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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Whenever John Elway talks about a deal, contract, player or most anything that crosses his desk for the Denver Broncos, two words almost always sum up how he goes about making the decision.

It comes down to what “makes sense.”


For the second time in his tenure as the Broncos’ top football executive, Elway has decided to make sense of the quarterback dilemma by securing a former Super Bowl MVP with some health questions.

In 2012, Elway signed Peyton Manning, whose playing future was decidedly uncertain at the time after four neck surgeries. The rest is part of Broncos lore: four consecutive division titles in Manning’s four seasons, two Super Bowl trips and a Super Bowl 50 win in Manning’s final game.

Joe Flacco missed seven games this season. AP Photo/Nick Wass
And now, after three years of wandering the quarterback wilderness, three playoff misses and back-to-back seasons of double-digit losses, Elway has a trade in place for Joe Flacco. The Broncos are expected, when everything becomes official, to send a midround pick to the Ravens (expected to be one of their two fourth-round picks) for the Super Bowl XLVII MVP.

But now comes four weeks’ worth of public dissection and no public comment from Elway, coach Vic Fangio or anyone else in the organization. The trade cannot become official until March 13, so by league rules, the Broncos cannot talk about the move until then.

And there are plenty of questions still to answer.

Start with: What happens to Case Keenum? A year ago, Elway signed Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal and said Keenum had a better year in 2017 than Kirk Cousins, whom the Broncos had also looked at in free agency. Keenum might not have been as good as the Broncos had hoped, but he also played behind an injured offensive line, saw wide receiver Demaryius Thomas traded in November and lost wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a season-ending torn Achilles in December.

Keenum, who had hoped to be the Broncos starter long-term, carries a salary-cap charge of $21 million if he’s on the roster for the coming season and would have a bigger cap charge than Flacco’s $18.5 million.

Team sources said Elway spoke with Keenum on Wednesday morning about what has transpired this week, just after the Broncos and Ravens narrowed the terms on a Flacco trade. And in the coming weeks and months, the Broncos could try to trade Keenum, release him or, yes, keep him.

The Broncos have used four different starting quarterbacks over the last two seasons, missed the playoffs for the last three seasons and have no QB prospect they drafted on the roster. And Flacco has had back and hip troubles in recent seasons, so keeping Keenum is not off the table.

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The Broncos must pay Keenum $7 million of his $18 million base salary whether he’s on the roster or not. Also, the salary-cap savings if Keenum is released ($11 million) and the “dead money” hit — salary-cap charge for a player no longer on the roster — of $10 million are roughly the same.

The Broncos also have the No. 10 pick of the draft, with picks in the upper third of the second and third rounds as well. So quarterback should, and will, get a long look from the team in the buildup to April.

In short, Flacco’s arrival, just like Keenum’s a year ago, is not a long-term solution for the Broncos. Flacco turned 34 last month and lost his starting job after an injury this past season. Despite Elway’s continued resistance to saying he is rebuilding, the Broncos eventually have to have a plan that goes beyond the upcoming season at their most important position.

“We always talk about rebuilding, but if I say we’re ‘rebuilding,’ that sounds like an excuse,” Elway said last month. “That’s why I don’t like to use that word, because it sounds like an excuse. Our standards are still the same. We’re still going to come in, we’re going to go into this offseason and do the best we can to try to get better football players and try to get to where next year we can go into training camp and we’re ready to compete for a playoff spot. … To me, a rebuild sounds like an excuse, and I’m not going to make any excuses.”

Elway is always in what he calls win “from now on” mode, and Flacco’s arrival is more proof of that. And while it might be the fix the Broncos want in 2019, quarterback remains their biggest question mark beyond that.

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OXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ decision to part ways with third-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on Monday appears to be a situation where the club waited as long as it felt it could for his knee to reach a point where both were comfortable before making a roster move. Time just ran out.

