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The Answer to the Broncos’ Quarterback Problem Is … Joe Flacco?

Denver made a surprise move Wednesday by agreeing to a trade with Baltimore for the Ravens’ veteran passer. But don’t expect it to fix anything.

Joe Flacco in front of mountains Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Last offseason Broncos president John Elway strayed from his comfort zone and brought in a mediocre, short quarterback in Case Keenum. This spring, Elway is going back to the type of passer he knows best: a mediocre tall one. Welcome to Denver, Joe Flacco:

The exact details of the trade have not been released—and the deal cannot be officially processed for another month—but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Baltimore will likely get a mid-round pick in exchange for the veteran QB. The Ravens will also save some $10.5 million in cap space by offloading Flacco, while Denver will be on the hook for the $66.4 million the 34-year-old is owed over the next three years.

On paper, this looks like a disaster for the Broncos, who have failed to find a suitable quarterback since Peyton Manning retired in 2016. Keenum had a down year in 2018 (ranking 29th in the league in passer rating, 28th in adjusted net yards per attempt, and 29th in QBR) and the Broncos are undeniably in need of a long-term answer at QB. But Denver’s thinking that answer is Flacco is confounding. Keenum’s career numbers are almost all a tick better than Flacco’s: He beats the former Raven in passer rating (84.5 to 84.1), adjusted net yards per attempt (5.80 to 5.66), and completion percentage (62.0 to 61.7). Meanwhile, Flacco holds the NFL record for most career pass attempts without a Pro Bowl appearance, joining luminaries like Steve DeBerg and Jon Kitna as the top QBs to never be selected. ESPN’s total QBR metric indicates that the Broncos may have just downgraded under center:

The Broncos are giving up draft capital and cap flexibility to swap one mediocre QB for another. The only obvious difference between the two is that Flacco (6-foot-6) is 5 inches taller than Keenum (6-foot-1)—and it seems that Elway, who brought both Paxton Lynch (6-foot-7) and Brock Osweiler (6-foot-7) to Denver, has an affection for tall, big-armed passers. Denver could still select a QB with the no. 10 pick in the upcoming draft, if the team wants to nurture someone behind Flacco the way the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson. But the 6-foot-6 Justin Herbert chose to stay at Oregon for another year, so there isn’t an Elway-type Goliath on the board. Flacco will be the team’s answer for at least the immediate future.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), Flacco already has experience torturing Denver sports fans. The most important pass of his career so far was his game-tying deep ball to Jacoby Jones in the 2012 divisional-round game at Mile High Stadium. Baltimore went on to win that contest 38-35; two games later, the team took home the Lombardi Trophy.

On the flip side of this acquisition, the Ravens have officially handed the reins over to Jackson. The rookie earned the starting job midway through last season, and now he won’t have to awkwardly share a workspace with the 11-year veteran he replaced:

Baltimore may be sacrificing some meme potential by trading Flacco, but in return it’ll get a draft pick, cap space, and a clear future with its promising rookie. Elway could probably learn a thing or two from the Ravens about how to solve a quarterback problem.