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Denver’s closed Civic Center Park has host of problems — but crime’s not on the rise, data shows



Denver’s closed Civic Center Park has host of problems — but crime’s not on the rise, data shows

Civic Center Park is officially closed. Anyone who bypasses the barricades and fencing around the national landmark between the Colorado Capitol and the Denver City and County Building risks being ticketed. It’s for the public’s own good, Denver leaders say.

In a news release announcing the temporary closure of the park and two adjacent properties, city officials said the areas “have become a hotspot for violence, crime, drug sales and substance misuse.” Scott Gilmore, deputy director of the city’s parks department, emphasized to CBS Denver that recent violent incidents were a driver of the shutdown.

But Denver police data doesn’t show an uptick in reported crime in Civic Center. Instead, crime levels have remained relatively stable in recent years, according to data analyzed by The Denver Post.

Denver police Chief Paul Pazen, in an interview, emphasized that the closure call was not made by his department.

“We’re not going to pretend we don’t have challenges over there,” he said of the downtown park. “Our focus is addressing the drug dealers and trying to hold them accountable for the harm they’re creating in the community.”

Crome statistics aside, city leaders have provided a laundry list of environmental and public health risks they say made a shutdown the only option. At a time when downtown Denver is struggling to rebound from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and there is an effort to rebrand and reinvigorate the eastern end of downtown near Civic Center, the closure is a period of short-term pain that will lead to a long-term improvement to civic life, leaders insist.

“There is a great deal of human waste and trash that is in the park. A lot of needles. A lot of discarded food,” Denver parks department spokeswoman Cynthia Karvaski said, adding that the food and trash are attracting rats. “We needed to come up with an operational plan that was sustainable and we weren’t able to do that with the park open.”

Civic Center long has had a reputation for being a hotbed for drug dealing and drug use. The refrain from city leaders ahead of the park shutdown had been that things were different this summer.

People openly shooting up and other things like aggressive — but not outright violent — behavior might not show up in crime reports but it impacts life in the park, said Eric Lazzari, executive director of the nonprofit Civic Center Conservancy.

For Lazzari, sitting at a table for lunch during a Civic Center Eats food truck event this summer and having another man sit at the same table and inject himself with an unknown substance hammered home how dire things had become.

“We are absolutely supportive of what the city did,” he said. “It was a necessary step. It had gotten to that point.”

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Denver police officers detain two men from a homeless encampment at Civic Center Park in Denver on Sept. 7, 2021. The city of Denver has temporarily shut down Civic Center Park, citing health and safety issues.

Civic Center Park crime data

In its analysis, The Post looked at all crimes reported in the park, around the Pioneer Monument Fountain, the Wellington Webb Municipal Office Building and the major intersections that surround the park between Jan. 1, 2016, and Aug. 31, 2021. The area around the fountain and a strip of park space on the east side of the Webb building also have been shut down during the Civic Center cleanup.

There were 222 total crimes reported in that area in the first eight months of 2021, the data shows. That’s more than the 204 reported in that same time period in 2020 but fewer than the 284 reported in 2019. Between 2016 and 2020, the police department received an average of 323 crime reports in the first eight months of each year.

Violent crimes like assaults, robberies and homicides also have not changed substantially. Denver police recorded 20 such crimes through August of this year. That’s the same as the average count for the previous five years in that time period.

There had not been a homicide recorded in the park in the previous five years, but 2021 brought an end to that.

Jalen Adams, 28, was killed and two others injured in an Aug. 6 shooting at the park. That came after another man was shot and killed in the park on March 8.

Property crimes like theft and burglary have fallen, the data shows, though reports of drug sales and use have increased in the last three years.

Narcotics are the primary driver of crime and violence in the park, Pazen said.

Police previously had identified the area around the intersection of Colfax Avenue and Broadway as one of the five crime hotspots in the city in 2020.

But Pazen told City Council members at an Aug. 9 meeting of the council’s Public Safety Working Group that the department and others had successfully quelled the violence in that area after efforts like increased bike patrols and cleanups.

