Let's start with a hypothetical situation.
The Ravens are playing a big game late in the 2014 season. It goes down to the wire. The offense needs a first down to keep a crucial drive going. Joe Flacco tries to move the chains with a pass to Owen Daniels. It falls incomplete.
Did Flacco and Daniels fail to hook up because the Ravens' quarterback and pass catchers didn't get together for offseason throwing sessions back in April? I don't think so. In fact, I would say that had nothing to do it. A bad horoscope prediction would be a likelier rationale for what went wrong.
Conversely, if Flacco and Daniels did hook up on the pass, would anyone say it was a result of a few hours of informal throwing on a high school field eight months earlier? Please. Here's what would have unfolded between those April sessions and the big game in December: weeks of OTAs and minicamps, a month of training camp, a slate of preseason games, most of the regular season and countless hours of practice. Compared to those long months of grinding work, April throwing sessions would be about as relevant to a play's success as, say, what everyone ate at snack time.
Yet for some reason, the inability of Flacco to organize throwing sessions with his receivers has persisted as a talking point around Ravenstown. It's a terrible problem, according to some. The idea hatched in the media in the dead of a cold winter and hasn't stopped. Owner Steve Bisciotti even mentioned it in interviews at the NFL owners' meetings last month.
Bisciotti's take was that it's a long offseason and people in the talking business need something to talk about. I agree and certainly can relate. I also think Flacco has long been a target for criticism, regardless of what he does, and he's only getting more since he signed his big contract after leading the Ravens to their 2012 Super Bowl triumph.
But let's not confuse this "PracticeGate" throwing-session blah-blah with any of the genuine reasons to criticize Flacco.
There's no lack of those. During Flacco's disappointing 2013 season, he threw 22 interceptions, easily a career high, while his quarterback rating dipped to 73.1, easily his career low. Other issues such as a tepid running game also set the offense back, but Flacco missed open receivers, lost his long-ball touch and warranted his share of blame for the unit's ranking near the bottom of the league. After a lot of wins culminating in a Super Bowl MVP performance, he had a tough time.
Now he has a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterbacks coach and several new receivers, generating excitement about what the offense might accomplish going forward. That's why people want Flacco to get his receivers together, to get the process going. But while a few other quarterbacks occasionally throw to their guys in April, there's no evidence it makes one whit of difference. I keep hearing about Ben Roethlisberger, but Mark Sanchez did it with the Jets a few years ago. How did that work out?
I'm not saying it's a bad idea to build camaraderie in April. I'm sure the Ravens' front office would love for Flacco to spend his free time organizing practices. Bosses love that. And Flacco reportedly looked into it, only to find that, gasp, guys had other things to do during their time off, like go to college and start families. Many live elsewhere. Getting them together is a lot like herding cats.
Should Flacco's commitment be doubted as a result? I've heard that suggestion, and honestly, it's absurd. He's a quarterback, not a social director – a quarterback who has never missed a start in six seasons, playing through several injuries. He even played on the day his wife delivered their second child. And Flacco regularly attends voluntary practices and camps, unlike some guys who were regarded as great leaders in their days with the Ravens.
Let's be clear: Flacco is more than sufficiently committed. And he and his receivers will have all the time they need to build chemistry. They'll spend hundreds of hours together in 2014. By December, when the Ravens are playing in swirling snow, any thoughts about unsupervised spring workouts are 100 percent, slam-dunk guaranteed to be completely forgotten, long consigned to the dustbin of mindless debates.