Ravens' Top Offseason Job: Help Joe Flacco Play At Top-Tier Level

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There's only one Tom Brady in the world, but there's no doubt the Ravens would like to get their guy, Joe Flacco, playing at a Brady-like level.

On Monday, Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked whether the Ravens' three losing seasons over the past four years is a result of having a quarterback gobbling up a large chunk of the salary cap, limiting the teams' ability to retain key free agents or sign others off the market.

"Yes, there is no question about it," Harbaugh said before outlining the two scenarios that successful teams typically have.

Either a team has the young quarterback who is playing well on his cheaper rookie deal with other established veterans around him, or a team has a high-priced quarterback who essentially carries the team. Yes, he takes up a lot of salary space, but he is supposed to raise the level of those lower-priced players around him.

"[It is] that quarterback that is 'that guy' – that legendary type of guy – the Tom Brady's of the world," Harbaugh elaborated.

So what do the Ravens have in Flacco?

"We have a quarterback and he is in that level of compensation, so we need to get him playing at that level," Harbaugh said.

"Putting the group around him and putting the scheme around him that puts him into that place – that is where we are at. That is what we have to get done, because we are paying our quarterback."

Flacco reportedly had the fourth-highest salary-cap hit in the NFL this season at $22.13 million. That's more than Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers ($22 million), Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger ($21.85)* *and Brady ($20.5 million).

Yet Flacco had the NFL's 24th-best quarterback rating (83.5), in which he threw for a career-high 4,317 yards but tossed 15 interceptions to 20 touchdowns. Flacco ranked 30th in NFL quarterback rating in 2015, 16th in 2014 and 32nd in 2013.

The Ravens signed Flacco to his first mega-deal after his historic Super Bowl run, which coincided with the end of his rookie contract. Since then, Flacco hasn't posted top-tier production.

Not all of that is Flacco's fault, however, leading to a reporter's question Monday about how the Ravens plan to help their franchise quarterback more this offseason.

"That is really job No. 1 right now," Harbaugh said. "It does start with Joe. It starts with your quarterback. We need our quarterback to be playing at a level that changes the game in positive ways for us and makes a big difference."

So how do the Ravens get Flacco playing better? Harbaugh said he and Flacco talked about that at-length Monday before players departed for the offseason.

Here are some of the ways:

Coaching Improvements

Harbaugh announced that the Ravens are keeping Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and part of that is because he gels well with Flacco and it maintains continuity on offense. Flacco has had five different coordinators in five years.

But Harbaugh also wants to improve the coaching, which is why he's looking to add a creative mind in the offensive meeting room. Flacco didn't have a quarterbacks coach for much of the season after Mornhinweg was promoted to offensive coordinator. Harbaugh is currently considering candidates.

"It's not a one-man show. It's a staff," Harbaugh said. "I want to put a great staff together, including the guys that we have, who have done a great job, so we can be creative, and we can be the kind of offense that can do all the things we need to do –  run and pass [and] score a bunch of points."

Harbaugh also said the Ravens need to run the ball more effectively and more often after the set franchise lows in rushing attempts each of the past two seasons (367 this season).

Better Offensive Line

An offense is often only as good as its front line, and the Ravens need to do a better job of making Flacco feel comfortable.

Flacco was sacked 33 times this year, which is in the middle of the pack at 15th-most in the NFL. He was under pressure 31 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus, and had the eighth-worst quarterback rating in those situations.

There was a very clear difference this season in Flacco's play when left tackle Ronnie Stanley and/or right guard Marshal Yanda weren't on the field. The Ravens lost all four games Stanley missed. Flacco had his worst day against the New York Jets when both were out.

"I want to be great up front, and that is what we are shooting for," Harbaugh said.

Healthier Knee, Better Chemistry

Going hand-in-hand with the offensive line is Flacco's health. This year, he was coming off season-ending knee surgery, which kept him out of all summer practices until training camp. He played in just part of one preseason game.

While Flacco didn't want to make any excuses about his knee this season, he admitted after the final game that his health may have been an issue.

"I have to go back to work and get back in the weight room and continue to throw the football and do all the things you would normally do in a regular offseason," Flacco said.

"I still think I have a little bit of work to do with getting everything back to the way it was, and this offseason will be a huge opportunity to do just that."

Without offseason rehab, Flacco can put in extra work with his receiving weapons this offseason. Flacco said Monday that he would like to get together at or around the Under Armour Performance Center. He and wide receiver Breshad Perriman, among others, could use work on their timing and routes together.

"We have some young wide receivers, and I think just giving them a little bit of a schedule in the offseason can be a good thing," Flacco said.

More Playmaking Weapons

Flacco has been clear that he wants to have more big plays. The best offenses often don't plod all the way down the field drive after drive. They get yardage in chunks.

The Ravens got some of those explosive plays from free-agent addition Mike Wallace, who led the league with five catches of 50 yards or more, but the Ravens were 27th in the league in big plays of 20 yards or more (48).

While Wallace hit the most home runs, veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. hit the most doubles. Smith led the Ravens with 12 catches of 20 or more yards and had the most receiving touchdowns (five). He was still perhaps their top playmaker at age 37, but just retired from the game.

Thus, Harbaugh said the Ravens need to not only replace Smith with a sure-handed, chain-moving "possession" receiver like Smith, especially if pending free agent Kamar Aiken leaves, but they need another playmaker.

In addition to Wallace's big-play threat, Baltimore has Perriman, a rising sophomore first-round speedster, who Harbaugh said he still believes has the potential to become a true No. 1 wide receiver but has a long way to go. That may not be enough.

The Ravens could add an offensive playmaker elsewhere, such as running back. Harbaugh said the Ravens need a third tailback and that he has a "pretty good idea of the type of back we want to add."

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