This is a dispatch from ESPN AFC North reporter Jamison Hensley which tells you all you need to know about what has been going on in Baltimore since the gong sounded on Ravens training camp. Ryan Mallett, one of the more maligned players in the NFL going all the way back to his days in Houston, has had a rough start to preseason practices, something that would typically go unnoticed as he has been the backup quarterback for the past season and a half.
However, a perfect storm of circumstances has placed the spotlight exclusively on him for the first time in a long time, and it is burning brighter than it has since Mallett was at Arkansas. In a normal NFL offseason, the national attention on Mallett would likely amount to a few chuckles on his practice struggles as the wait for Joe Flacco’s return to the lineup simply continued on a bit longer.
But this is no normal offseason. Ever since Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers, a storm of outrage began to brew over his lack of offers to join a team. It has only intensified the more that time has gone on and it has become more apparent that he would likely be a better option than some current backup (and maybe starting) quarterbacks in the league.
The nuances of why Kaepernick isn’t on a roster right now are fairly deep, and not the focus of this piece, but ever since Flacco was sidelined, he has been mentioned as a fairly logical candidate for the Ravens to bring in to at least compete with Mallett. The reasoning behind doing so seemed sound at the time, and the push for Baltimore to sign Kaepernick from the national media began in fairly innocuous fashion.
This was before the aforementioned five pick meltdown lifted Mallett directly into the air for the national media to whack like a piñata. The shaming of Mallett in favor of Kaepernick is fair in the sense that team higher ups (including the head coach, general manager, and owner) have all publicly discussed bringing in Kaepernick, only to continue to waffle on the decision as time has gone on.
Unfortunately for the former Super Bowl quarterback, a Tweet sent out by his girlfriend may have ruined his chances of landing with the team:
@raylewis pic.twitter.com/N9k7nDgmDh— NESSA (@nessnitty) August 3, 2017
(Side note: If you don’t get the reference, go and watch “Django Unchained.” Thank me later.)
Like I said, I’m not going to get into the politics on why Kaepernick remains unsigned, but one way or another, this is an extremely bad look. If Steve Bisciotti had his doubts about bringing Kaepernick in before this Tweet made the rounds (and it was reported that he did), then this could have been the final nail in the coffin in one of the more frustrating “will they or won’t they” situations since Jim and Pam.
And this is why Mallett must perform on Thursday night against the Redskins, as well as going forward throughout the preseason. His days as a media whipping boy go all the way back to his appearance on 2015’s “Hard Knocks” season when he came across as a knucklehead at best and a team malcontent at worst.
But here’s the thing: Whatever you think about him, Mallett has gone about his business in the right way since landing in Baltimore back in 2015. It started when he beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on a week’s notice in relief of Matt Schaub that season, and has continued in uneventful fashion since then, which is exactly what you want from a backup quarterback.
The Kaepernick situation is unfortunate for a lot of reasons, but Mallett has nothing to do with why he isn’t on a team. He also had nothing to do with the Ravens brass openly discussing bringing Kaepernick in as a potential option, and the criticism that doing so has brought their way since it has become clear they probably won’t be signing him. Instead, Mallett, who is typically known for being temperamental, kept a cool head and compartmentalized his focus in front the Baltimore media when talking over the issue:
This is the right response from a player who has been unfairly thrust into this tough situation, and Mallett perfectly described how he’s been attempting to handle the pressure:
Whether you think this to be a hazy smoke screen of coach speak or the real article, it speaks to Mallett’s ability to at least communicate to his teammates and coaches that he’s keeping a cool head despite the pressure. While this stress has unfortunately come from extenuating circumstances outside of his control, the only way that Mallett can truly show that it hasn’t gotten to him is by performing well in the exhibition game against Washington on Thursday night.
He has stated that his only focus is on winning that game, and while the final score won’t matter, Mallett’s performance will be heavily scrutinized. In order to dispel the doubt surrounding his abilities in comparison to anyone outside of the organization, he’ll have to have put on a show.