Peter King: Joe Flacco Wants to Keep Lamar Jackson on the Bench
Ever since the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson, there's been a narrative that many in the media have theorized will play out: Joe Flacco will be the starter this season, but Jackson will start as soon as next year. Essentially, that Flacco is the quarterback of the present, and Jackson is the quarterback of the future.
NBC Sports' Peter King doesn't think that's how Flacco sees it happening.
During an interview on NFL Network's "The Rich Eisen Show," King dives into what he believes is Flacco's current mindset. In King's opinion, Flacco doesn't have plans to leave Baltimore anytime soon.
"He's supremely motivated to say, 'You draft a quarterback No. 1? I'm going to make him sit for the next five years,'" King said.
Well, that's certainly not the script the media assumed was being written.
King's rationale is that Flacco's approach to this season isn't that of a player who is unable to keep his job. Flacco has looked sharp during training camp, and followed it up by putting together an excellent drive during a limited appearance last Thursday against the Rams. This led Russell Street Report's Todd Karpovich to write "the veteran quarterback is poised to have his best year as a pro."
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal included Flacco among his NFL Preseason Winners for Week 1, even though he was playing against the Rams' backup defenders.
"It's possible to isolate players from their surroundings and their opponents, and it only takes two eyeballs to see Flacco looks better," Rosenthal wrote.
Flacco making way for Jackson to start next year has been viewed as a great scenario for the Ravens – Flacco gives Baltimore the best chance to win this season, and Jackson looks like he could use a season on the sidelines before becoming a starter.
Financially, however, the best scenario for Baltimore is Flacco playing at a high level and staying until his contract is up. According to Spotrac, Flacco is set to count $26.5 million against the salary cap next season (a slight increase from $25.75 million this season). Not bringing the then 34-year-old back for the 2019 season would save $10.5 million, but cutting ties with Flacco would also create a $16 million salary cap hit.
That would be a tremendous amount of money for one season, and a sizable sum if it was spaced out over two years, on a player that wouldn't be playing for Baltimore. If Flacco's encouraging play continues through this season, why move on from him and take a massive hit against your salary cap?
Another part of the equation is the development of Jackson, who the Ravens drafted to be a starting quarterback. King believes the Ravens will do what many have expected for this season and use Jackson as a "change of pace" quarterback at times, but that Flacco will get the majority of snaps.
"Joe Flacco is going to get the opportunity to keep him from …" King said, adding that he sees Jackson getting 10-12 snaps per game initially.
NFL Network's Brian Baldinger analyzed the game film of Jackson's performance against the Rams and noted a lot of positives from his home debut, including holding the safety with his eyes on a vertical route and reading the spy on the Ravens' run-pass-option plays.
Baldinger also looked at areas where Jackson can improve, particularly taking less hits.
"Lamar Jackson's got to learn how to live in the pocket, breathe in the pocket, scan the field in the pocket," Baldinger notes on a play when the rookie quarterback got excellent protection, but opted to try to run the ball. Jackson ultimately takes a big hit on the play, leading Baldinger to say, "if he can stop taking these kinds of hits, it'll go a long way to his development."
No doubt the Ravens will want to see what Jackson can do as a starter at some point. Just don't expect Flacco to give up his job easily.
Speaking About the Unspeakable: Ravens Are, Thus Far, Avoiding the Injury Bug
There's a sense of optimism surrounding the Ravens this preseason for a variety of reasons, ranging from the look of the team's revamped passing offense to the emergence of a few promising edge rushers. There's also another cause for excitement, but Head Coach John Harbaugh would rather not talk about it.
Harbaugh may not be pleased with ESPN after they noted the Ravens' fortuitous run with injuries so far in 2018. ESPN must not believe in jinxes …
Uh oh. Go find the nearest plank of wood you can find and knock your knuckles against it a few times!
All jokes aside, so much of which teams end up having strong seasons has to do with luck. Sure, some teams are able to overcome serious injuries and still succeed, but for the most part, the groups the talented teams that make the postseason are those that have avoided major injuries.
