Ravens need better from Flacco because there’s no alternative

January 11, 2017 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti delivered the message that quarterback Joe Flacco must improve in 2017.

But that doesn’t mean an “or else” accompanied the declaration in the same way it might for head coach John Harbaugh or even general manager Ozzie Newsome after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in the last four years. Regardless of your feelings on the 10th-year quarterback, Flacco might have more job security than anyone in the organization over the next few years.

The salary-cap ramifications of his contract scheduled to run through the 2021 season make it pointless to discuss moving in a different direction at quarterback for at least two more seasons. Even cutting the soon-to-be 32-year-old after the 2018 campaign would leave $16 million in dead space on the 2019 cap.

You can try to find the next Dak Prescott on Day 3 of the 2017 draft if you’d like, but taking a quarterback any earlier only serves as a detriment to a roster needing more talent on both sides of the ball.

The Ravens’ best hope is that Flacco being another year removed from ACL reconstruction surgery on his left knee will pay major dividends in 2017. They want to see better footwork and crisper decision-making going through his progressions to improve upon a 6.42 yards per attempt average that ranked 27th in the NFL.

“We were better this year with Joe Flacco back in the lineup, but I certainly don’t think we saw the Joe Flacco that he’s capable of being,” Bisciotti said. “We’ve seen a better Joe Flacco in the past.”

Of course, Bisciotti and head coach John Harbaugh were very careful to add that the offense around Flacco needs to improve as well. The decision to retain offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been met with much criticism, but the hope is that he can utilize a full offseason to move further away from Marc Trestman’s complex system and to try to more closely replicate elements of Gary Kubiak’s West Coast attack in which Flacco thrived in 2014.

The final 11 games of the 2016 season as well as Mornhinweg’s body of work as the quarterbacks coach over the last two seasons don’t inspire confidence, but the thought of a sixth offensive coordinator in six seasons didn’t sound so great, either. Bisciotti noted that Flacco was happy with the decision to retain Mornhinweg, which seemingly puts more pressure on the quarterback to make it work with the incumbent.

Finding more balance with a successful running game would be a good start for everyone.

General manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed the need to add another wide receiver after the retirement of Steve Smith, but it remains unclear whether that will come through free agency, trade, or the draft. Baltimore must also address its offensive line by attempting to upgrade the center position and replacing free-agent right tackle Rick Wagner should he not be retained.

For now, the Ravens are saying 2017 will bring improvement because that’s all they can really do at this early stage of the offseason. It will be interesting seeing how much Newsome can realistically accomplish with only so much cap space and 2017 draft picks falling only in the middle of each round.

“Joe is going to be better next year,” Harbaugh said. “There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be better next year, because he is going to be healthier, because we are going to have an offense in place that we all believe in, and we are going to work on it from Day 1 with our guys healthy in training camp.”

The quarterback who helped define the legacy of Harbaugh with a historic performance in the 2012 postseason will now be counted on more than ever to prolong the head coach’s tenure in Baltimore. Yes, the front office and coaching staff need to better hold up their end of the bargain, but you can’t expect to have All-Pro talent at every position around the guy who’s taking up roughly 15 percent of a team’s total cap, either.

Bisciotti hopes a healthy knee and a healthy mind will make all the difference for his high-priced quarterback who’s now facing more scrutiny than ever.

“Is the recovery from what everybody else says that they are not back completely, did that mess with his mind?” Bisciotti said. “Did that mess with his timing, his accuracy? I think it did. … I think that it really comes down to that Joe is going to have to prove that he is back and he is better.”

If Flacco doesn’t, we’ll likely see changes at this time next year.

And it would then be up to a new regime to try to make it work with the high-priced quarterback.