In January of 2009, the Baltimore Ravens walked off Heinz field with broken hearts after losing the AFC Championship game to the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. The narrow miss on an invitation to Super Bowl XLIII hurt, but it wasn’t a complete wash of a loss given the circumstances of the season.
They had drafted quarterback Joe Flacco in the first round just months earlier, who despite entering camp as the third stringer, took the starting reigns in Week 1 and guided them all the way to the Conference Championship. That night’s loss was tough, but the future looked bright; now, ten years later and with a Super Bowl ring to show for it, Flacco’s time in Baltimore looks like it could end sooner rather than later.
After the team selected electric Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson from Louisville in round one of the 2018 NFL Draft, speculation begun on when he’ll be stepping in for Flacco, who’s been injured and ineffective over the past three years. The team has assured the media and fanbase that the job is still Flacco’s, as they very much should be expected to do so at this point.
However, it’s only fair to wonder when the changing of the guard will take place. When the Kansas City Chiefs moved up to take Patrick Mahomes in the draft last season, he was coming in behind Alex Smith, who had been unspectacular but above league average under center for them for the past several seasons.
This is a much different situation, which so clearly amounts to a heavy burden lying upon the shoulders of Joe Flacco and how he performs in the 2018 season. He could potentially start a playoff game, or lose his job to Jackson by week five, but based upon the earlier analogy, evidence points to Flacco being ousted from Baltimore after 2018 no matter what happens.
Why is that? Look at what happened to Smith, who seemed to take the Mahomes addition personally and used it as motivation to go out and have his best season. Regardless, the Chiefs were bounced from the playoffs following a familiar script, and Smith was shipped off to Washington for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Even if Joe produces his best statistical season, which shouldn’t be too hard given his relatively low output recently, what can the Ravens expect to receive in return for a swap for the former Super Bowl MVP? The answer is unfortunately tough to find.
The reasons for this are varied, but can be found by looking at the precedents previously set. The first precedent is the aforementioned Smith trade which could spark Baltimore’s bargaining point at a third rounder and a player, albeit a promising one, a-la Fuller.
The second factor to consider is there aren’t likely to be many teams that are desperate for a quarterback in the coming 2019 offseason. While this isn’t usually the case in a league which struggles in finding starting caliber players at this position, the combination of young and promising talent and the established veterans who will probably be around for another few years makes this a buyer’s market.
The final factor is the contract. The damned Joe Flacco contract weighing in with a cap hit of $26.5 million in 2019. The second heaviest hit of his contract, just under two million less than the incredulous $28.25 million hit in 2020.
This is all comes down to two questions: who will the buyers be in the estimated year from now and how desperate will they be for a solid starter at quarterback? There are only a few teams that come to mind and their levels of desperation vary wildly.
If Case Keenum quickly flames out in Denver as some expect him to, John Elway could be looking for a steady hand at his old position after passing up some options in the 2018 draft. The Miami Dolphins could also be considered as Ryan Tannehill was a middle-of-the-road type player before hurting his knee two seasons ago, and we’ve already seen Adam Gase take a swing on Jay Cutler who was at a similar point to Flacco after leaving Chicago.
However, the most likely landing spot is a team that is built in a similar fashion to some of the early Flacco-era Ravens teams that saw a lot of success: The Jacksonville Jaguars. Blake Bortles has played well in stretches, but his inconsistency is highly concerning and can’t give their coaching staff confidence in the possibility of winning a Super Bowl, though they were pretty close in 2017.
If he really does tank in ‘18 and the team still shows the signs of title contention, they could be desperate enough to take a swing on Flacco to push them over the edge. They’d obviously hope for his release so they could renegotiate the aforementioned cap hit, but if they were desperate enough for a Lombardi, they’d surely be willing to take it on. The question is, what would they actually give up to do so?
If they really do believe in their roster and coaching staff, then it isn’t crazy to expect an Alex Smith-level trade for Flacco to give them his exclusive rights and a shot at one of his famous playoff runs to take full advantage of what they have going. Would Baltimore sign up for that type of trade? Most certainly, if not only for the cap relief.
Ultimately, it’s imperative Jackson sees the field, at least a bit in 2018. The Ravens have a decision to make on Flacco and his cap hit moving forward, and while his play will dictate how long he’ll remain the starter, Jackson needs to see some reps as well to help determine what becomes of the franchise beyond 2018.
While no one in Baltimore wanted to see Flacco’s run end like this, it appears inevitable. 2018 is a huge year for both him and the franchise; as a result, they need to start evaluating Jackson.