The Ravens are expecting more out of Joe Flacco going forward.
Maybe that isn't breaking news, but I hadn't heard it expressed before, at least not as directly as it was at the team's year-in-review press conference Tuesday.
The Ravens' decision-makers spoke nicely and reasonably about their quarterback, without issuing dares or making their comments personal. They actually praised Flacco, expressing support and confidence that he would, in fact, play better in 2017.
Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti went so far as to provide perspective, pointing out that Head Coach John Harbaugh and General Manger Ozzie Newsome also could do their jobs better for a team that has reached the playoffs just once in the past four seasons.
Asked what he would say to fans to indicate he thought a return to the playoffs was possible in 2017, Bisciotti said, "I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and Eric (DeCosta) can draft better. I think Joe can play better. If we get that, I think you're looking a playoff-caliber team."
Bisciotti added, "I'm not any more critical of Joe than I am of these guys," pointing to the others on the dais.
But while the day's conversation touched on other subjects, it always came back to the Ravens quarterback.
Asked if the major knee injury Flacco suffered in 2015 impacted his timing and accuracy in 2016, Bisciotti said, "I think it did." Asked about other veterans who came back from injuries to play well in 2016, such as Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr., Bisciotti said, "Joe's going to have to prove that he's back and he's better. Some of those (other) guys already did."
In sum, Bisciotti said, "I'm confident Joe is going to be better next year than he was, and that's the biggest thing on the offensive side of the ball. We need to get more out of Joe."
As noted, that isn't an outside-the-box assessment. Although Flacco surpassed 4,000 passing yards in a season for the first time in 2016, he finished No. 24 in the NFL in quarterback rating. His footwork, decision-making and accuracy were shaky at times. He tossed 15 interceptions, the second-highest total of his career. Known for his big arm, he seemed quick to settle for checkdown and crossing routes.
Honestly, it goes without saying that Flacco, who signed a contract extension with a $40 million signing bonus a year ago, needs to perform more like the signature player he is. That's what many fans said as the 2016 season unfolded, and with their comments Tuesday, the Ravens basically said, "I hear ya."
But they also said they do NOT agree that Flacco, 31, has plateaued and will never again be a quarterback who can lead a team deep into January – a concept some fans now support after watching him in 2016.
"Joe is going to be better next year, there's no doubt in my mind,' Harbaugh said. "We're looking to have him playing high-level football next year."
OK, what's going to change? According to the Ravens, Flacco will benefit from participating in offseason drills this year, as opposed to sitting them out while he rehabbed his knee a year ago. It also should help that he's another year removed from the injury, which impacted him early in the 2016 season, the Ravens believe.
Most importantly, the Ravens have pledged to be smarter "around" Flacco, which, more than anything, means committing to a more sensible run-pass balance, as opposed to the pass-happy scheme that has prevailed the past two seasons.
"I think it's bad," Bisciotti said of the lack of a running game.
Newsome said Tuesday that bolstering the offensive line and finding a productive veteran receiver were two of the team's three top offseason priorities. (Bolstering the secondary being the other.) Pretty much everything happening on that side of the ball is geared toward making Flacco happier. That's certainly why Marty Mornhinweg was retained as offensive coordinator. "My quarterback likes it," Harbaugh said of the move.
Given the scope of Flacco's contract, the Ravens have no choice but to move forward with him. But they're fine with that, it seems, still happy to have a franchise quarterback with a winning track record, as opposed to wandering the football desert in search of one – an unpleasant situation with which they're familiar.
They'll take this situation any day, especially given Flacco's nature. "If he were sitting here now, he'd say it's all on him, his footwork, his mechanics, it's all got to be better," Bisciotti said.
Better. That's what the Ravens want, and also what they expect.