“The downtown hotspot, we see a shift. We primarily saw hotspot activity around the Colfax and Broadway location in 2020 and as you can see from the density map of 2021 that shift is primarily around the Ballpark neighborhood and the LoDo area,” he said.

Pazen said that the Civic Center closure will disperse drug dealers who sell in the park. The crime will return when the park reopens, but he said that temporarily dispersing them could reduce the intensity of the problem.

“Displacement is an issue we have to monitor,” he said. “You can be making positive change in certain areas, but you have to ensure that you’re not blind to moving this to another location.”

1632055139 626 Denvers closed Civic Center Park has host of problems —

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Abher Miranda, front left, and Joel Meyering, front right, from Denver’s Parks and Recreation Department, tie fences together with steel wire at Civic Center Park in Denver on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.


Denver parks crews got to work at 4 a.m. Wednesday putting up the remaining fencing now surrounding Civic Center. The city temporarily closed the park in the spring of 2020 to support social distancing at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Karvaski said. She couldn’t remember another time the public had been barred from the park before that.

The decision wasn’t made by the parks department alone. The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver police and Mayor Michael Hancock’s office all contributed, according to Karvaski.

“Parks personnel — rangers and clean-up staff — were having a hard time performing their jobs because of everything that was occurring in the park. They were being harassed, etc.,” she said of what led to the decision.

Gilmore initially said the park would be closed for at least two months, time enough to accommodate turf restoration, tree trimming, lighting improvements, camera upgrades and other work. Karvaski said some areas could reopen sooner than that depending on progress.

1632055139 999 Denvers closed Civic Center Park has host of problems —

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Scott Gilmore, deputy director of the city’s parks department, collects trash at Civic Center Park on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.

She feels there is a misconception that the shutdown is an excuse to run off people who sleep in the park. City parks already are closed between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., she said. Tents and other temporary structures aren’t allowed, even they have been a common sight in Civic Center at times during the summer.

“We don’t have encampments in the parks, particularly in our downtown parks,” Karvaski said.

Leaders of several organizations that serve the people who spend their days in the park, many of whom are unhoused, said they support the closure. But they also worry the closure will scatter people who need and use their services.

“We have been in this position before. All it does is force the individuals in the park deeper into the community,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, founder of mutual aid organization Headwaters Protectors, which picks up trash and delivers water to the unhoused community in Civic Center and elsewhere around town.

Jennifer Kloeppel, CEO of Showers for All, said her organization, which provides showers and laundry services, supports the closure even though it has disrupted their twice-weekly Civic Center Park service days. They plan to start providing nearby services in the next few weeks.

Kloeppel said the atmosphere in the park changed toward the end of August.

“I’ve never felt unsafe being around the unsheltered community,” she said. “It was when I saw an influx of people coming in that were inciting violence that weren’t part of the regular unhoused community there.”

The discussions around the park closure could lead to some positive changes, in Tafoya’s view. For one, it has brought charitable groups together to talk about the work they do in the park. Tafoya wants to focus on how the services they provide can be updated to reduce negative side effects.

“We have a lot of people coming in to do feedings but they’re not thinking about harm reduction,” he said. “They are dropping off way more food than could be consumed without refrigeration and that ultimately ends up being used against these individuals.”

1632055139 658 Denvers closed Civic Center Park has host of problems —

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

People are asked to leave a homeless camp site near Civic Center Park in Denver on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.

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Denver’s proposed ban on flavored tobacco, vape products may be tweaked to exempt hookah lounges, menthol products



Denver’s proposed ban on flavored tobacco, vape products may be tweaked to exempt hookah lounges, menthol products

A proposed ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products in Denver got bogged down Wednesday as members of the City Council’s safety committee debated a handful of amendments including changes that would exempt hookah lounges and menthol cigarettes.

