As he wrapped up his immediate post-selection interviews, former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, taken with the final selection in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, promised that the Baltimore Ravens (who traded up to grab him) were going to get a Super Bowl win from him.
Then, as the camera panned away from him, he continued to stare squarely down the middle of the camera, with a look that told every single viewer in America that he truly meant every word he said, and that if anyone believed otherwise, they’d be doing so at their own risk.
Here’s a revealing fact: since Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2012 regular season, Baltimore’s record has been 40-40. They have literally been the definition of mediocrity over the past five seasons, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve been eliminated from postseason contention in four of those five years.
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As with any football team, there are numerous reasons for this performance. Baltimore’s offensive line was totally rebuilt. So was their secondary. They’ve thrown a myriad of draft picks and free agent dollars at the running back position, with little return on investment (ROI). They’ve continued to have one of the most beleaguered groups of wide receivers of any NFL team.
But none of these issues surpass the most clear and obvious reason for this team’s struggles: the performance of incumbent quarterback Joe Flacco.
In four of the past five seasons, Flacco has failed to throw for more than 20 touchdown passes in a season; by comparison, sixteen different quarterbacks did so this past season. At any point in time when Joe Flacco was the quarterback of the Ravens, the team has not ranked among the top 10 teams in the NFL in yards per game. Flacco’s passer rating has been below 85.0 in four of the past five seasons; by comparison, 19 different quarterbacks had a passer rating of over 85 this past season.
But the most revealing statistic might be the fact that Flacco has the fourth-highest cap hit of any quarterback in the NFL this season, counting for almost 14% of the Ravens’ total salary cap alone (his salary cap for the 2018-2019 season will be $24.5 million). If the Ravens choose to release Flacco after this upcoming season, they’ll save upwards of $10 million in cap space the following year, and upwards of $19 million the year after that.
That fits in perfectly with the progression plan the Ravens will likely have for Jackson. They’ll effectively consider this year his professional “redshirt” year, with him ready to take over the starting job in 2019. That will only work in Jackson’s favor, especially as the Ravens continue to build an offense with young pieces around him, including a pair of young offensive tackles (Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis); running back Alex Lewis (something of a breakout player last year); wide receivers Chris Moore and John Brown (and Breshad Perriman, if he pans out); and tight ends like Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, who join Jackson in this year’s draft class.