The Lamar Jackson clock ticking for Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens Blog
Over the previous two decades, all 56 quarterbacks taken in the first round were given a shot to start within three years of being drafted.
How fast is that clock ticking for Flacco?
It depends on Flacco’s play this season and Jackson’s development. Flacco could be the next Alex Smith who starts for another season and then gets traded. There’s a chance Jackson sits for two years and waits to step into the starting role in 2020.
“You take it one year at a time in this league,” coach John Harbaugh said. “You want to predict the future? Great, that’s cool. I get it. But the future is going to come and it can predict itself, really.”
Under a one-year plan, Baltimore parts ways with Flacco after this season, receiving $10.5 million in salary-cap space (or $18.5 million if Flacco is released or traded after June 1). If Flacco rebounds in his first healthy season since 2014 or simply plays better in reaction to the drafting of Jackson, the Ravens could deal him like Kansas City did with Smith. This offseason, the Chiefs sent Smith to the Redskins for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round draft pick, freeing up $17 million in cap space and handing the starting job to first-round pick Patrick Mahomes in his second season.
The key here is Baltimore being confident in Jackson’s growth to make him the starter after one year. Over the previous 10 drafts, every one of the 27 quarterbacks selected in the first round had started either in his first or second year in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The amount of time Jackson needs to develop is undetermined, even to the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “I just want to get that playbook in my hands as soon as possible and get to it.”
Another scenario is Flacco remains the starter for the next two seasons, especially if he plays well with his improved supporting cast. Flacco’s base salary in 2019 will be $18.5 million, which probably won’t rank in the top 10 among quarterbacks by next year. But he would still have to earn that by performing better than his previous five seasons, a period in which he has thrown the second-most interceptions (74) in the NFL.
The salary-cap ramifications for waiting to cut or trade Flacco after two years is significant. Baltimore can gain $20.25 million in space by parting ways with Flacco after the 2019 season (when Flacco will turn 35), which makes this the smartest path in cap dollars.
The Ravens have the leeway of sitting Jackson in 2018 and 2019 because of their aggressiveness on the first day of the draft. Baltimore traded up for that final pick in the first round to draft Jackson, which keeps him under contract for five years (compared to four years with second-round picks). Even if Jackson holds the clipboard for two years, the Ravens still can have him as a starter for three seasons under his more inexpensive rookie deal.
Few first-round quarterbacks have been essentially redshirted for two years, but handling young passers this way has been successful. The only first-round quarterbacks in the past 20 drafts who didn’t start their first two seasons were Chad Pennington, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Rivers and Rodgers are potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and Pennington started six NFL seasons.
This way can be beneficial for Jackson and awkward for Flacco, whose heir apparent will be at every meeting and practice.
Flacco declined to be interviewed over the weekend at the team’s DraftFest. “I don’t think I’m talking today,” he said.
The addition of Jackson comes at a time when Flacco has ranked as one of the worst quarterbacks statistically. Since being the Super Bowl MVP, Flacco has thrown 98 touchdowns and 74 interceptions over the past five seasons for an 82.1 passer rating, which ranks No. 36 in the NFL.
Injuries have affected Flacco’s effectiveness, as has a thrift-store supporting cast. The Ravens had invested the least in the offense (outside of the quarterback position) than any other team in the NFL this year leading up to the draft, according to Over The Cap.
Baltimore has tried to improve the weapons around Flacco. The Ravens signed three wide receivers in free agency (Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead) and drafted tight end Hayden Hurst in the first round.
“We’re trying to win this year,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “In order for us to win this year, we need Joe Flacco. That’s why we went and got the receivers. That’s why we went and got the tight end — to give Joe some help. So we want to win this year.”
Flacco and Jackson couldn’t be more different in terms of style of quarterback. Flacco is the classic pocket passer. Jackson is the dual threat who ran for more career yards than running back Saquon Barkley in college.
The Ravens believe they have the coaches in place to transition Jackson to the NFL game. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach James Urban were in the same roles with Philadelphia in 2010, when Michael Vick was a Pro Bowl quarterback. Assistant head coach Greg Roman was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator when Colin Kaepernick quarterbacked San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship Game in 2013.
The question for this year, next year and perhaps the year after that is this: When will the Ravens decide it’s time to move on from Flacco and begin the Lamar Jackson era?
“As far as the future, we’ll see what happens there,” Mornhinweg said. “Joe is the quarterback of this football team. Lamar is going to develop all those things. So we’ll see what happens.”