The Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos agreed in principle to a trade on Wednesday that will send Joe Flacco to the mile high city. It is reported that the teams will also swap 4th round picks. The trade will not be registered as official until March 13 when the new league year officially begins. Reports suggest that the Broncos will now be shopping Case Keenum to move on from his contract.
This move is not surprising for the Ravens, who transitioned from Flacco to their first-round rookie selection, Lamar Jackson after Flacco sustained a hip injury in week 10. The rationale for the Broncos to make this trade is a bit more perplexing. It’s unclear if Flacco is an improvement at the position over Keenum. Las Vegas seems to agree, with the Broncos Super Bowl odds decreasing from 1 in 100 to 1 in 125 after the news of the trade. The Broncos will undoubtedly still eye a quarterback with the 10th pick in the 2019 draft. If they choose not to select one this year, they will intend to do so in 2020 which is thought to be a better rookie class at quarterback.
To gain some insight into why John Elway made this decision and how it may impact fantasy, let’s take a closer look at Flacco and Keenum.
It is remarkable that these two players are virtually identical in just about every statistical category in 2018 and for their careers. The one notable difference from 2018 is interception rate. Keenum has a 1% higher interception rate this past season, whereas Flacco’s 2.6% 2018 rate remains consistent with the league average of 2.4%. It is possible the Broncos’ logic was that reducing turnovers will give their defense a better chance to put them in a position to win. This is quickly debunked considering Flacco’s career interception percentage is the same as Keenum.
Keenum counts for $21MM against the Broncos cap in 2019. This is the final year of Keenum’s contract, and he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. It is expected the Broncos will either trade or cut Keenum. They will incur a $10MM dead cap hit if they cut him but can reduce that to $3MM if they trade him after June 1. This will require finding a trade partner willing to take on Keenum’s sizeable contract.
On the other hand, Flacco has three years remaining on his contract, at $18.5MM, $20.25MM, and $24.25MM due each year. He does not have a dead cap hit for any of these years and can be released without financial obligation at any point. This means the Broncos did not create cap room or financial flexibility with this trade, and in all likelihood will have an additional $7.5MM committed to the position in 2019.
One difference that has been popularly noted between these quarterbacks is height. Flacco stands at 6’6” and is 5 inches taller than Keenum. This seems to “fit the mold” of quarterbacks Elway has historically targeted (e.g., Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch are both 6’7”). While it’s possible this argument has merit and is undoubtedly amusing to consider, I have a hard time believing this was the primary reason they made this trade. Let’s take a look at the scheme as another potential factor.
Prior to Flacco’s injury in week 10, the Ravens were averaging the most passing attempts per game in the league with 43.4. Their offensive concepts were based on the west coast style approach of the offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg. This style emphasizes quick, safe passes that reduce mistakes and rely on the versatility of playmakers to pick up gains after the catch. Stretching the field horizontally with spread formations creates passing lanes and mismatches that allow for the quarterback to make a quick read and release. Bill Musgrave, the former Broncos offensive coordinator, created a markedly similar offense to this for Keenum in 2018.
Rich Scangarello is the new Broncos offensive coordinator, who was most recently the quarterback’s coach for the 49ers under Kyle Shanahan. He is expected to implement a more run-pass-option offense. This includes minimal variation in pre-snap formations, but frequent jet sweep and running back motions that then opens up an array of run concepts and route combinations. Based on this, I think the coaching staff will be the key to whether this Broncos offense can be more successful in 2019, and not the quarterback. Keenum and Flacco have run similar style offenses and put up nearly identical statistics. There is no apparent reason why the Broncos would believe that Flacco can run Scangarello’s offense better than Keenum.
So how does this affect fantasy? I do not think the change from Keenum to Flacco leads a discernible change in the value of any Broncos players. A bigger concern is the Denver front office’s inability to address the quarterback position, which adds uncertainty and may deflate the value of the young receiving corp in the near term. Scangarello is also implementing a new system and is a first-time play-caller, potentially leading to growing pains and a slow start to the season. This will be temporary though and can open a window to buy. A slow start from Courtland Sutton or DaeSean Hamilton may frustrate owners and they could look to sell, which I believe is a mistake. These are young players who have shown talent and will be able to grow in this system.
They will almost certainly have a new quarterback in 2020 who should be an upgrade and a steadier presence for the future. The value in Lindsay and Freeman are more linked to the new scheme and the offensive line, which both have question marks. This will be an area to keep an eye on as the offseason unfolds.
Acknowledgment: Stats were used from pro-football-reference.com and spotrac.com