OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This time of year has typically been uneventful for longtime Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Other than his rookie season or two years ago when he was still rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee back to full health, Flacco has taken part in organized team activities with no topic of discussion more significant than adjusting to another offensive coordinator or a new wide receiver or two in Baltimore. Aside from his contract season of 2012 in which he famously bet on himself before leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl title several months later, the 33-year-old has been entrenched as the franchise quarterback with no serious discussion about his future.
Of course, that changed last month when Ozzie Newsome used the final first-round pick of his illustrious run as Baltimore’s general manager to select Louisville quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Members of the Ravens brass have stated more than once that Flacco remains the guy at quarterback, but the 11th-year veteran knows that Jackson’s addition clouds his future. He remains under contract through the 2021 season, but the Ravens could move on from the Super Bowl XLVII MVP as soon as next season if willing to endure $16 million in dead money on their salary cap.
“I don’t want to say I was surprised,” said Flacco, whose yards per attempt average has declined in each of the last three seasons. “Obviously, when you pick a quarterback — when you pick anybody in the first round — it means something. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know exactly what it is, but that’s not my job to worry about what it is. My job is to keep my approach exactly what it’s been for the last 10 years and help our team go win football games.”
Flacco says his focus is on the present, citing the work to be done to get on the same page with a new batch of wide receivers and tight ends to improve the league’s 29th-ranked passing game from 2017. He took special interest discussing Michael Crabtree, citing his unique style and craftiness in running routes that reminds many of former Raven Anquan Boldin.
But questions from media on Thursday predictably centered around Jackson with Flacco being asked about the lack of communication between the two in the days following the NFL draft. He called it “unfortunate” that the story was blown out of proportion and said their early interactions have been positive, adding that new quarterbacks coach James Urban has even joked with the two about the faux controversy.
“Everybody just wants to talk about it and act like I’m holding some grudge, and that’s not how it is,” Flacco said. “I think you guys have been around me for a long time and you know the way I am. We welcome Lamar here with open arms, and that’s the same for me.”
It remains to be seen how head coach John Harbaugh and the offensive staff will handle Jackson’s development, but the Ravens intend to include the rookie in this year’s offense when appropriate. The challenge will be striking the appropriate balance between maintaining the rhythm of the “traditional” offense under Flacco and identifying spots to utilize Jackson’s talents as a runner and passer.
Unlike five years ago when former offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell used backup Tyrod Taylor in some “Wildcat” plays, Flacco doesn’t seem inclined to push back on the idea of Marty Mornhinweg mixing in some special packages or gadget plays for Jackson. Of course, Flacco doesn’t hold the same clout to complain as he did then when he was less than a year removed from winning the Super Bowl.
“Listen, I want to win football games. Whatever is going to help us win,” Flacco said. “I’m probably going to maintain that I think myself under center is our best chance to win football games, but whatever helps us win football games, man, I’m game.”
He handled himself well speaking for the first time since the Ravens drafted their perceived quarterback of the future, something that couldn’t be said about Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers used a third-round pick on Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. Considering the Ravens’ poor efforts in putting offensive talent around him in recent years, Flacco could have shared a similar sentiment to his AFC North counterpart by saying the Jackson pick could have been used on another offensive player providing a greater immediate impact.
Flacco has been described as nothing but a good teammate over the years and figures to maintain that reputation with the young quarterback. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be doing everything he can to keep his new competition on the sideline for as long as possible.
That starts with winning more games and leading the Ravens back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
“You pick guys in the first round — whenever you pick guys — you pick them for a reason,” Flacco said. “I don’t know what the plan is. I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen, but I’m worried about right now. I’m worried about myself getting these guys ready, winning football games, and nothing is ever promised.
“That’s the reality of it for me.”
It’s a different reality than he’s used to.
Fourteen players were not taking part in Thursday’s voluntary workout as the Ravens concluded their first week of OTAs.
According to Harbaugh, wide receiver John Brown was excused to deal with a personal matter while linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) and cornerback Maurice Canady (knee) were resting minor ailments. The coach also said wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo would begin the season on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing an unspecified surgery on his left leg earlier this month.
The following players were not participating due to injuries sustained last season: guard Marshal Yanda (ankle), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and Jaylen Hill (knee), and linebackers Albert McClellan (knee) and Bam Bradley (knee).
Defensive ends Brent Urban (foot) and Carl Davis (shoulder) took part in the early portion of Thursday’s session before leaving the field while guard Nico Siragusa (knee) was also a limited participant.
Safeties Eric Weddle and Anthony Levine, cornerback Brandon Carr, and fullback Christopher Ezeala were also absent from the field. Linebacker Terrell Suggs has regularly been at the team’s Owings Mills training facility this offseason and is said to be in great shape entering his 16th season, but Harbaugh is keeping him off the practice field until mandatory minicamp for the second straight spring.