Teams that suffer a plethora of injuries before the regular season are usually at a great disadvantage, something the Ravens have dealt with in recent seasons. Last year was particularly gruesome, when the Ravens lost a multitude of players in the preseason that were expected to have big roles in 2017, including tight end Dennis Pitta, cornerback Tavon Young, offensive lineman Alex Lewis and running back Kenneth Dixon. Flacco dealt with a back injury for half the year and Marshal Yanda was lost in Week 2.
This year looks like it could be different despite having a longer training camp than usual.
"If this continues to pan out this way, this would be the healthiest the Ravens have been in a number of years," RavensWire's Matthew Stevens wrote.
That long training camp means the Ravens have had to be careful when players have suffered from injuries. "The plan from Baltimore has clearly been to rest guys with injuries until they are completely able to come back and be cautious with their returns," Stevens wrote.
"That strategy has paid off in a major way. Baltimore has managed to get back several of their starters who went on injured reserve last year while maintaining a good baseline of health through two preseason games."
While the Ravens' strategy (and work of Head Strength & Conditioning Steve Saunders) concerning injuries is clearly paying off, it'd probably be smart to not take any chances. So, whether it's knocking on wood, or whatever superstition you adhere to, go ahead and do it right now.
And please, whatever you do, don't talk any more about how healthy the Ravens currently are.
Michael Crabtree Ranked as NFL's Best Wide Receiver in Red Zone
When the Ravens signed Michael Crabtree this past offseason, they knew they were getting a touchdown machine. According to Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle, not only did the Ravens add a viable scoring threat, but the best red zone wide receiver in the NFL.
"Despite playing just 40 snaps in the red zone all last season, Crabtree hauled in seven of his 14 red-zone targets for 20 yards and five touchdowns with the Raiders a year ago, fueling his first-ranked offense grade (87.3) and third-ranked receiving grade (85.4) inside of the 20-yard line," Gayle wrote "He also didn't drop a single catchable pass thrown his way and caught three of his seven contested red-zone targets for touchdowns."
This is welcome news for Baltimore's passing attack.
Though Crabtree's total yardage took a dip last season, he still managed to find the endzone eight times. By comparison, last season tight end Benjamin Watson and wide receiver Mike Wallace tied to lead the Ravens in receiving touchdowns with four.
Crabtree has 25 touchdowns over his past three seasons, ranking among the league leaders.
Gayle predicts Crabtree will be Baltimore's main red zone threat this season, which should lead to exciting results for the Ravens.
"Crabtree should replace Wallace as the Ravens' go-to guy in the red zone and raise the bar in terms of production," Gayle wrote.
Jimmy Smith's Quiet Return a Huge Boost
Cornerback Jimmy Smith made just one play during Thursday's preseason victory against the Rams. If you weren't paying close attention, you may've missed it.
On the first play for Baltimore's defense, Smith quickly closed in on Rams wide receiver Mike Thomas after a 4-yard catch on a slant route. Smith produced a textbook open field tackle to finish the play.
It wasn't even close to the most noteworthy moment of the game, but as WNST's Luke Jones pointed out, it was a big deal for Smith, as well as the Ravens' defense.
"It was only nine defensive snaps, but no one expected Jimmy Smith to be playing this early in the preseason, a major credit to his rehab work," Jones wrote. "He moved well."
Initially, when Smith was ruled out for the remainder of the 2017 season with a torn Achilles on Dec. 3, there was some concern he'd miss the start of the 2018 season. That narrative changed during training camp, and Smith's first game appearance of 2018 adds to the belief that he'll be ready to play Week 1 of the regular season.
· Kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik was included in Good Morning Football's segment entitled "If you can do it, the NFL will find you." Peter Schrager loved Vedvik's story of falling in love with football while living in Norway. "Seven years ago, he's watching the Super Bowl, the first time they ever aired the Super Bowl in Norway. He said 'I want to do that,' and now he's in the NFL."
· Stevens put together his 53-man roster predictions. With nearly four weeks of practices and two preseason games having been played, Stevens thinks the Ravens are "already shaping up," but also notes "this can and will undoubtedly change with more practice time and some more live preseason games left to go."
· Baltimore Business Journal's Ryan Sharrow profiled some of the new upgrades that have been made to M&T Bank Stadium, including a new field level party suite.