After much speculation surrounding the quarterback position in Baltimore during the season, which resurfaced again briefly in the playoffs, the Ravens have made their intentions clear: Joe Flacco’s days in Charm City are over.
When Lamar Jackson seized the starting job midseason after Flacco suffered a hip injury, it quickly became more apparent that Flacco had played his last season with the Ravens. In anointing Jackson as the future following the Ravens playoff defeat to the Chargers, John Harbaugh shut the door on any potential return for Flacco.
“Lamar Jackson is our quarterback going forward,” Harbaugh said. “Joe is going to have a market. I’m going to be in Joe’s corner unless we play him.”
The key term here is “market”, as it hints that the Ravens will look to trade Flacco rather than simply release him. This was reported earlier in the season by Ian Rapoport, and it makes sense for both parties. Flacco can choose his preferred destinations and the Ravens can retain assets in return for him.
Exactly what the market for Flacco looks like is unclear, but there’s reason to believe the Ravens could net a solid haul in exchange for him. Take the Alex Smith trade for example, which occurred last season. The Redskins traded a third-round pick and Kendall Fuller, a talented cornerback, to the Chiefs to acquire Smith.
While Smith and Flacco are different players, they’re both veteran quarterbacks with a track record of winning. The fact that Flacco has won a super bowl could make his value even higher than Smith’s was this past offseason, too.
In his first press conference as the new general manager last week, Eric DeCosta called the situation with Flacco an “ongoing process” and suggested that looking to move Flacco is not amongst the organization’s top priorities right now.
Given the number of free agents on the roster and the need for scouting in the upcoming draft, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, the Ravens will clearly begin looking to move Flacco at some point this offseason.
Cap space will be a significant deciding factor in any trade discussions involving Flacco. While he’s long been in the conversation amongst the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, Flacco is only owed $18.5 million next season, which ranks 23rd at the position.
Flacco has no more g'teed money on his deal, so a new team would only pick up his remaining base salaries of $18.5M/$20.25M/$24.25M. If cut by that team at some point, there would be no dead $$.— Brian McFarland (@RavensSalaryCap) December 5, 2018
A trade would mean $16M in dead $$ for Ravens, but would create $10.5M in Cap space https://t.co/HWmiHQopYl
With this in mind, where could Flacco end up? Below is a list of teams who could be potential trade partners for the Ravens to deal with, ranked in terms of least likely to most likely.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers appeared like a far more likely destination during the regular season, when they jostled between Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starting quarterback. Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay’s new head coach, appears committed to Winston going forward.
Winston has done little to improve since entering the league, however, and the Buccaneers have offensive weapons that would compliment Flacco well. Still, Tampa Bay would have to do some cap wiggling to take on Flacco’s contract.
There’s an outside shot that the Buccaneers would look to acquire Flacco to challenge Winston in the offseason, but it’s likely more of a longshot than anything.
4) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars took a significant step back in 2018 after making it to the AFC championship game two seasons ago. This was in large part due to poor quarterback play, as Blake Bortles struggled and was replaced by Cody Kessler midseason.
Kessler isn’t a long-term solution and the Jaguars appear ready to move on from Bortles after an underwhelming tenure. Flacco would be a logical target for them given their dire need at the position. Jacksonville boasts a championship-caliber defense and solid collection of running backs, two elements Flacco has thrived with in the past.
The reason they come in lower on this list is simple: cap space. Jacksonville currently has just over $4 million dollars in cap space, well below the $18.5 million threshold that Flacco’s contract demands.
In order to trade for him, Jacksonville would be forced to move several pieces around, many of which would be on defense. They may opt to select a quarterback with the 7th overall pick in the draft, too.
3) Miami Dolphins
After six years with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, the Dolphins appear ready to move on this offseason. Tannehill has been hampered by injuries in recent years and Miami, led by new head coach Brian Flores, is looking to get back into the postseason.
Could the Dolphins look to pair a rookie head coach with a veteran, experienced signal caller? It’s definitely possible, and Miami would be a solid spot for Flacco to land. Like the Jaguars, the Dolphins could look to draft a quarterback early in April and Flacco would be a veteran presence for him to learn behind.
Miami has just over $12 million dollars in cap space, so they would have to shed some salary to cede way for Flacco’s contract. Given their need at the position, however, they’d likely be willing to make the required moves.
In order to separate themselves from the Jets and Bills in the AFC East, and even potentially challenge the defending champion Patriots, the Dolphins need a change at quarterback. Flacco could help them become a postseason contender.
2) Denver Broncos
The Broncos are in an interesting spot. Since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season, their quarterback depth chart has been that of a revolving door. Failed experiments like Trevor Simien and Brock Osweiler ceded way for Case Keenum, who Denver signed to a two-year contract this past offseason.
In his first season in Denver, Keenum completed 62.3% of his passes while throwing for 3,890 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. While these numbers aren’t terrible, Keenum struggled with inconsistency throughout the season.
Could Flacco help them end a three-year postseason drought? Flacco’s play style meshes well with the high-altitude, cold weather climate of Denver, and the Broncos have more than enough cap space to take on his contract.
Denver has a talented defense and capable offensive weapons like Emmanuel Sanders and Phillip Lindsay. How content they are with Keenum at quarterback is unknown, but if they are looking to move in a different direction, Flacco is a viable option and they represent a capable trade destination.
1) Washington Redskins
After trading for Alex Smith last summer and signing him to a 4-year, $94 million dollar contract, not many expected the Redskins to be looking for a quarterback again this offseason.
However, Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury midseason and complications during surgery that have his playing status not only up in the air for next year, but for his career going forward. Colt McCoy, the Redskins primary backup, is also recovering from a leg injury.
McCoy or Josh Johnson are set to compete for the starting job next season, and Flacco would represent an upgrade over both. Washington can take on his contract and trading for Flacco makes sense for both parties. The Redskins are in dire need of a quarterback and Flacco would not be forced to relocate more than a short move down I-95.
The Redskins are reportedly looking to draft a quarterback this year and Flacco would make for a suitable stopgap option while said rookie develops. Baltimore would avoid having to play against Flacco should be traded to Washington, as well.
Honorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, New York Giants
Which team will Flacco end up on next season?
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers