Report: Broncos Believe Joe Flacco Can Return from Neck Injury, Play in 2020

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - OCTOBER 27: Joe Flacco #5 of the Denver Broncos on the sidelines in the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos reportedly believe quarterback Joe Flacco will be cleared to play the 2020 NFL season after suffering a neck injury during his first year with the franchise.

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported the update Tuesday but noted the former longtime Baltimore Ravens starter's future with the Broncos is uncertain because of his three-year, $66.4 million contract:

Jeremy Fowler @JFowlerESPN

News and notes from around league on NFL Live...Joe Flacco undergoes MRI, Broncos confident he can play next year (in DEN or elsewhere); Kareem Hunt confident he’s in Browns’ plans for 2020; CU’s pursuit of Eric Bieniemy; Bucs’ attempt to retain Shaq Barrett could lead to tag https://t.co/d18dHuTXuV

Flacco struggled in his first season with Denver. He completed 65.3 percent of his throws for 1,822 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions in eight appearances. He suffered the neck injury against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 8 and missed the remainder of the campaign.

The 35-year-old New Jersey native had criticized the Broncos' tepid offensive approach against the Colts before undergoing tests that revealed the extent of the injury:

"I just look at it as we are now a 2-6 football team and we are afraid to go for it in a two-minute drill. I mean who cares if you give it back to them with 1:40 left. They obviously got the field goal anyway. It's third-and-5 at the end of the game, who cares if they have a timeout left or not? Getting into field goal range isn't that tough. You are just putting your defense in bad situations. Why can't we be aggressive in these situations. What do we have lose?"

Denver, which finished the season 7-9, initially turned to Brandon Allen to fill the void. It was rookie Drew Lock who showed the most promise in five appearances down the stretch, though.

The 2019 second-round pick posted a 64.1 percent completion rate, seven touchdowns and three picks while guiding the Broncos to a 4-1 record. The Missouri product threw for 309 yards in a road victory over the Houston Texans, who ultimately reached the second round of the playoffs.

It's hard to imagine head coach Vic Fangio handing the offense back to Flacco based on Lock's strong play, and it'd be difficult to retain a veteran backup scheduled to count $23.7 million against the salary cap, which is why the quarterback's future is cloudy despite the positive news about his neck.

A straight release would leave $13.6 million in dead cap space, but that still represents over $10 million in cap savings for 2020.

The sides may instead work toward a restructuring to keep him in Denver as the chief reserve behind Lock at a reduced cost, but that'd be dependent on Flacco's willingness to accept a backup role.

It's a situation that should become more clear over the next month since the Broncos will likely want a clearer cap picture before free agency opens March 18.