I’ve always been a fan of Ravens owner Steve Biscotti hosting his annual “State of the Ravens” address every offseason since he’s owned the team. He’s alway been incredibly candid, sometimes too candid as he was after the 2017 season when he admitted his thoughts of firing John Harbaugh.
It was at that same press conference when Bisciotti declared that the Ravens had “bigger fish to fry” than to worry about Joe Flacco’s eventual replacement as franchise quarterback.
Because of this, I was quite surprised when the Ravens traded back up into the first round to draft Lamar at #32 in 2018. While Jackson’s talent and athleticism was (and still is) undeniable, I couldn’t help but think the move was made with more than strictly football in mind.
Let’s back up a decade and examine exactly how the sports landscape has changed here in Charm City. From 2008 when the Ravens drafted Joe Flacco until their Super Bowl Championship in February of 2013, Ravens fever was at an all time high. We at WNST had several sponsors who were thriving in the business of selling Ravens merchandise. There were new shirts coming out every week based on what was going on in the season (Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle). The Ravens were so close in 2008 when they went to the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh. Two trips to Divisional Weekend were up next, followed by perhaps the two best years in Ravens history aside from the 2000 Super Bowl. The Billy Cundiff FG miss ended the 2011 season, and the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi trophy the following year. After a five year climb under the current regime, the Ravens were once again at the top of the mountain.
Ray Lewis retired. Ed Reed moved on. Ozzie Newsome traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a late round draft pick. Dennis Pitta was injured in Training Camp and would never be the same. Torrey Smith would move on after 2014. Joe Flacco would sign a record breaking contract, but he would never take the next step into the upper echelon of quarterbacks in large part due to front office constantly neglecting their #1 asset in their star QB. Flacco left Baltimore having never thrown a pass to a true #1 wide receiver, and never handing the ball off to a star running back after Ray Rice left town in 2014.
In an era and time in society when fans need to be entertained more than ever, the Ravens became a team devoid of star power, lacking playmakers, and without any sort of entertainment factor.
And then the knee happened in London. My view on airing any sort of politics, race, or religious thoughts is quite simple. Whatever you say, you’re going to offend at least 50% of your audience, fans, listeners, etc. The players were clearly disturbed and hurt by what the president said. Many fans were hurt by the players kneeing, many not understanding why they were doing it, and many players not realizing how the fans were taking it. It was a mess, and it only furthered the decline of interest in the Ravens, specifically from an attendance perspective.
Back to Lamar Jackson, one of the most dynamic players to come through the draft in recent memory. Sure, there were many questions his ability as a pure passer. There were and still are skeptics that say he’ll get hurt playing the way he plays and that he’s not a reliable franchise QB. That story will be written and told for many years into the future. But the bottom line with a Lamar Jackson led team is that there’s going to be entertainment. There’s going to be intrigue. The Ravens are no longer a boring football team.
They’re debuting a 2019 offense that John Harbaugh has termed “revolutionary.” Jackson’s preseason TD run that wasn’t even a touchdown generated millions of views on Twitter. He’s a weekly GIF generator and video game cheat code.
For the first time in…well, maybe ever…fans will be flocking to M&T Bank Stadium this fall excited to watch this version of offensive football.
So while the Ravens most certainly did, as Steve Bisciotti put it less than two years ago, have “bigger fish to fry” than replacing Joe Flacco, the off the field effects of the move and subsequent development have vaulted the Ravens back to the forefront of the NFL landscape, and perhaps more importantly, back into the priority section of Ravens fans’ Sunday to-do lists.
Home games are back to being events. The star power is back. There’s a reason to go to the stadium as opposed to catching the game on TV and not worrying about the $40 parking, $10 hot dog or dangerous walk back to the car.
I strongly believe that Joe Flacco wasn’t pushed out of Baltimore entirely for his on field performance, and I similarly believe that Lamar Jackson wasn’t drafted in the first round simply for his on field performance and potential.
While that performance between the lines will ultimately define the successes or failures of this era of Ravens football, in the meantime it is fun to see Ravens football back in the Baltimore spotlight.
As much as I criticize the Ravens braintrust for not surrounding Joe Flacco with nearly enough weapons and support during his 11 years in Baltimore, I give them much credit for recognizing that the franchise needed to be shaken up and for having the courage and foresight to change course.
One of my favorite quotes is from Oakland A’s President Billy Beane.
You’re either rebuilding for something special, or you’re on the verge of something special. To be in between is foolish
The Ravens were in between after the 2017 season.
Heading into 2019, many believe they’re on the verge of something special.
It is that belief that has the town buzzing once again.
The decision to draft Lamar Jackson started this wave, and his continued development will determine how long we ride it.