Baltimore Ravens franchise player Joe Flacco does many parts of his job description as a quarterback well. Making plays when pressured in the pocket is not one of them.
Throughout his career, most notably during the Ravens championship run in 2012, Flacco played at an elite level when given ample time in the pocket. In the 2012 playoffs, Joe was sacked six times over four games, and responded by tossing eleven touchdowns compared to zero interceptions.
This trend held true in 2014, when Flacco posted the best statistical season of his career, and was sacked only 19 times in sixteen regular season games. For comparison, the Ravens allowed 37 sacks per season on average in Flacco’s six seasons before 2014. In Week 13 of the 2016 season, the Ravens held Miami without a sack, and Flacco produced his best game of the year with 381 yards and four touchdowns.
Flacco has developed a reputation as one of the worst quarterbacks in the league when pressured. Furthermore, his accuracy is not consistent enough to win many games when he is forced to throw 50 plus passing attempts. He does much better, especially on deep throws, when a competent running game can provide balance to the offense and make the defense respect play action fakes.
For these reasons, resigning right tackle Ricky Wagner should be the Ravens top priority in the coming offseason.
Wagner is a notch below the best right tackles in the league, but he is definitely above average at the position. According to Ken McKusick of Russell Street Report, Wagner has earned a B grade or above in ten of the 13 games he evaluated this season. Wagner has proven himself to be durable as well, only missing one game to injury in 2016, and two total regular season games over the last three seasons combined.
Equally adept at run and pass blocking, Wagner would create a formidable bookend offensive tackle pairing with Ronnie Stanley if the Ravens are able to resign him. With Wagner in the fold along with Stanley, who displayed his elite blocking ability over the final quarter of his rookie season, the Ravens would have the makings of a strong offensive line. Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis could thrive as the starting offensive guards, leaving only center as a position in need of an upgrade.
Without resigning Wagner, the Ravens will have two positional needs on the offensive line. They would be forced to spend more free agency and draft resources on the line, instead of having more flexibility to bolster their pass defense personnel. With Wagner, they are only one piece away from creating a top offensive line, and the center position could be adequately upgraded on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL draft.
What will it cost to resign Wagner?
It is difficult to pinpoint Wagner’s contract demands right now. There are not very many above average offensive lineman up for free agency this year, and many teams will have more cap space than they know what to do with. This situation could cause Wagner to be overpaid based on simple supply and demand.
Last offseason, the Chiefs signed Mitchell Schwartz away from the Browns. Schwartz is a comparable right tackle to Wagner, he may even be a slightly better player. The terms of his contract were $33 million over five years, with $15 million guaranteed. Wagner would be well worth $6.5 million per season to the Ravens, since offensive line play is so vital to their offensive success.
Brandon Williams is a higher profile free agent and arguably better player than Wagner. But the Ravens have some intriguing depth and early draft picks waiting in the wings at defensive tackle. Offensive tackle, on the other hand, has been a problem spot for the franchise going all the way back to their first Super Bowl championship at the turn of the century.
At 27 years old, Wagner should have several seasons left before his body shows signs of decline. Locking up two young tackles long term, along with the guards, would allow the offensive line to grow together and help the offense realize their full potential.
By prioritizing Wagner and consummating a long term contract, the Ravens can devote their remaining assets to other pressing needs, and have a much better chance at earning a playoff berth in 2017. Without Wagner, they will likely be treading water next season, filling one roster hole while ignoring or creating another.
After all of the investment made in Joe Flacco, it would be immensely short sighted to allow Ricky Wagner to leave the Ravens this offseason.