Since the Baltimore Ravens claimed a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, I’ve found myself asking one particular question in regards to QB Joe Flacco. I’ve probably asked some 15 or 20 NFL analysts who have appeared on “The Reality Check” on WNST that same question.
“Do the Ravens need to put the right playmakers around Flacco to prop him up or should they assume he’s good enough to make lesser players around him better?”
I have probably tended to lean a little bit more to the former. I made my feelings about the team’s decision to trade Anquan Boldin over a desire to save a couple million bucks quite clear. The Ravens however have made it clear at least thus far that they’re operating with a lean to the latter.
The Ravens lost six starters from their Super Bowl winning defense, replacing them with potential starters in Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Elvis Dumervil, Rolando McClain, Michael Huff and top Draft picks Matt Elam and Arthur Brown. At this time, three starters from their Super Bowl winning offense are currently not on the roster and the Ravens have replaced them with…well…I mean…I guess they DID draft a reserve fullback?
Coming out of the NFL Draft, the Ravens still find themselves particularly thin at receiver. Torrey Smith and his freshly-trimmed locks lead the way with Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter and Aaron Mellette falling in some sort of similar order behind. The Ravens will certainly have high expectations for TE Dennis Pitta (who we might not see back in Baltimore for awhile as he hopes to get a long-term deal) as well as fellow TE Ed Dickson.
This group makes you believe the Ravens are thinking more along the lines of “Joe Flacco is good enough to make these guys better.” It’s not so terribly unthinkable that this group could help the Ravens win a third straight AFC North title. Certainly the New York Giants felt comfortable enough with Eli Manning under center that they were willing to simply elevate Domenik Hixon and some unknown receiver from UMass named Victor Cruz going into the 2011 season. For their troubles, the Giants were rewarded with their second Vince Lombardi Trophy in the Tom Coughlin era.
Returning with this group would inherently mark a belief that Joe Flacco has reached the level where his ability in Jim Caldwell’s offense is enough to make those he throws the football to better. A decision to obtain a veteran WR cut before the start of the season (similar to what the Ravens did with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2010) or to deal for a veteran WR (similar to what the Ravens did in 2011 with Lee Evans) or even to add one more current free agent receiver (Brandon Stokley remains on the market?) might mark more of a belief that the team still needs to help prop up their quarterback via more talented offensive weapons.
A similar situation continues to play out at left tackle. 5th round pick Ricky Wagner is unlikely to be of any sort of help this season, meaning the Ravens’ options are Kelechi Osemele, a possible return of Bryant McKinnie and similar late offseason considerations.
The Ravens may well believe Flacco’s quicker release in the Caldwell offense makes the need for a left tackle upgrade less necessary. The team won a Super Bowl with a left tackle who played significantly in only one regular season game. The Super Bowl winning left tackles in the prior three seasons were Jermon Bushrod, Chad Clifton and David Diehl. All were nice players, none Hall of Famers. The quarterbacks they protected for were Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning.
The Ravens made it quite clear that they feel Flacco is in that group, giving him a contract worth $120 million ($52 million guaranteed) this offseason. That decision made the organization’s faith in their sixth year starter evident, but the decisions they’ve made since then have made it even more so apparent.
The roster we see at OTA’s and minicamp in the next month won’t be a direct reflection of the roster that invades Denver September 5th to face the Broncos, but there won’t be many drastic roster changes to be made.
The Ravens won’t be better offensively in 2013 because of the big splash they made in free agency. They won’t be better offensively in 2013 because they drafted a hot shot receiver or mountainous offensive tackle out of the SEC at the back end of the first round.
Instead, they’ll hope to be better offensively in 2013 simply because of how they REALLY spent their money in free agency…their quarterback. They clearly think the guy is ready to make the rest of the group even better.
I guess my question has essentially been answered. The only question moving forward will be whether or not the decision was the right one.