Eisenberg: The Approach to Joe Flacco Has Changed


In and of itself, the Ravens' decision to add Robert Griffin III probably isn't a huge deal. Chances are slim that he'll ever be anything more than Joe Flacco's backup. It's not even a certainty that he'll make the 53-man roster.

There's still plenty of buzz about the move because Griffin is a big name, a former high draft pick who has generated positive and negative headlines for years. But I don't see the buzz as commensurate with Griffin's likely impact on the 2018 Ravens.

Nonetheless, that doesn't mean the move should simply be dismissed. It's quite interesting when viewed as part of what I perceive as the Ravens' altered handling of Flacco and their quarterback situation this offseason.

Until recently, you never heard a team official question whether anyone other than Flacco would ever step under center, at least in the foreseeable future. There was only steadfast support for the quarterback who had won a Super Bowl. Whenever Flacco fell short of expectations, the team's decision-makers tended to cite extenuating circumstances such as injuries or his supporting cast, and expressed confidence that better times lay ahead.

To be clear, they're still professing great confidence in Flacco this offseason, even after his modest-at-best performance in 2017. "We're a long way off from having to worry about Joe," Owner Steve Bisciotti said in February.

But ever so subtly, things have changed.

For starters, team officials have done nothing to tamp down the hype about the Ravens possibly using their 2018 first-round pick on a quarterback – a move that would clearly signal change in the offing. It's a scenario the Ravens would have dismissed as pointless even to discuss before, but several major draft analysts have predicted it, and those analysts often tap their contacts in organizations before making their projections, so I'm guessing there's some conversational basis.

When asked about the possibility last week, GM Ozzie Newsome said, "We will grade the players, set the board, and if there's a quarterback that we feel that we can pick at any of our picks, we'll do it."

Not exactly a denial.

Is it just typical pre-draft smoke, intended to confuse others about the Ravens' intentions? That's possible.

But I can cite other examples of what I see as a shift in the organization's handling of Flacco.

While team officials always compliment his commitment, a segment of the fan base has complained, louder and louder, about him not getting together with his receivers in the offseason to work on developing chemistry – a strategy some quarterbacks use. Now I'm hearing the team say it.

"Before practice, after practice, in the offseason … we've heard all those stories. That's what it takes. For Joe to have those guys, and to get with those guys, that's what we expect," Head Coach John Harbaugh told reporters at a league meeting last month.

My reading of that is the team telling him: We're doing everything we can to improve our passing game, and we'd like to see you do everything you can, too.

That's new, and in a way, so is the Griffin signing.

Although he was out of the league in 2017, Griffin was a star early in his career and, no doubt, still wants to start. I'm sure he still envisions himself as capable of that role, which is a departure from Ryan Mallett, who was Flacco's backup for the past two years and well aware his future lay in the shadows.

As noted, the chances of Griffin challenging for the No. 1 job are exceedingly slim, but the fact that he's hungry, and that the Ravens want a guy so hungry, changes the atmosphere in the quarterbacks' meeting room.

Flacco's mega-contract ensures that he'll be the starter for at least another year, and I don't know if the Ravens are trying to motivate him or are just being realistic now that their most important player is 33 and hasn't performed up to his pay grade lately. Maybe both.

In any case, it seems the Ravens don't mind admitting that their future at quarterback isn't as obvious as it was a year ago, and that, in itself, is breaking news.

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