Of all the moves the Ravens have made this offseason, the Matt Schaub signing has surprised me the most.
There's a decent chance it will impact the team the least, given how little Joe Flacco's backups have played over the years; Flacco has never missed a start since becoming the Ravens' No. 1 quarterback in 2008.
But that's exactly why I found the Schaub signing so surprising.
Facing tighter-than-usual salary cap circumstances this year, partly due to owing more than $20 million in "dead money" to players no longer on the roster, the Ravens need to save wherever possible, exhibit extreme judiciousness. With that relatively precarious situation in mind, I didn't expect them to invest too much in a roster spot where, let's face it, the guy is unlikely to play. They had gone with a young, relatively inexpensive backup quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, since 2011.
Yet they reportedly gave Schaub a one-year deal worth $2 million, a decent chunk of cap space. Incentives in the deal reportedly could push it to $3 million.
Just to clarify, this is something the Ravens have NEVER really done in the Flacco era.
In 2008 and 2009, Flacco's first two seasons, his backup was Troy Smith, a former sixth-round pick who didn't exactly break the bank. In 2010, they gave Marc Bulger $3 million, but there was no salary cap that year due to a labor impasse, so a high-priced backup was an affordable luxury that didn't force them to make hard choices and possibly cut corners at other positions. Then Taylor took over the backup role as a rookie in 2011 and earned slightly more in four years than Schaub will earn in 2015.
Bottom line, this is the first time they've fit a fairly expensive backup quarterback under a tight cap. It's pretty much a complete about-face for the Ravens on their approach to the No. 2 quarterback job.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome hasn't offered his rationale, but it's not hard to discern. By backing up Flacco with quarterbacks who had talent but little experience, the Ravens sorely tempted the football fates. An injury to Flacco in any season may well have wrecked the Ravens' prospects.
They got away with it because Flacco is big, strong and tough, as durable as any quarterback the pro game has seen. And while he offered no indication whatsoever in 2014 that he's any more vulnerable to injury than before, he did turn 30 a couple of months ago. Yes, that's just a number, potentially as relevant as the color of his wristbands, but with their franchise quarterback now on the north side of the big three-oh, the Ravens probably decided they had rolled the dice long enough.
Admittedly, their prospects for 2015 would still take a serious hit if Flacco goes down with an injury that causes him to miss a sizable chunk of the season. No team can lose such an important puzzle piece for that long without experiencing repercussions.
But if the injury scenario is that Flacco only has to sit out a few games – the likelier prospect, given his durability -- the Ravens have a better chance to win some games and survive the situation with Schaub, an accomplished veteran, as opposed to a younger signal caller with little experience.
Schaub, 33, had a long, productive run as the Houston Texans' quarterback under Gary Kubiak. He won a lot of games, rolled up a lot of passing yards, made the Pro Bowl twice.
Some analysts are wondering if he has anything left, a fair question considering that he trailed off badly in 2013, his last year in Houston, and then couldn't beat out a rookie last year in Oakland.
But one of the most underrated determinants of a quarterback's performance is his surroundings. They can make a major difference. And Schaub recently toiled only for teams falling apart.
I don't know for sure that he would fare better when surrounded by a sure-handed, playoff-caliber team like the Ravens, running an offense he knows well, but I suspect that's the case, especially if the Ravens continue to run the ball as effectively as they did in 2014.
Schaub might not be that Pro Bowl guy anymore, but if the question is whether he can step in and win a few games, I'm thinking his chances are decent.
I'm surprised the Ravens made the move to sign him, but I get it.