Until Mitchell practiced regularly, his place on the team’s depth chart was questionable. The receiver position has been one of the top stories of training camp as the Patriots transition without Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks, and plan for life without Julian Edelman for the first four games.
The Patriots decided to cut ties with Malcolm Mitchell, who has been unable to come back from a knee injury that kept him out all of last season. Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Here are some of my thoughts on the way the depth chart looks:

Edelman (5-foot-10, 198 pounds): The clear-cut No. 1 option, he has been hard on himself for a few drops in practice and said this past Friday that his legs aren’t yet where they need to be as he returns from a torn ACL that cost him the 2017 season.

Chris Hogan (6-1, 210): He has usually aligned opposite Edelman in the two-receiver set and has also taken some punt returns. Given his familiarity with Tom Brady, he figures to be leaned on a bit more during Edelman’s absence.

Phillip Dorsett (5-10, 192): He’s been one of the notable performers of the first 10 practices — at times breaking off to a second field with Brady and a few others — and it’s hard to imagine him not on the initial 53-man roster at this point. His versatility to align in all the spots adds to his value and he’s clearly more comfortable in 2018 after having a full offseason with the Patriots.

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Count Eli Manning among the quarterbacks who could be available this offseason after the New York Giants benched the two-time Super Bowl winner Wednesday, naming Geno Smith the starter. Manning would have to be released or traded by the Giants to play for another team during the 2018 season.

Here’s a look at which teams could have interest in Manning:

Denver Broncos

After Manning’s benching, the most asked question in and around the Broncos for, oh, roughly the next four months will be, “Will John Elway go for a repeat?” Consider drive-time air time filled until March. The bottom line is: With the Broncos 3-8 and on a seven-game losing streak, there is likely little Elway won’t consider when the inevitable roster makeover comes. Elway signed Peyton Manning in 2012 and the Broncos won four division titles and went to two Super Bowls. Eli Manning is 36 years old — he’ll turn 37 in January — and Peyton was 36 when the Broncos signed him. Peyton still spends plenty of time in Denver, so consider it all a possibility until those involved say it’s not. — Jeff Legwold
ESPN Stats & Info
Jacksonville Jaguars
There can’t be a more natural fit for Eli Manning in 2018 than the Jaguars, mainly because of Tom Coughlin. He was Manning’s coach for the first 12 seasons of his career with the Giants, and the two won a pair of Super Bowls together. The Jaguars have exactly what the Giants’ two title-winning teams had: a great pass rush. The Jaguars’ defense is the best in the NFL, they’ve got a workhorse back in Leonard Fournette, and the division isn’t exactly stacked with elite teams. One drawback to Manning is that he commits turnovers at the same rate as current Jaguars QB Blake Bortles. Both average 1.3 per game (Bortles has 74 in 57 games and Manning has 272 in 212 games), and limiting turnovers was the main thing Coughlin and coach Doug Marrone wanted Bortles to do this season. The two quarterbacks also are pretty close in terms of interceptions. From 2004-16, Manning averaged 16.5 per season; Bortles averaged 17 per season in his first three years. Manning, however, has proven to be a clutch player in the postseason and led the Giants on game-winning drives in both Super Bowl victories. — Michael DiRocco

Cleveland Browns

Manning, a 36-year-old quarterback, to the Browns? The odds seem slim, except in one crazy scenario. Imagine if Peyton Manning is hired to take over the Browns. He might want his brother to step in for a couple years while he grooms/finds Cleveland’s long-term quarterback. It’s a long shot, with a lot of moving parts. But with the Browns, nothing should be discarded. The odds? Extremely low. Maybe 5 percent. Which means there’s at least a chance. — Pat McManamon

New York Jets

If Eli wants to stay in New York, then the Jets could be a perfect landing spot. While current Jets quarterback Josh McCown has played well at times this season, it would make a lot of sense for the Jets to sign Manning, whose $21 million annual salary would fit under the Jets’ estimated salary cap for 2018. Also, Manning would be a good mentor for USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen if either falls to the Jets in the draft. — ESPN