Committee members will have three weeks to work on things behind the scenes, agreeing Wednesday to pick up the measure — and the five changes proposed so far — again at a meeting on Nov. 17 before it can be moved along for consideration by the entire City Council.

Brought forth earlier this month by Councilmembers Amanda Sawyer and Debbie Ortega, the ordinance would make it illegal to sell items including flavored cigars, e-cigarettes, vape pens, vape juices, menthol cigarettes and shisha, the flavored tobacco used in hookah pipes in Denver. The sponsors and their backers argue it’s a public imperative, with flavored products being used to lure in young people and make them smokers for life.

“The youth smoking and vaping epidemic is what we are trying to solve for here,” Sawyer said Wednesday “It is an extraordinary problem. It has been declared an epidemic by the Surgeon General.”

Adults over 21 could still possess and use those products but they would have to buy them somewhere outside city limits. Seven other Colorado municipalities have similar bans.

Some of Sawyer’s fellow safety committee members disagreed with an approach they view as too restrictive and likely to drive many small retailers out of businesses.

“This is not being done with a scalpel, it’s being done with a sledgehammer and we are going to impact adults and prevent them from buying products that they want to buy,” Councilwoman Kendra Black said.

Proposed amendments talked about Wednesday included an exemption for premium cigars and pipe tobacco and another carve-out for menthol cigarettes.

Councilman Kevin Flynn proposed the menthol amendment late Tuesday night after he said he heard from members of Denver’s Black community that both favored and opposed the inclusion of menthol products, a style of tobacco products that has been disproportionately marketed to the Black people. He didn’t see it as the Council’s place to take that decision out of people’s hands.

The hookah lounge exception is viewed as the most important change to its backers because all shisha is flavored tobacco. The practice of smoking shisha out of hookah pipes in communal settings is a cultural practice that goes back centuries in many Middle Eastern cultures.

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Biden deal in ‘pretty good shape,’ but no breakthrough yet



Democrats unveil billionaires’ tax as Biden plan takes shape


WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared Wednesday that Democrats are in “pretty good shape” on President Joe Biden’s sweeping domestic plan, but hopes for a breakthrough quickly faded when a pivotal Democratic senator panned a new billionaires’ tax to help pay for the $1.75 trillion package.

Biden and Democrats are racing to wrap up talks before the president departs this week for overseas global summits. One potential new casualty — a paid family leave benefit — was now being reduced to a more narrow program, perhaps for parents to care for new children. Besides pressing for important party priorities, Biden’s hoping to show foreign leaders the U.S. is getting things done under his still-new administration.

The president’s signature package of social service and climate change proposals in the balance, Biden could yet visit Capitol Hill before traveling abroad Thursday. House Democrats are set to meet in the morning. The administration is assessing the situation “hour by hour,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“We are on track now to move forward once we get an agreement,” Psaki said.

But Biden’s big proposal ran into stubborn new setbacks, chief among them how to pay for it all.

A just-proposed tax on billionaires could be scrapped after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia objected, according to a senior party aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks.

The billionaires’ tax proposal had been designed to win over another Democratic holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, but Manchin panned it as unfairly targeting the wealthy, leaving Democrats at odds.

“People in the stratosphere, rather than trying to penalize, we ought to be pleased that this country is able to produce the wealth,” Manchin told reporters.

Manchin said he prefers a minimum 15% flat “patriotic tax” to ensure the wealthiest Americans don’t skip out on paying any taxes.

Nevertheless, he said: “We need to move forward.”

White House officials met at the Capitol with Manchin and Sinema, two senators who now hold enormous power, essentially deciding whether or not Biden will be able to deliver on the Democrats’ major campaign promises.

In the 50-50 Senate, Biden needs all Democrats’ support with no votes to spare.

“Making progress,” Sinema said as she dashed into an elevator.

The quickening pace of negotiations came as Biden pressed to have a deal in hand ahead of the global summits. There’s also a Sunday deadline to approve a smaller, bipartisan roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill or risk allowing funds for routine transportation programs to expire. But that $1 trillion bill has been held up by progressive lawmakers who are refusing to give their support without the bigger Biden deal.

