Why the Ravens Quarterback 'Controversy' Is So Overblown
The sporadic downpours in Baltimore, nor yesterday's first day off since training camp began, have done nothing to dampen the media's red-hot Ravens quarterback debate.
(Editor's note: We really didn't want to talk more about the quarterbacks today, but it's pretty much all anyone is talking about.)
There continues to be a disconnect between how the local and national media perceive the Ravens' quarterback situation. Take this as an example:
Perhaps that's why safety Eric Weddle told The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec that, "people on the outside that think that this isn't Joe's team or there is a quarterback controversy, they need to come out and watch practice."
Zrebiec, who has been at every practice, gave his own take on the situation, saying "in a year where jobs are on the line and the Ravens need to win, a healthy and engaged Flacco gives the organization the best chance to immediately do that."
"If Jackson starts a game at quarterback this season, it will almost surely be because Flacco is either hurt or the team's season has become a lost cause and they start evaluating for the future," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens remain Flacco's team, for better or worse."
Flacco has been outstanding thus far in camp. He's moving better than he has in a long time and he's throwing the ball extremely well. Now armed with better targets, Flacco is putting in extra work to get on the same page with them and appears ready for an improved season.
Word is starting to spread, even to those who aren't watching practice.
"I talked to someone today from Baltimore camp who said they've never seen Joe Flacco like this – ever," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said on "The Rich Eisen Show."
"Meaning [Flacco] is embracing this challenge, he is bouncing around, staking his turf. I'm not saying it in a bad way. … I'm talking about Joe Flacco showing up in shape, wanting to make sure that the team knows that he is still the quarterback and eager to embrace this thing and get his team back into the playoffs."
While Flacco looks good, Jackson's practice highlights have also intrigued a lot of fans and media members. His bomb to rookie wide receiver Jordan Lasley spread like wildfire.
But beyond the highlights, it's clear that Jackson is still learning the position and working on the mechanics of being an NFL quarterback.
"Jackson has been as advertised through the various offseason practices," Zrebiec wrote. "He wows teammates and coaches with his athleticism and his ability out of the pocket. But he remains a work-in progress with his arm. Each practice, he'll make one or two highlight-reel type throws. However, he's still fighting consistency issues, as you'd expect from a rookie quarterback. He struggles on some intermediate throws, lacking touch at times. And many of his throws still come out with a wobble."
As Zrebiec added, "nothing the Ravens have seen thus far in Jackson has been surprising or disappointing." Baltimore's coaches were clear from the start that they plan to give him time to develop at quarterback while finding ways to utilize his unique playmaking ability as a runner/thrower immediately.
Just don't make too much of stories like this …
"Lamar is also a weapon for us, who can play quarterback," Head Coach John Harbaugh told the Toronto Sun's John Kryk. "And we're going to play Lamar at quarterback … So we're going to play all of our good players. I don't see why we wouldn't."
The fact that Jackson could play quarterback this season doesn't mean he's taking Flacco's job. As Harbaugh said, Jackson is "doing a lot of things."
"I mean, [Jackson] could be quarterback and Joe could be a wide receiver. We'll see how it goes. Throw Joe a fade — he's tall," Harbaugh said before a chuckle. "I'm just kidding."
At the end of the day, the fact that both quarterbacks are drawing positive reviews through one week of training camp is only a good thing.
"To me, Baltimore kind of has the best of all worlds right now," Davis said. "And a lot of this will be dictated by how the season unfolds."
La Canfora: 2018 Season Will Be Flacco's Last in Baltimore – No Matter What
The tougher thing to project than the Ravens' 2018 starting quarterback is Baltimore's 2019 starter.
Obviously, the Ravens feel Jackson will be ready to be a starting quarterback at some point or they wouldn't have spent a first-round pick on him. However, Flacco is under contract through 2021. Jackson's rookie contract also runs out in 2021, with an option for a fifth year.
When could Baltimore make the switch?
The best-case-scenario for the Ravens is if Flacco has a monster comeback season and catches fire like he did in 2012 when he bet on himself in a contract year.
But even if that happens, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora expects that 2018 will be Flacco's last in Baltimore – no matter what.
"He's the healthiest he's been in a long time. And that will bode well for him, and that will bode well for them," La Canfora told the Pick Six podcast.
"But in the end, if he has a nice, decent season, it just bodes well for a trade. I don't see them paying Joe Flacco another $25 million next year and having him count another $27 million against their cap."
