For the first time since 2008, the Baltimore Ravens have an identity crisis at quarterback.
Joe Flacco has been the incumbent starter for 10 straight seasons since he was drafted; during that span, he has compiled a 92-62 career record, 35,780 yards and 200 touchdowns, while leading Baltimore to six playoff appearances and winning Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl 47.
In May, the Ravens traded back into the first round (No. 32) to select Louisville quarterback – 2016 Heisman Trophy winner – Lamar Jackson. Jackson, one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft, gives the Ravens a dual-threat option behind Flacco, and a legitimate understudy and potential successor at the position the organization hasn’t had in a number of years.
In a recent interview with John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh described Jackson’s impending role as a rookie:
“One way or another, he’s going to be out there, taking snaps. Lamar is also a weapon for us, who can play quarterback. And we’re going to play Lamar at quarterback … So we’re going to play all of our good players. I don’t see why we wouldn’t. You’ve got this first.”
From a talent standpoint, Jackson possesses dynamic ability. Jackson’s athleticism makes it enticing for the Ravens to utilize him as much as they can next season, which includes playing from under center as well as special packages. While Flacco is deceptively mobile, he is certainly not as intriguing as Jackson in that regard.
Since the Carolina Panthers selected Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, starting dual-threat quarterbacks sooner has become a trend in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks were not afraid to throw Russell Wilson into the fire, and Wilson awarded the front office with consecutive Super Bowl appearances; Tyrod Taylor emerged as a legitimate option with the Buffalo Bills, and is now with the Cleveland Browns after becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason; Deshaun Watson forced the hand of the Houston Texans until he tore his ACL last season.
Baltimore is on the hook with Flacco for four more seasons, but could conceivably cut him after this season and save $10.5 million against the salary cap for next season. With the NFL salary cap seemingly rising each season, combined with Jackson signed to his rookie contract until 2021-22, the Ravens can go bargain shopping for a backup quarterback on the free agent market next offseason, and still hypothetically spend less on Jackson and Flacco’s replacement than Flacco himself in the coming seasons.
The Ravens missed the playoffs last season; the first time Baltimore fell short of the postseason for three consecutive seasons since 1997-2000. Not only is Flacco playing for his job, so is Harbaugh and the remainder of his coaching staff.
If Flacco fails to lead the Ravens to wins early next season, Jackson becomes even more of a legitimate option. And if Jackson can answer pre-draft questions about the accuracy of his arm on the field, much like Watson did with the Texans last season, while racking up yards – and possibly wins – then Harbaugh will have no choice but to face the reality that Baltimore’s future has become the present.