Applying pressure, Pelosi announced a Thursday committee hearing to spur the Biden package along toward a full House. But without Senate agreement, the House panel’s meeting is merely an effort to kickstart the process.

Manchin was also objecting to a new paid family leave program that was already being chiseled back from 12 to four weeks. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had devised several new options for his review.

Gillibrand told reporters late in the evening: “It’s not out, and it’s not over until it’s over.”

Democrats had hoped the unveiling of the billionaires tax Wednesday could help resolve the revenue side of the equation after Sinema rejected the party’s earlier idea of reversing Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy, those earning more than $400,000.

Sinema declined to say if she supported it: “I don’t want to comment.”

The new billionaires’ proposal would tax the gains of those with more than $1 billion in assets or incomes of more than $100 million over three consecutive years.

It would hit the wealthiest of Americans, fewer than 800 people, starting in the 2022 tax year, requiring them pay taxes on the gains of stocks and other tradeable assets, rather than waiting until holdings are sold.

A similar billionaires’ tax would be applied to non-tradeable assets, including real estate, but it would be deferred with the tax not assessed until the asset was sold, though interest would have to be paid.

Overall, the billionaires’ tax rate would align with the capital gains rate, now 23.8%. Democrats have said it could raise $200 billion in revenue that could help fund Biden’s package over 10 years.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the billionaires tax remains on the table.

“I’ve not heard a single United States senator — not one —get up and say, ‘Gee, I think it’s just fun that billionaires pay little or nothing for years on end,’” Wyden said Wednesday.

Taken together, the new billionaires’ proposal, coupled with a new 15% corporate minimum tax, are designed to fulfill Biden’s desire for the wealthy and big business to pay their “fair share.” They also fit his promise that no new taxes hit those earning less than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples. Biden wants his package fully paid for without piling on debt.

“I’ve been talking about this for years,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who campaigned for the presidency on a wealth tax, and backs Wyden’s approach. “I’ve even made billionaires cry over this.”

Resolving the revenue side has been crucial, as lawmakers figure out how much money will be available to spend on the new health, child care and climate change programs in Biden’s big plan.

Republicans have derided the billionaires’ tax as “harebrained,” and some have suggested it would face a legal challenge.

Among Democrats, Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he told Wyden the billionaires’ tax may be difficult to implement. He expects Democrats to stick with the approach his panel took in simply raising rates on corporations and the wealthy, undoing the 2017 tax cuts.

“There’s a lot of there’s a lot of angst in there over the billionaires’ tax,” Neal said.

Under the House bill approved by Neal’s panel, the top individual income tax rate would rise from 37% to 39.6%, on those earning more than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples. The corporate rate would increase from 21% to 26.5%.

The House bill also proposes a 3% surtax on the wealthiest Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year, and Neal suggested that could be raised to $10 million to win over the holdouts.

Together, Manchin and Sinema’s objections have packed a one-two punch, throwing Biden’s overall plan into flux, halving what had been a $3.5 trillion package, and infuriating colleagues along the way.

Their opposition is forcing difficult reductions, if not the outright elimination, of policy priorities — from child care assistance to dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors.

The once hefty climate change strategies are less severe, focusing away from punitive measures on polluters that raised objections from coal-state Manchin, in a shift toward instead rewarding clean energy incentives.

Tempers are running short as Democratic colleagues tire of the repeated objections form Manchin and Sinema blocking a deal.

Said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent: “You got 48 out of 50 people supporting an agenda that works for the American people.”


Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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NFL power rankings, Week 7: Ravens tumble, Bengals and Titans rise in jumbled AFC



50 Colo. Time dealers, Wells are auto fame inductees

Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders, regardless of win-loss record.

Here are the rankings after Week 7:

The top contenders

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1; No. 1 last week)

2. Arizona Cardinals (7-0; No. 2)

3. Buffalo Bills (4-2; No. 4)

4. Dallas Cowboys (5-1; No. 5)

5. Los Angeles Rams (6-1; No. 6)

6. Green Bay Packers (6-1; No. 7)

It was a tidy week for the league’s top teams. The Bucs dominated the hapless Bears, 38-3, as Tom Brady threw four more touchdown passes to extend his league-leading total to 21. The Cardinals got three touchdown passes from Kyler Murray, including one to recently acquired tight end Zach Ertz, in a 31-5 rout of the Texans. Matthew Stafford made coach Sean McVay and the Rams look smart after the Jared Goff trade with three touchdown passes in a 28-19 win over Goff and the Lions. Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes of his own in the Packers’ 24-10 win over Washington, spreading the ball around to seven receivers instead of relying on Davante Adams.

What’s the common thread that ties these teams together? Great quarterback play. The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and the Bills’ Josh Allen, who enjoyed their bye weeks, have already inserted themselves into the Most Valuable Player conversation. Murray has been especially great, securing the second-highest passing grade in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

In case you didn’t notice, nearly all of the league’s elite teams reside in the NFC. The AFC is a muddled mess at the top, thanks to the stunning decline of the Chiefs and the emergence of some exciting, yet unproven contenders. That brings us to one of the most surprising results of the week, which calls into question the Super Bowl hopes of one of the conference’s best teams.

On the cusp of contention

7. Baltimore Ravens (5-2; No. 3)

8. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2; No. 12)

9. Tennessee Titans (5-2, No. 11)

10. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2; No. 8)

11. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2; No. 14)

The Ravens’ 41-17 loss to the Bengals isn’t a knock-out blow by any means, rather a stiff shot to the jaw that leaves Baltimore stumbling heading into its bye week. The Ravens couldn’t handle the Bengals’ passing attack Sunday, as Joe Burrow threw for a career-high 416 yards and receiver Ja’Marr Chase racked up 201 yards, giving him the most receiving yards by a rookie through seven weeks in NFL history. Lamar Jackson wasn’t his usual self, as Cincinnati’s athletic defense pressured him on nearly half of his drop-backs and covered well downfield.

The Ravens are still a threat to emerge in the AFC when playing at their best, but more injuries along the offensive line, this time to starting right tackle Patrick Mekari, have severely depleted their once-unstoppable rushing attack. The Ravens need Jackson to play at an MVP level to not only mask their weaknesses on offense, but cover for a defense that has allowed a franchise-worst 2,073 passing yards over its first seven games. Sunday’s loss showed that the Ravens’ old reliables might not even be enough to cut it in the AFC North anymore.

While Baltimore is slipping, the Titans and Raiders are showing they shouldn’t be overlooked when handicapping the AFC race. Tennessee dominated Kansas City, 27-3, on Sunday, with Derrick Henry throwing more touchdown passes than Patrick Mahomes. A Titans defense that struggled mightily early in the season held the Chiefs to their lowest scoring output with Mahomes at quarterback, picking up four sacks and an interception. FiveThirtyEight only gives Kansas City a 43% chance of making the playoffs, and that might be generous given their issues on both sides of the ball.

The Raiders, meanwhile, continue to thrive after the resignation of coach Jon Gruden. Las Vegas rolled to a 33-22 win over the Eagles behind a nearly perfect day from Derek Carr, who completed more than 90% of his passes on 30 or more attempts (31-for-34 for 323 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) for the second time in his career.

With the Chiefs and Ravens failing to reach their previous heights, it’s time to consider the Bengals, Titans and Raiders as more than just plucky contenders. Behind Buffalo, it’s a wide-open race in the AFC.

