INDIANAPOLIS -- John Elway couldn't talk about the Denver Broncos' new starting quarterback on the first day of the scouting combine, but he did say his "preference'' was to get Case Keenum back as the team's backup.
The Broncos have the framework of a trade in place to acquire Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens as Denver's starting quarterback, but the team can't yet acknowledge the deal and the trade does not become official until free agency opens on March 13.
So Elway, as the Broncos' president of football operations/general manager, spent most of his public discussion Wednesday about the team's quarterback situation, talking about how Keenum could fit as the backup. Elway talked to Keenum by phone after the trade for Flacco became public, and one of the scenarios they discussed was Keenum returning to the Broncos.
Keenum signed a two-year, $36 million deal last March.
"Well, there has to be an adjustment of the contract, first of all, and that's going to be up to him,'' Elway said Wednesday. "It will be up to what he wants to do there. As I told him on the phone, we're going to work with him and it's up to him what he wants to do.''
Elway also added "my preference is to have him stay (with the Broncos) ... I would like Case back because I think he's a good football player that could help us. I gave that flexibility to Case.''
Elway also said Wednesday that neither Keenum nor his representatives has asked to find a trade partner, but "if they did, we would.''
Keenum appeared earlier this month on Jason Romano's "Sports Spectrum" podcast and discussed the Flacco trade.
"Elway called me that morning and we had a great conversation, which he didn't have to do, and I appreciated that," Keenum said. "I was definitely shocked. It was a surprise for us and, you know, I think probably for the first day or so that's kind of what it was. You know, for us, we're definitely disappointed -- it's not something we wanted to happen. I know that everybody's doing their job and John feels like that was a chance for him to help the Broncos out.''
Keenum talked about his tenure with the Broncos in the past tense, offering "my time with the Broncos has been really special. I have enjoyed every second of it, I have been so proud to walk into that building ... to represent the Broncos as their quarterback ... It was an honor.''
Behind a battered offensive line -- three offensive linemen who started games for the Broncos this past season ended up on injured reserve -- Keenum was inconsistent, finishing with 3,890 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Keenum's 15 interceptions were tied for the second-highest total in the league, and he finished among the bottom 10 in the NFL in Total QBR.
Keenum is slated to count $21 million against the Broncos' salary cap for the 2019 season -- more than Flacco's $18.5 million salary-cap charge in '19. The Broncos also must pay Keenum $7 million of his $18 million base salary whether he's on the roster or not.
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 in the draft.
Also Wednesday, Elway said the Broncos would exercise options in the contracts for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and defensive end Derek Wolfe. Sanders ($12.938 million) and Wolfe ($10.925 million) will have the fourth- and fifth-highest salary-cap hits on the team in 2019 after Flacco's contract is formally added.
Sanders, who is coming off a torn Achilles tendon in December, is guaranteed $1.5 million if his option is exercised, but Elway said he would "love'' for Sanders to have a major role in the offense next season.
"The only concern is a wide receiver coming off an Achilles,'' Elway said. "There's everything I like about Emmanuel Sanders and he would be a great asset for us, but the question is, how is he going to come off that Achilles at 31 years old?''
Wolfe has a $1 million bonus.