The first domino has fallen. Reportedly. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted out this morning that the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens have agreed in principle on a deal to trade veteran QB Joe Flacco.
The deal, which cannot be completed until March 13th, is reportedly returning a 4th-round pick to Baltimore. And in this dire 2019 rookie QB class, this may not be the last time we see a veteran flipped for picks. Looking around the rest of the league, Flacco is clearly the most accomplished veteran QB up for grabs. And fortunately for the Broncos, he fits every stereotype known to John Elway’s heart.
Big. (Slow). Strong Arm. (Accuracy?) Expensive. (Very). Yes, John swooned Peyton Manning to Denver and won a Super Bowl in the twilight of Manning’s career. But his decisions outside of that have been questionable…at best.
But enough about John. What does this trade tell us about the rest of the bridge quarterback market? Not much, unfortunately. The free agent market got a boost with the news that Eagles QB Nick Foles opted out of his 2019 team option (worth $20M) to hit the open market. Veteran starters on the free agent market:
- Nick Foles
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Josh McCown
- Tyrod Taylor
- Ryan Fizpatrick
That’s the best of the bunch. We may see two of those as Week 1 starters in 2019. Instead, the best bridge options are currently under contract in places that they’ve worn out their welcome.
Veteran starters on teams looking for a new quarterback:
- Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (30 years old)
- Case Keenum, Denver Broncos (30)
- Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (26)
What does the trade of Flacco, for a 2019 4th-round, pick, tell us about the value these veteran signal callers may have? Nothing at all.
Here’s why: the financial implications for trading for Flacco are non-existent, at least compared to these three. Flacco’s contract has three years remaining, owing him $63M over that time span. Yikes, right? Wrong. These figures are all base salary, meaning they’re not guaranteed and the Broncos can part ways with Flacco at any point going forward without incurring any cap penalties.
That is the recipe of an ideal bridge situation. And after that, the accomplishments and the winning record (he’s 96-67 as a starter…but QB Wins aren’t a stat), Flacco returned a 4th-round pick.
For comparison’s sake, Tannehill (42-46), Keenum (26-28) and Bortles (24-49) all lack Flacco’s winning pedigree while also bringing cap hits in excess of $20M in 2019. Bortles brings dead cap in each of the next two seasons, meaning there will be sunken money if teams want to part ways until 2021. And Tannehill has a two-year window of dead cap to the Dolphins (unless the trade is after 6/1/2020), teams know there will be urgency for Miami to cut losses and move on.
Keenum’s contract is the easiest to digest: he’s entering the final year of his contract and owed $21M ($10M of that would be dead cap if Denver cut him). But Denver has also lost all their leverage going forward. They, while keeping Keenum under contract, have flipped for Joe Flacco and appear intent to pay him $18.5M next season.
For those who aren’t great at math, that means Denver is on the books to pay Case Keenum and Joe Flacco a combined $39.5M next season at most and, barring a trade, a minimum of $28.5M.
The Dolphins also possess little leverage: with a new front office structure, a new head coach and a decree from owner Stephen Ross that the Dolphins will be building a team “the right way”, no one is expecting the Dolphins to contend in 2019. As a matter of fact, the expectation is the Dolphins are going to trim all the fat off their roster and eat the dead cap to prep them for 2020. After missing all of 2017 and playing poorly in 2018, Tannehill may as well be the poster child for trimmed fat, considering the previously mentioned two-year window for cap penalties.
So kudos to Denver for making a move that enables them to part ways with a bridge starter at their leisure. That in itself is a big win. But now they’ll look to unload Keenum in an effort to save $11M with the whole world knowing he’s a dead man walking.
The trade market can swing one of two ways: someone can look at the relative youth of Tannehill, Keenum or Bortles and hope he can be the answer for their franchise. If that’s the case, Miami or Jacksonville may fetch a more handsome compensation. Or, in a more likely scenario, teams will wait out the asking price, knowing full well that Miami, Denver and Jacksonville are up against the clock to make moves and free up space.
If that’s the case, each of these three may be cap casualties and return no compensation at all.