INDIANAPOLIS — Since the news broke that the Denver Broncos were trading for quarterback Joe Flacco, his name has become quite polarizing in the Mile High City. Some like the move, some love the move, some hate the move and some despise the move. But if there’s one thing that all can agree on when it comes to the former Super Bowl MVP, it’s that he needs a deep threat in his arsenal of weapons to be at his best.
When healthy, Emmanuel Sanders could certainly be that guy, as he is not only a deep threat but also a No. 1-quality wide receiver. With that said, as a 31-year-old coming off of a torn Achilles tendon, that health is a large question mark.
That question mark, combined with the struggles of the wide receiving corps after Sanders went down last season, has the Broncos looking to the free agent market to see if they can get Flacco some veteran help this offseason. Of course, when you look at the list of free agents available for 2019, the first name that pops out is John Brown, a speedy, 5-foot-11 receiver that spent last season in Baltimore with the 34-year-old quarterback.
In Flacco’s nine starts with the Ravens in 2018, Brown hauled in 34 catches for 601 yards and four touchdowns. On a 16-game scale, that comes out to 60 catches for 1,068 yards and seven touchdowns.
That all sounds great, but many have been quick to point out a potential roadblock between Brown and the Broncos—the 28-year-old receiver possesses the sickle cell trait, the same blood disorder that was blamed for former Steelers safety Ryan Clark’s horrifying experience in Denver in 2007.
On the plane following a game against the Broncos, Clark complained of a severe pain underneath his ribs. He was pulled from the plane by team doctors, and eventually the pain got so bad, he called his wife to say his goodbyes, thinking it could be the end for him.
After a month of agony, it was discovered that Clark had a splenic infarction. Doctors believed that the high altitude had complicated his sickle cell trait, preventing oxygen from getting to his organs. Eventually, it cost him his spleen, his gallbladder, 40 pounds and his season.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that many are saying Denver is not an option for Brown, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
On Monday morning, a source close to the free agent told BSN Denver that that sickle cell trait will have “no impact at all” on his destination this offseason, later adding that the Broncos will “certainly” be in the mix.
With that information in mind, on Tuesday afternoon, we spoke with Dr. Rachelle Nuss, Director of the Hemoglobinopathy Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado, to get a doctor’s opinion on the matter.
When we asked Dr. Nuss directly if possessing the sickle cell trait would prevent John Brown from playing in Denver on a long-term basis, she answered without hesitation.
“No. Absolutely not,” Nuss said.
“We have definitely had players with sickle cell trait on the Broncos before,” she continued. “There is not a contraindication to a player with sickle cell trait coming to Denver.”
As for Clark, Nuss explained that his awful experience is certainly more of an exception than a rule.
“Ryan Clark had sickle cell trait, and we know that one ramification of sickle cell trait and altitude exposure can be a splenic infarct (a condition in which oxygen supply to the spleen is interrupted, leading to partial or complete tissue death due to oxygen shortage in the organ),” she explained. “It’s even debatable whether that’s attributable just to sickle cell trait and altitude exposure or if the rare individual who experiences that also has some other underlying risk factor for the splenic infarct because by far, by far by far, it’s a rare event in people with sickle cell trait.”
There you have it.
This is good news for the Broncos who will take a long look at Brown, and even better news for Brown, who won’t have his market diminished by something completely out of control. Keep John Brown firmly on your radar in terms of potential acquisitions for Denver this offseason.