Reading the Tea Leaves
Bronco Nation scratched their collaborative heads last week when it was reported that Denver had acquired quarterback Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a middle-round draft pick. The signing of the 34-year-old, former Super Bowl MVP undoubtedly means the end of the Case Keenum experiment, but what does it say about the direction of the franchise?
With playoff victories and veteran experience, Flacco looks to bring the leadership and maturity that the Broncos haven’t had since Peyton Manning. But the reality is Flacco was benched in Baltimore for rookie Lamar Jackson, has a QBR of about 50 over the last four years, and is, without question, on the back end of his NFL career.
With a new coaching staff, new quarterback, ownership struggles, and a GM in John Elway, whose contract expires at the end of the 2021 season, is Flacco the solution? A temporary upgrade? A Hail Mary? Are the Broncos all in? Rebuilding? What exactly is the plan?
Players are bound to be released, contracts restructured, and free agents signed over the next few months, but watch for the 2019 NFL Draft to provide insight, if not the tea leaves, for Denver’s future plans.
The players – and what it could mean.
Greedy Williams/CB/LSU – With last year’s departure of Aqib Talib, and the apparent loss of Bradley Roby to free agency, Williams makes perfect sense to draft at number ten if he drops that far. But if Elway chooses to move up in order to secure Williams, instead of waiting on, or moving down for, a CB like Byron Murphy (Washington) or DeAndre Baker (Georgia), the tea leaves are letting us know that Elway is in a “win now” state of mind, rather than a conservative rebuild with stockpiling draft picks.
- Jonah Williams/OT/Alabama – Drafting an offensive lineman with the tenth pick makes a ton of sense, and Williams would be a starter for many years. But most offensive lineman need a few years to develop, so if Elway goes this route, the implications are that he is looking to build for the future, not necessarily the present. If Elway is all in with Flacco, look for Denver to find offensive line help via free agency instead.
- Ed Oliver/DT/Houston or Devin White/LB/LSU – While a DT or LB would be solid picks to fill our voids at number ten, it would also indicate that Elway is looking to double-down on the Bronco defense as a plan. Back-to-back drafts of Bradley Chubb and one of these two would indicate that Elway is all-in on Fangio, Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. loading up on defense, and a strategy that worked in Superbowl 50.
- Kyler Murray/QB/OKLA, Dwayne Haskins/QB/Ohio State, Drew Lock/QB/Missouri – Selecting any of these quarterbacks would mean no tea leaves are necessary. It would simply imply that Joe Flacco was brought in to mentor, the team is in full rebuild mode, and Elway likes one of these kids more than the draft class of 2020. Although, it could also mean he’s desperate.
- Trading down for more picks – The Broncos have a lot of needs. Elway could easily trade down for more picks and select an offensive lineman like Jawaan Taylor (Florida) or a defensive tackle like Dexter Lawrence (Clemson), assuming they drop. But no matter how smart a move, trading down means that Elway is aware of all the holes that need to be filled, prefers quantity over immediate quality, and it could be another long season as the rebuild continues.
Finally, beware of quarterback Daniel Jones (Duke), or any QB that drops to the second round. While picking up a quarterback in the late second round seems like a value pick, and a potential fix for the future, would Denver still take a shot at QB in the 2020 draft if they just invested a second round pick the year before? I’m willing to wait. Just not sure if Elway is.
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