Written by Chris Kubala
It’s been a busy couple of months in the NFL offseason as teams look to try and figure out their best options for having success in 2020. There was a truckload or two of cash thrown around in free agency and we saw some big names switch teams. The NFL Draft brought new, young, controllable and more importantly, relatively cheap talent to bolster teams’ depth charts. That was followed by the run on undrafted free agents, bringing more options for teams to fill out their team and potentially stash replacement options on the practice squad. With all those options by the wayside, teams now have a clearer look at where they stand and can identify points of strength and weakness going forward.
One of the biggest issues that the New York Jets had in 2019 was a proven commodity for a backup quarterback. That proved critical early in the season as Sam Darnold went down with mononucleosis after a season-opening loss to the Bills. He missed the next three weeks and the combination of Trevor Siemian along with Luke Falk proved to be wholly ineffective. As a result, the Jets started the year 0-4 and went 1-7 in the first half of the season, dooming them to miss the postseason for the ninth straight year.
On Friday, the Jets took a gamble in an effort to avoid a similar issue in 2020. New York signed Joe Flacco to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with an additional $3 million possible in incentives. This would mark Flacco’s third team in as many seasons as the veteran looks to try and hang around the league.
Flacco, a first-round pick in the 2008 draft, spent the first 11 years of his career with the Ravens. He helped lead the team to a Super Bowl victory in 2012 but found himself supplanted by Lamar Jackson in the second half of the 2018 season. When Jackson was anointed the starter, Flacco found himself dealt to the Broncos on February 13, 2019. Flacco started the first eight games of the 2019 season with the Broncos, completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 1,822 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Unfortunately, Denver was 2-6 in those games. Denver went on injured reserve with a neck injury and missed the second half of the season. In his stead, rookie Drew Lock stepped up and delivered, giving him the inside edge for the starting job.
Denver cut Flacco loose with a failed physical designation back in March, paving the way for Lock to secure the starting role at quarterback going forward. Earlier this month, it was announced that he had undergone neck surgery in early April and could be out until early September. The signing is a bit surprising given that timetable. Even his agent, Joe Linta, said Friday that Flacco likely won’t get clearance for non-contact drills until early August at best, with full clearance not coming until early to mid-September more than likely. That means if Darnold were to go down early again, it might be a stretch to have Flacco game ready out of the gate.
With that said, New York needs a veteran QB to backup Darnold. He looked lost at times, most memorably in the Monday Night Football blowout loss to the Patriots where he said he was “seeing ghosts.” Flacco can give some calming influence and veteran leadership to help keep Darnold on a more even keel. That could be important, especially with the AFC East up for grabs with Tom Brady leaving New England. There isn’t a whole lot of depth, or proven commodities in any facet, in the locker room at the QB spot behind Darnold.
The Jets have David Fales, Mike White and fourth-round pick James Morgan on the depth chart. Odds are, one of those guys is gone as it’s hard to see the team going to camp with five QBs. Morgan was considered a sleeper at the QB going into the draft but he has to make the adjustment from playing at a mid-major conference to the NFL. Fales has been around six years but has played in just five games in his career. White was picked up and put on the practice squad after Dallas cut him last year. That trio behind Darnold has as many NFL starts as most of us do: that’s to say zero.
In his career, Flacco has compiled a 98-73 mark as a starting quarterback in the regular season. He has thrown for 40,067 yards with 218 touchdown passes against 141 interceptions. Flacco has a 61.9 percent career completion percentage and an 84.1 QB rating. In the postseason, he is 10-5, throwing for 3,223 yards with 25 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions while completing 56.6 percent of his throws. His best playoff run came in 2012, when Flacco completed 73 of 129 passes for 1,140 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions en route to leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. He should be able to impart wisdom on the younger quarterbacks, which is going to be critical as they continue to try and develop. At 35 and coming off a major neck surgery, he’s not going to pose a long-term threat to Darnold. Instead, he’s a safety net that the team can lean on in case of an injury. That may have been what gave him an edge over someone like Cam Newton.
Whether Flacco makes an impact or not remains to be seen. If anyone knows him, it’s Jets’ GM Joe Douglas, who was a scout with Baltimore when the team drafted him in 2008. Is there anything left in the tank for Flacco? No one knows, but the Jets were willing to take a flier on him. We’ll have to wait and see how it pans out for him and New York going forward.