Broncos coach Vic Fangio said Friday that, after exams by the Broncos' medical staff as well as other physicians in recent days, it was determined Flacco would miss a minimum of six weeks with the injury. Given that the Broncos have eight games remaining and are sitting at 2-6, the decision was made to place Flacco on injured reserve now.
"At best, it was a six-week [span] where he could do nothing, and when I say nothing, absolutely nothing, so he would need probably two weeks to get back and with the chance of it being eight [weeks] of doing nothing, and another week or two to get ready, you guys can kind of do the math," Fangio said. "It kind of became an easy decision."
Rookie Brett Rypien, an undrafted player who spent the offseason with the Broncos before being signed to the team's practice squad just before the regular season, was signed to the active roster Friday and will back up Brandon Allen in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.
Sunday's game will mark Allen's first NFL regular-season snap. Allen will be the team's sixth different starting quarterback since the beginning of the 2017 season.
Fangio said that, at this point, Flacco likely doesn't need surgery, but moving the 34-year-old to injured reserve once again puts the quarterback position for the Broncos into the unknown. Friday's move is an abrupt end to the short-term plan at the position considering that when the Broncos traded for Flacco in March, president of football operations John Elway said, "We feel like he's just really coming into his prime ... he's a perfect fit for us."
Flacco had started all eight of the Broncos' games and had thrown for 1,822 yards (65.3 completion percentage to go with six touchdowns and five interceptions). He had taken a pounding along the way, however, taking 26 sacks in those eight games. Only two quarterbacks had been sacked more in the season's first eight weeks: Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Andy Dalton, who lost his starting job with the Cincinnati Bengals this week).
The Broncos restructured Flacco's contract just before the start of the regular season to create some additional salary-cap space -- $17 million of his $18.5 million salary was converted to a signing bonus. He has two years remaining on the deal -- 2020 and 2021 -- but if the Broncos were to release him in the offseason, they would save roughly $10 million against the salary cap from Flacco's $23.65 million cap charge for 2020, though they would also carry a $13 million dead-money charge.
For now, Fangio said, Flacco has been in meetings with the quarterbacks and will continue to participate in helping Allen prepare, with Fangio saying Flacco "might be out to practice some."
Overall, Fangio added that the 12th-year veteran was disappointed his season is over.
"He's not happy about it, obviously," Fangio said. "He's kind of surprised because he's not feeling that bad, the doctors are surprised he's not feeling worse based on the MRIs and the tests, etc., so he's frustrated, down a little bit."
After starting the first 122 games of his career, Flacco has now started fewer than 16 games in three of his past five seasons. It is also the second time he will finish a season on injured reserve; he tore ligaments in his left in knee in 2015.
Flacco said after Sunday's loss in Indianapolis that he had felt discomfort and pain in his neck "for a couple weeks" and that he wasn't certain whether a single play made the pain significantly worse in the second half of the game against the Colts. Flacco, who took a particularly hard hit on the game's final play, received treatment on his neck during the second half of Sunday's game.
Flacco was given an MRI on Monday and then received multiple evaluations from outside doctors, as well, as the herniated disk was confirmed.
Fangio said after Friday's practice that the plan was to not bring in a veteran quarterback, that Allen and Rypien would man the position "for now." Rookie Drew Lock, who has been on injured reserve since the season's start with a right thumb injury and hasn't practiced since mid-August, is expected to at least practice in Week 11, after the Broncos' bye.
Lock could practice up to three weeks before the Broncos have to decide whether to move him to the roster or keep him on injured reserve for the remainder of the year.
For his part, Allen does bring two years' worth of experience in the Rams' offense, a similar scheme to the Broncos' in terms of the play-action, roll-out work in the passing game to go with working under center instead of in the shotgun. And, as Flacco's backup since the start of the regular season, he has received a smattering of plays with the starting offense to go with his other work in practice.
"[I'm] very comfortable; it's a very a similar offense from where I came from, even when I first got here I was fairly comfortable," Allen said earlier this week. " ... Here and there every week there's a couple plays they give me just to be able to get in with the first O."
Rypien has been on the Broncos' practice squad after being released by Denver when rosters were trimmed Aug. 31 to 53 players, so his on-field work has largely been limited to running the scout team against the Broncos' defense in practice each week.
Information from ESPN's Jamison Hensley was used in this report.