La Canfora points out that next offseason would be the first time the Ravens can save money ($10.5 million, per Spotrac), by parting ways with Flacco. However, if the two sides split after the 2019 season, it would leave just $8 million in dead cap space and be about a $20 million cap savings.
"This was always an inflection point in this contract. It was always a three-year deal," La Canfora said.
My two cents is the Ravens would hold onto Flacco for at least one more year if he has a monster season and leads the Ravens back (and far) into the playoffs.
Even if Jackson got two seasons to develop as a quarterback, that's not unheard of (Aaron Rodgers sat for three years), and he would still have essentially three years on his rookie contract while the Ravens would take a much smaller salary cap hit.
Ravens Face Toughest Divisions in Each Conference
The AFC North has always been a grueling division to play in, but the Ravens are going to face even bigger challenges this season, according to CBS Sports' John Breech.
Breech ranked all eight NFL divisions. While the AFC North came in at No. 6, the Ravens will also face each conference's toughest division as well.
Baltimore will play every team in the NFC South, which Breech ranked as the hardest division in football, and every team in the AFC West, which came in at No. 4 and atop the AFC.
The NFC South – comprised of the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – sent three teams to the playoffs last year, which no NFC division had done since 2007.
"Although it's going to be hard to top what this division did last season, it might actually happen, and that's because you could argue all three of these teams got better," Breech wrote, referring to the Falcons, Saints and Panthers.
Breech gave the top AFC spot to the West – made up of the Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos – because "it feels like the one division in the conference where any team could finish .500 or above, or even win it, and yes, that includes the Broncos, who went just 5-11 last year."
The Baltimore Sun Rolls Out Ray Lewis Content
Last night, we launched the first chapter of our Ray Lewis Countdown to Canton, which will document the Pro Football Hall of Famer's illustrious career from start to finish, including videos and photos you've never seen before.
The Baltimore Sun also rolled out a lineup of Lewis content that I also strongly recommend you clicking through to check out. Here's a teaser from each piece:
Childs Walker: "[Ray Lewis] really did arrive in a city for which pro football represented abandoned dreams and create a new rallying point for the populace. Lewis proved to be the perfect emblem for his adopted home base — underestimated, messy and defiant.
"When he takes his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 4, he'll be celebrated by a nation of football fans as one of the greatest ever. But for Baltimore, the occasion will feel more personal."
- 14 – Seasons he led the Ravens in tackles
- 20 – Career fumble recoveries, the most in Ravens history
- 31 – Career interceptions, second most in Ravens history
- 228 – Career games played, most by a Raven
- 2,643 – Career tackles, the most by a Raven
From former teammate Tony Siragusa: "We were playing Tennessee one year in Tennessee, and I'm going down the line occupying two guys. I take them both down and force [Titans running back] Eddie George into the B-gap where Ray was going to be. I didn't see him tackle Eddie George; I heard it. Ray hit him so hard, it took the wind out of him. I didn't mind taking on two guys as long as Ray kept knocking the wind out of people. By the second half, people had to decide if they were still going to double me or double Ray, and that's when I would get my tackles. I'm not sure Eddie George ever finished a game against us because of Ray."
From Owner Steve Bisciotti: "Really, more than anything, the thing he probably gets very little credit for is the father he is. It's not easy having a split family, but as I got to know him or when I saw him at his house when he would have his Ray's Summer Days, his kids were always there. Every single time I talked to him, every day off he ever had, he was flying to Orlando. If we had a bye week and he had five days off, he was in Orlando with his children or they were up with him. And they've all gone on to college. He's as close to the first as he is to the last."
From General Manager Ozzie Newsome: "You can't replace him, you just can't. You couldn't replace Willie Mays. Certain guys like Bill Russell, they can't be replaced. We have not been looking for the next Ray Lewis because there will never be another one."
- Wide receiver Breshad Perriman has gone from a first-round pick to "Ravens' fans public enemy No. 1." Perriman has dealt with many harsh critics over his three difficult NFL seasons, and now has six weeks to prove himself and make the roster. Perriman said his future is a "scary topic." [ESPN]
- The Ravens may still have to add another veteran offensive lineman to bolster their depth, just as they have last summer with late-preseason trades. [The Athletic]
- Rookie wide receiver Jordan Lasley has displayed an emotional side on the field, both when things are going well and not so well. "The Ravens figure to be patient with him given his ability," wrote Zrebiec. [The Athletic]
- Here's updates on key Ravens position battles one week into training camp. [Aaron Kasinitz/Penn Live]
- German Football League import Christopher Ezeala is getting his first taste of American football with the Ravens. [Don Markus/The Baltimore Sun]