Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has flunked at the most important element of team -building. He has yet to prove he can identify and develop a quarterback. He has failed with Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Chad Kelley and, of course, first-round pick Paxton Lynch. As it pertains to those quarterbacks, Elway’s best decision was not to sign Osweiler to a second contract after he had mixed success in Denver. The Houston Texans dealt with that gaffe.
Elway did court Peyton Manning. With Manning and an outstanding defense, Elway helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50. But Manning was a known entity, and oddly didn’t really contribute to that run while dealing with Plantar Fasciitis and a significant case of noodle arm. The defense won that Super Bowl, which is to Elway’s credit. But today’s NFL is about identifying undervalued quarterback talent, most often found in the draft. Elway seems to think he found value in another veteran: Joe Flacco.
Flacco has a long history of being average — or worse — when you put aside his remarkable four-game run to a Super Bowl win over the Baltimore Ravens. And it’s really hard to put that run aside, because Flacco played like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL (11 touchdowns, zero interceptions). It’s just that he and the Ravens only put it together for those four games during his tenure. The rest of his career is largely unremarkable. He’s never thrown for more than 27 touchdowns in a regular season. He’s only thrown for over 4,000 yards once in his 11-year career. He doesn’t stink — but it’s hard to say he’s good. (And it’s impossible to say he’s elite.)
It’s unreasonable to think that Flacco will suddenly rekindle the version of himself that produced a Super Bowl. But if Flacco can somehow play above the level he’s maintained for the better part of his career, Elway will have found a decent value at quarterback. Flacco is set to make $18.5 million next season, which is relatively cheap for a starting quarterback. As of now (and he’ll likely fall down this list as team’s extend their quarterbacks this offseason), he has the 21st highest cap hit among quarterbacks. There is value to be had in Flacco’s deal. It’s just that Flacco is attached to it. He doesn’t look like the 21st best quarterback in the NFL — and to get value he needs to be better.
If Flacco turns things around, Elway can take credit for finding a castoff whose value he maximized. It’s not the same as drafting and developing, but it’s a quarterback-related accomplishment, and Elway doesn’t have many of those. If Flacco succeeds, he and Elway can ride that success into the job security which they are both lacking.
But if Flacco fails, things get complicated. Elway may hedge his bets by also drafting a quarterback in the 2019 draft. The Broncos have the No. 10 pick, and could get a crack at Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock and others. Elway could combine Flacco with a rookie to help ensure he doesn’t mess up the quarterback position for another season. If both Flacco and a rookie fail, Elway and Flacco could be out of jobs. And that would complicate their legacies enormously. Their Super Bowl wins would be anomalous on their otherwise unsuccessful careers.