Flacco from the Ravens for a mid-round draft pick. The deal can’t be completed until the start of the new league year on March 13.
The decision to trade for Flacco comes less than a calendar year after Denver signed veteran journeyman Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract.
That deal called for $25 million in guarantees. Keenum has a cap hit of $21 million for the 2019 season. Denver can save $11 million by releasing Keenum, but that also comes with a $10 million dead cap hit.
Keenum was a downright disaster for the Broncos last season, leading the team to a 6-10 record while throwing just 18 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions.
Flacco has put up an average of 3,179 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and about 12 interceptions over the past four seasons. His former Ravens squad boasted a 24-27 record in 51 starts during that span. He might be an upgrade over Keenum, but it’s not a major upgrade.
It goes without saying that the Broncos will release Keenum in short order. Unlike Flacco, he’s not going to net anything in a trade. After all, John Elway is not on the other end to answer the phone.
As it relates to Flacco, he now has zero guaranteed cash remaining on his contract after the Ravens took a dead cap hit by trading the veteran. Flacco is set to earn base salaries of $18.5, $20.25 and $24.25 million over the next three seasons respectively.
If the Broncos were to somehow hang on to Keenum as insurance for the 2019 season, they’d be paying out nearly $40 million in cap space to two quarterbacks. If Keenum is gone, the cap expenditure for that position would be $28.5 million. Of course, that’s barring Flacco and the Broncos coming to terms on a new contract. This is a distinct possibility.
Denver’s decision to trade for Flacco likely doesn’t change the team’s 2019 NFL Draft plans all too much. Selecting No. 10 overall, the team has been linked to quarterbacks during the pre-draft process. Some recent reports suggest that Missouri’s Drew Lock is an option.
Meanwhile, the move is an absolute boon for the Ravens. They were already going to take on a dead cap hit by releasing Flacco. Picking up a mid-round pick in return has to be seen as a win.
Though, it doesn’t come without financial cost. Baltimore took a $16 million dead cap hit by trading Flacco. It also saved $10.5 million against the 2019 cap. Given that Lamar Jackson is playing under a rookie deal, that cap hit is mitigated to an extent.
Baltimore’s cap savings by virtue of this deal will help the team be active in free agency. New general manager Eric DeCosta noted recently that Jackson would be a tremendous draw for those on the open market next month. Based on what we saw last season, he’s probably right.
Unofficially, Baltimore is now top 10 among NFL teams in cap space with $50-plus million. Denver sits at $18.23 million under the cap. That will change once the team releases Keenum.