The Ravens are generating plenty of interesting questions and issues as their 2013 training camp gets underway, but one that's getting a lot of attention should be removed from the conversation and put to bed.
This whole discussion about who is the "face of the franchise" now that Ray Lewis is gone? That case is closed, folks. The decision is in.
Joe Flacco is the face of the Ravens. Isn't it obvious?
He might not be the team's best player. (Hard to top Marshal Yanda or Ray Rice.) He certainly isn't the team's most charismatic player. (Terrell Suggs in a landslide.) But he's the big-armed quarterback who brought home a Super Bowl, and with Lewis retired, Flacco will most come to the minds of football fans across the country when they think of the Ravens.
Honestly, no one else is close.
In a sport dominated by quarterbacks, one who earns Super Bowl MVP honors and signs a $120.6 million contract is automatically going to be a bigger star, more of a newsmaker and just a lot more interesting to the public than any of his coaches or teammates, regardless of who they are or what they do.
The "face of the Ravens" debate is a no-brainer, as obvious as the new Vince Lombardi Trophy perched in the lobby of the Under Armour Performance Center.
It's the guy who is on the cover of the league's official Record and Fact Book for 2013 (the first Raven to make the cover); the guy whose abilities are endlessly debated by the national talking heads (yes, still); the guy who might be low-key but is such a name now that he can't even go through a McDonald's drive-thru window without making news.
The Ravens aren't losing any sleep over this, mind you. I had to laugh at Head Coach John Harbaugh's direct response when he was asked earlier this week if he had been thinking about "who will become the face and the voice" of his team.
"I've given it no thought whatsoever," Harbaugh said.
Can you blame him? Identifying a face won't help him win games. But it's a persistent talking point because the iconic Lewis was such a towering presence that we've wondered for years about how the Ravens would go forward once he was gone. Would they be able to function? Who would lead them? Who would represent them?
As recently as last season, it wasn't clear. Flacco had developed as a quarterback and won a lot of games, but he also had experienced his share of down moments and there was doubt about his ability to take the team all the way. Other players such as Rice and Suggs were more outgoing and thus viewed as more natural leaders.
But Flacco had been gradually developing into an assertive on-field leader all along. Fans who thought he was an emotionless follower obviously never saw the video segments in which he wore a microphone during games. He was very much in command, and far more emotional and demonstrative than people thought.
Now, after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl title, he is that much more polished, assured and professional – a winning veteran in his prime.
Is he an outgoing, bug-eyed shouter? No, and never will be. But remember, the face of the franchise isn't just the most demonstrative leader, as Lewis was. Leadership is a varied and complicated intangible in the structure of a team, and it always involves more than one player. The 2013 Ravens have a host of leaders on defense, including Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Jameel McClain, Lardarius Webb and Elvis Dumervil, as well as Rice and Yanda on offense as well as Flacco.
"Lots of leaders on this team," Ngata said Friday.
But the face of the team is a different creature – the centerpiece, the player whom people see as the heart of the team.
When an ESPN crew comes to town to broadcast a game this season, they're going to want to talk to Flacco to gauge the pulse of the team. Same with crews from NBC, the NFL Network and any media outlet wanting a few minutes with the player who best represents the Ravens.
Flacco is that guy now. Period, end of story.