The Ravens' decision to re-invest in Joe Flacco is the easiest decision they'll make in this offseason.
Even if doing it as he rehabs a major knee injury is at least a bit unsettling, there are all sorts of reasons why the move makes sense. Head Coach John Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome outlined many of those reasons at the press conference announcing Flacco's contract extension last week.
Since it's familiar terrain, I won't go over it in depth again. Here's the quick version: NFL teams basically are divided into two groups, those that are set under center and those that aren't, and if you're set, you actually have a chance to get big things accomplished, unlike if you aren't set. What's the saying? You can't put a price tag on that.
Flacco, like any quarterback, has ups and downs, but big picture, he gives the Ravens currency and stability where they need it most.
Even though they scouted, drafted and developed him, they're fortunate he's there. The alternative – instability under center – is a discouraging condition, which is why so many teams throw money at just-decent-looking quarterbacks even before they start winning. Flacco is a surer investment, having already shown he can take a team all the way.
See? Easy decision.
But there's always a yin to the yang, right? Now that their easiest decision is in the rear-view mirror, the Ravens are looking down the road at some tough decisions.
Coming off a 5-11 season, they're hoping to get back into the playoff race in 2016. A second straight losing campaign would not send a desirable message.
With a high draft slot and a bit of newfound salary-cap space, mostly courtesy of Flacco's deal, they're in position to make some gainful moves. But they have big calls to make. How do they utilize their cap flexibility when free agency begins Wednesday? Do they draft for defense or offense with their first-round pick late next month?
I'm on record supporting the idea that the No. 6 overall pick offers a rare and great chance to add a standout defensive playmaker, another young cornerstone to go with C.J. Mosley and Brandon Williams, among others. But Flacco's extension re-emphasizes the point that he's the face of the team, that the Ravens are going to go as he goes, which means:
- If the standout defensive playmakers are gone by the time the Ravens pick at No. 6, there's nothing wrong with them taking a blind-side offensive tackle that (they hope) they can pencil in for the next decade. Think of it this way: Now that they've made the big purchase, their version of a flat screen or a boat, they need to take out the insurance policy. It's dull but certainly necessary.
- Along the same lines, if they lose their top free agent, Kelechi Osemele, some of that cap space needs to be invested in protecting Flacco, i.e., the offensive line. (The Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings are making big plays for Osemele, according to media reports.)
- One way or another, they need to provide Flacco with new weapons. After investing in him, the next step is to put him in the best possible position to succeed. Right now, his supporting cast is rife with uncertainty, with Steve Smith Sr., Breshad Perriman, Crockett Gillmore and Justin Forsett all rehabbing injuries. Even though they're expected back, the question marks underscore the need for more depth and explosiveness among the team's stable of playmakers.
How to do it? The free-agent market contains potentially productive fits such as receivers Marvin Jones, Travis Benjamin and Mohamed Sanu, with more options likely to appear as teams shed salary before Wednesday's deadline to get under the cap. As for drafting a receiver, the odds are slim that the Ravens will do it in the first round after taking Perriman there a year ago, but they could easily add a plug-and-play guy in the second or third round.
Newsome was unambiguous on the subject when asked in January if he needed to add a receiver, basically answering, cough, how about two?
Now, for the sake of the quarterback they've invested in, the Ravens need to follow through on that thought.