OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A Fu-Manchu-free Joe Flacco cleaned out his locker with the rest of his teammates at the Ravens’ Owings Mills facility on Monday morning, still feeling the hurt of a heartbreaking 23-20 loss in the AFC championship less than 24 hours earlier.
However, the dramatic conclusion to the season doesn’t prevent the Ravens from turning an eye toward the future with difficult personnel decisions needing to be made on a number of veteran free agents. Players knew they were greeting some teammates for the final time, and that uncertainty only adds to the sting of the last-second disappointment in Foxborough.
“It’s tough to really think about that,” Flacco said. “You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know which guys it’s going to be. It’s tough to kind of be in our shoes and go through that. You kind of just take it for what it is.”
Of course, Flacco remains under contract for one more season under the five-year deal he signed when the Ravens drafted the Delaware quarterback with 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The 27-year-old expressed his desire for an extension last offseason and only improved his stock with a strong performance against the Patriots in which he outplayed future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
Muting many of his doubters with a 306-yard, two-touchdown performance despite the Ravens falling to New England, Flacco reconfirmed his preference to not have to play out the final year of his contract. The quarterback feels confident in his play to command a long-term extension with Baltimore.
“Definitely,” Flacco said. “We’ll see how it goes. If it goes, it goes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Though Flacco came under plenty of fire this season after failing to take a leap in his development — at least, statistically speaking — he also orchestrated comeback victories against Pittsburgh and Arizona.
He would have done it again if wide receiver Lee Evans had maintained control of a beautifully-thrown ball that dropped right in his breadbasket before rookie Sterling Moore punched the ball loose. Regardless of the final outcome, Flacco proved capable of having a major part in the outcome of a championship game with running back Ray Rice being a non-factor for most of the game.
“I said it all along, I’m the quarterback I am,” Flacco said. “The first four years that I’ve played here, we’ve gone to the playoffs every time [and] won a game. I think the last two years I’ve played in the playoffs I’ve played well in the playoffs. If you watched the film and you’re a guy in this organization, I think that you can say, ‘Hey, he’s played really good for us.’ Like I said, you never know what’s going to happen, so we’ll see.”
While recent talk has centered around the future of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens will face difficult decisions with starting backers Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain set to become unrestricted free agents.
With the Ravens likely discussing the possibility of Lewis’ role in the defense being altered — specifically in passing situations — they will also try to determine McClain’s value before the fourth-year linebacker hits the open market. Since being signed as a rookie free agent from Syracuse in 2008, McClain has transformed his role as a special teams player into a starting inside linebacker.
With past Ravens linebackers such as Edgerton Hartwell and Bart Scott receiving lucrative offers from other teams, could McClain be the next Ray Lewis protege to leave the nest?
“I don’t know,” said McClain, who expressed a preference to remain in Baltimore. “I’ve been in this game long enough to know that everything is unpredictable, so expect the unexpected.”
Speaking of Hartwell and Scott, it’s no secret that many defensive players have left the Ravens, only to find the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. Aside from the simple economics, McClain will consider all his options before making a decision on his future.
“You weigh everything,” McClain said. “You weigh the relationships that you build, you weigh how your family is going to be situated, you weigh how good you fit in on a system. All of those things aren’t up to me. At this point, it’s out of my hands. I feel like I did the best I could do. I gave what I gave, and I give my heart every day and won’t regret [anything]. Right now, if it’s out of your hands, there’s no need to worry about something you can’t control.”
Carr in limbo