Ravens do about-face with backup quarterback philosophy

March 31, 2015 | Luke Jones

(Updated: 5:45 p.m.)

Despite the annual cries from fans about former backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, it wasn’t difficult to figure out the Ravens’ philosophy behind starter Joe Flacco over the last four seasons.

That’s what made the decision to sign veteran Matt Schaub to a one-year deal reportedly worth up to $3 million (Pro Football Talk reports that he’ll receive $2 million in base money) somewhat surprising. It’s not as much an argument over whether Schaub is a better option than Taylor or 2014 sixth-round pick Keith Wenning, but the price is steep for a team with major holes to fill and just over $8 million in cap space before Tuesday’s signing.

In going with Taylor, a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, the Ravens invested a total of $2.145 million over the last four seasons, which isn’t a fact to overlook for an organization that’s right up against the salary cap on an annual basis. General manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh likely knew they would be sunk if Taylor had needed to play extensively at any point over the last four years, but they were willing to gamble — while benefiting from using cap resources elsewhere — that they’d survive if the ever-durable Flacco had gotten hurt for only a game or two.

They knew a season would have been lost anyway had Flacco suffered a long-term injury, a reality that doesn’t change with Schaub behind him.

Now, they could pay the 2004 third-round pick more this year than the total amount given to Taylor over the last four seasons. It’s easy to argue that Schaub gives the Ravens a better chance to win in a short-term situation than Taylor or Wenning, but little about his play over the last two years suggests winning with the 33-year-old is a great bet, either.

Flacco’s streak of never missing a start won’t last forever, but it’s not reason to change how you view the backup spot. And if he does get hurt and you’re unhappy with your backup, there’s usually a quarterback or two on the street or on another team’s practice squad who you might be able to sign like Houston did with Case Keenum last season.

The last time the Ravens had this much experience at the backup quarterback spot was when they paid Marc Bulger $3.8 million for a 2010 season in which he didn’t take a snap, but that was also an uncapped year in the NFL. With Baltimore continuing to run Gary Kubiak’s version of the West Coast offense under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman this season, Schaub will provide experience and insight in the classroom after spending seven years in Houston under Kubiak.

But are those benefits of a veteran backup as critical for Flacco now as he enters his eighth NFL season?

To maximize their salary cap, teams with franchise quarterbacks should be looking to find the cheapest possible backup who offers a decent chance to win if the starter goes down for a couple games. No team in today’s NFL is winning a Super Bowl with the backup needing to play extensively, so what’s the real return in paying a lot for a backup who ends up receiving a lot of action? Maybe an 8-8 season and a worse draft pick for the efforts.

Schaub’s signing is a clear signal that the Ravens have little faith in Wenning, but the move still appears rash with 10 picks in this year’s draft, a number of other positional needs, and more than five months to go before the season starts.

It’s easy to argue that the 12th-year veteran is a better option than Taylor or Wenning, but is the return really worth the steeper investment?

The Ravens hope they won’t have to find out.