The wild cards

12. Cleveland Browns (4-3; No. 10)

13. New Orleans Saints (4-2; No. 13)

14. Kansas City Chiefs (3-4; No. 9)

15. Indianapolis Colts (3-4; No. 20)

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3; No. 15)

17. Minnesota Vikings (3-3; No. 16)

18. New England Patriots (3-4; No. 19)

19. Atlanta Falcons (3-3; No. 25)

After seven weeks, the Browns remain an enigma. With starting quarterback Baker Mayfield severely limited by an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, backup Case Keenum came in and looked steady in a 17-14 win over the Broncos on Thursday night. Keenum’s ceiling might be lower than Mayfield’s, but he should be able to keep Cleveland’s ground-based attack moving under coach Kevin Stefanski. If the defense can get healthier and play up to its potential, that might be enough for the Browns to remain a playoff contender in the AFC.

The Colts could be a playoff contender, too, after Monday night’s 30-18 win over the 49ers. Indianapolis has won three of its past four games thanks to improved play from quarterback Carson Wentz, who has thrown just one interception through seven weeks after leading the league with 15 picks in 12 games last season in Philadelphia. The Patriots have shaken off some early struggles to get back into the mix, too, rolling to a 54-13 win over the Jets on Sunday. The defense remains one of the league’s best, so week-to-week improvement from rookie quarterback Mac Jones might keep New England in the playoff conversation for quite awhile.

Atlanta, meanwhile, might finally be hitting its stride under new coach Arthur Smith. In a 30-28 win over the Dolphins on Sunday, rookie tight end Kyle Pitts exploded for 163 receiving yards, giving Matt Ryan the valuable weapon he’s sorely needed since the offseason trade of Julio Jones.

Fading fast

20. Chicago Bears (3-4; No. 18)

21. Carolina Panthers (3-4; No. 21)

22. Denver Broncos (3-4; No. 22)

23. Seattle Seahawks (2-5; No. 23)

24. San Francisco 49ers (2-4; No. 17)

25. Washington Football Team (2-5; No. 26)

All the optimism about Justin Fields’ rookie season has seemingly evaporated after the first-round pick threw three interceptions in the Bears’ embarrassing 38-3 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday. Coach Matt Nagy’s seat only grows warmer, with the offense struggling to move the ball effectively through the air or on the ground. If Chicago can’t show any improvement behind its franchise quarterback in the coming weeks, it’s hard to see this regime coming back again next season.

The Panthers might be facing similar tough questions about their leadership after yet another rough performance by quarterback Sam Darnold, who was benched in favor of P.J. Walker in Sunday’s 25-3 loss to the Giants. Four straight losses have called into question the wisdom of the trade for Darnold, who isn’t consistent enough to be a franchise quarterback. Whether that leads to Carolina looking toward the draft, free agency or a trade for Deshaun Watson to upgrade at the position remains to be seen, but it’s clear the Panthers aren’t a playoff team with the former first-round pick under center.

For the Seahawks, 49ers and Washington, there are just too many questions at quarterback to have any hope of playoff contention in a loaded NFC. Unless Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Fitzpatrick can be healthy and/or effective relatively soon, it’s hard to see a path forward for these teams.

The basement

26. New York Giants (2-5; No. 29)

27. Philadelphia Eagles (2-5; No. 24)

28. Detroit Lions (0-7; No. 30)

29. Houston Texans (1-6; No. 28)

30. Miami Dolphins (1-6; No. 27)

31. New York Jets (1-5; No. 30)

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5; No. 32)

Say what you want about Dan Campbell’s 0-7 record, but the Lions coach has kept his team competitive nearly every week. Detroit had a legitimate chance to take down the Rams on Sunday before a back-breaking interception by Goff late in the game. Campbell isn’t interested in moral victories, but the team’s play is at least somewhat encouraging in the first year of what should be a long rebuild.

The Dolphins won’t be afforded that kind of sympathy, however. A 30-28 loss to the Falcons puts them at 1-6, a far cry from what the team expected after a 10-6 season under coach Brian Flores. Rumors continue to swirl about the team’s interest in a trade for Watson, which shows just how desperate they are for an answer at quarterback given Tua Tagovailoa’s struggles.

©2021 Baltimore Sun. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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