The Ravens reportedly have agreed in principle to trade longtime starting quarterback Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos, a long-expected departure that will offer the franchise significant relief from the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player’s onerous contract.
ESPN first reported the deal, which cannot be completed until the new NFL year starts March 13. In exchange, the Ravens reportedly will receive one of Denver’s two fourth-round draft picks. Teams are prohibited from commenting on the deal until it is finalized.
The Ravens would create $10.5 million in cap space and incur $16 million in dead money by trading Flacco, who signed a then-record six-year, $120.6 million contract in 2013 after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl XLVII victory. If it’s designated as a post-June 1 trade, the Ravens would incur just $8 million in dead money and save $18.5 million for next season.
With the Ravens committed long term to Lamar Jackson, whose rookie deal is far more financially flexible, it was no surprise that the Ravens would enter 2019 without Flacco on their roster. But given the 34-year-old’s $18.5 million salary cap hit next season, it was unclear whether the Ravens would find a willing trade partner. But general manager Eric DeCosta, at his introductory news conference last month, noted that “all it takes is one team.”
“It’s like playing chess,” he said. “You need different options. … If there’s one team interested, yeah, we’ll probably trade him. If there’s nobody interested, we’ll have to make another decision, but I will say this: This league craves quarterbacks. And Joe Flacco has won a lot of games.”
Flacco started 163 regular-season games for the Ravens, passing for 38,245 yards, 212 touchdowns and 136 interceptions as he oversaw the franchise's winningest era. The Ravens won at least eight games in every season in which he started all 16 games and have appeared in the playoffs seven times since he was taken in the first round in 2008.
But Flacco was hurt midway through last season and ultimately lost his job to Jackson, a rookie who helped lead the team to its first playoff appearance since 2014 and first AFC North title since 2012. After the season, coach John Harbaugh, who was hired the year Flacco was drafted, announced that Jackson would be their quarterback of the future. At his end-of-season news conference, Harbaugh said Flacco’s value, despite subpar results in recent years, is still high.
“I’m not just saying that, OK, but I do believe that,” he said. “Joe can throw the football. He’s a big, strong quarterback. He’s moving much better than he was [in] ’15 — well, ’16, after the [season-ending knee] injury — and even ’17. Joe’s ready to roll. You protect Joe, you give him some weapons out there, you’re going to see one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He can throw the ball. All you have to do is just put Joe next to the other guys — that’s really the competition. If I’m a team out there, who’s the best option for me? Joe is going to be on a lot of lists, there’s no doubt. And I would just recommend him for the kind of person he is.”
The trade will be a boon for the Ravens and their former franchise quarterback. The deal would give DeCosta seven picks in April's draft (plus a likely compensatory third-round pick for former Ravens center Ryan Jensen), and the team should have over $30 million in salary cap room this offseason, with even greater Flacco-related savings the next two years.
With a trade to the Broncos, Flacco returns to the site of his most memorable performance and instantly assume control of the team’s starting job, previously held by Case Keenum. In his three career games at Denver, which hasn’t made the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 three years ago, Flacco has completed 54.7 percent of his passes, averaged 270 yards per game, and thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
His one win came in January 2013, when he threw a game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with under a minute left in regulation of a divisional-round playoff game. The Ravens later prevailed in double overtime, 38-35, and would claim their second Super Bowl title less than a month later with a win over the San Francisco 49ers. First-year Broncos coach Vic Fangio was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator that season; he also overlapped with Flacco’s first two years in Baltimore as a member of the Ravens’ defensive coaching staff.
In the final weeks of Flacco’s final season in Baltimore, he kept mostly quiet, reluctant to step into the spotlight that now shined on Jackson. He said being a backup for the first time in his career was a “different” experience, but he was happy the team was winning. After the Ravens’ season ended in the wild-card round with a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last month, a home defeat marred by early-game passing struggles and late-game boos, Flacco refused afterward to say whether he thought he should have replaced Jackson. He seemed to understand that his days in Baltimore were numbered.
“It’s been 11 years,” Flacco said. “You come in and you feel one way and you don’t know what to expect, but the people [in Baltimore] warm up to you, you warm up to the people, and to be honest with you, I can’t imagine a better 11 years with this place becoming my home, my children’s home and just how many different life changes I went through and how much we won here. I’m not from too far up the road, and the people here are a lot like the people I grew up with. Definitely a group of fans and a community that I love to be around.”