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Why do NFL teams keep wasting their money on bridge quarterbacks?

Joe Flacco’s not going to hold down the starting job in Denver while a rookie has time to learn. It never works out that way.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco isn’t the Denver Broncos’ quarterback of the future.

The best case scenario is the 34-year-old quarterback can turn back the clock for a few years and play the kind of football that sparked “Is he elite?!” conversations from 2012-14. That’d give the Broncos enough time to groom a young draft pick — hopefully one with more promise than Paxton Lynch — to eventually take over.

All it’s due to cost Denver is $18.5 million in 2019, $20.25 million in 2020, and $24.25 million in 2021.

There’s no guarantee the Broncos draft a quarterback early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but many believe that’s the plan. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock is the player most often paired with the Broncos in mock drafts. If the Broncos take Lock, they’ll want him to sit behind Flacco for a while.

It’s not going to work out that way.

Flacco has been a bona fide bad quarterback for a while now and won’t magically rediscover his form in Denver. His play in the last five years tells us that. But the bigger reason to assume that the Broncos’ plan is destined for failure is because the blueprint they are following is always a disaster.

It’s worth asking why teams even try anymore.

Stop giving up resources for a bridge quarterback

In March 2017, the Chicago Bears gave Mike Glennon a three-year, $45 million contract. The hope was that the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup would excel enough in a starting role to give a rookie time to prepare to eventually take over.

After one month, Glennon was benched for rookie Mitchell Trubisky. He was released after his only season in Chicago, collecting $18.5 million for just four starts.

Last offseason, the Cleveland Browns traded away a third-round pick for Tyrod Taylor. He was benched in favor of Baker Mayfield by Week 4.

The Arizona Cardinals gave Sam Bradford $20 million. Josh Rosen also took over as the starter in Week 4.

So STOP paying huge amounts for a player who will inevitably get benched after a month or two.

All five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft were starting by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. It’s just the way the NFL works today.

Since 2008, there have been 32 quarterbacks picked in the first round. Only Patrick Mahomes, Paxton Lynch, Johnny Manziel, Jake Locker, and Tim Tebow didn’t start at least six games as rookies. Four of those players proved to be busts, while Mahomes spent the 2017 season behind Alex Smith, a player who was in his fifth season as the Chiefs’ starter.

And that’s really the only time bridge passers have worked out: When a veteran starter is already in place. Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo spent three seasons each learning behind Brett Favre and Tom Brady, respectively.

So what’s the lesson here? Save your money.

Cheap stopgaps aren’t hard to find

Washington is only going to be on the hook for $3.5 million of Case Keenum’s salary after a trade with the Broncos is finalized.

It’s not the sexiest move to acquire a quarterback who was 29th in the NFL in passer rating among starters in 2018. But Washington is doing it the right way. If the team uses its No. 15 overall pick — or moves up in the draft order — to take a quarterback, Keenum will be fine to start. If he’s benched, he’d be a cheap backup.

If the Broncos use the No. 10 overall selection to take a quarterback, it’d be a much tougher decision to send Flacco’s $18.5 million salary to the bench — especially after trading for him.

At least it’s preferable to the Jaguars’ worst-case scenario. Instead of hunting for a bridge quarterback, Jacksonville dove face-first into the market with a four-year, $88 million deal for Nick Foles. It’s likely destined for failure, but the Jaguars probably aren’t positioning themselves to draft a quarterback of the future in April.

Their investment is more in line with the Vikings’ addition of Kirk Cousins in 2018. Both teams went on an ill-advised hunt for a missing piece to take them over the top. It hasn’t worked out for Minnesota and probably won’t for Jacksonville either.

Is the better decision for teams in need of a new quarterback to throw a rookie into the fire? Well ... yes.

Either that or sign someone relatively cheap like Washington did with Keenum. The Jets had the right idea last year when they re-signed Josh McCown on a cheap one-year, $10 million deal, which made way for him to back up Sam Darnold.

Paying anything more than that for another team’s castoff is a proven losing formula.