The Baltimore Ravens went on a magnificent run during the 2012 season that culminated in the franchise’s second World Championship. Led by quarterback Joe Flacco who had a stellar romp through the playoffs, John Harbaugh’s troops overcame the odds and won 4 consecutive playoff games (three as underdogs) to capture The Lombardi.
Flacco, free from the seemingly binding chains of former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, flourished and as an unrestricted free agent and his timing couldn’t have been better. Flacco cashed in to the tune of a then record-setting $120.6 million contract.
Owner Steve Bisciotti and the team’s front office bet on Flacco, believing that he had turned the corner and was that franchise quarterback they longed for – and they paid him accordingly.
But this season, many of those old, forgettable habits are rearing their ugly heads again. The attack mode that characterized the postseason offense, led by Flacco, has vanished and they are once again stuck in first gear – their struggles perhaps more pronounced than ever.
There are a multitude of problems contributing to the league’s 30th ranked offense. The line has been a sieve and it has grounded the ground game. Wide receivers not named Torrey Smith have been rather pedestrian and struggle to gain separation. Tight ends are virtually stealth, hardly seen and rarely impactful.
The offensive schemes have been questioned, and justifiably so. Juan Castillo’s zone blocking schemes have been embraced as enthusiastically as a vampire yearns for sunlight. Jim Caldwell seems to have unleashed his inner Cam Cameron and the resulting offense is about as cutting edge as an 8-track player.
And it begs the question, “Why?”
Is it personnel? Is it the head coach’s preferred modus operandi?
Is it the quarterback?
Were the Ravens so intoxicated by that 5 game stretch of Flacco’s last season that they were willing to use that small body of work as the basis for his record setting contract and ignore the inconsistencies of the previous 78 games?
Those inconsistencies are back as are a few of his alarming tendencies that should be in the distant rearview mirror for a 6-year starter in the NFL.
- He stares down receivers
- He forces passes into tight coverage
- He predetermines where he’s going with the ball prior to the snap
- He lacks the field and pocket awareness of top quarterbacks
- He too often takes a sack that removes the possibility of a field goal
These aren’t the qualities of a franchise quarterback. Nor are these daunting statistics:
* 5th highest interception total in the NFL
Flacco defenders will point to the other weaknesses on offense as the primary culprits to these dismal statistics and with good reason. However quarterbacks paid much less on equally, perhaps even more challenged offenses are performing better than Flacco – the Bills, Dolphins, Cardinals, Browns, Titans, Panthers, Rams and Bucs come to mind.
Might Steve Bisciotti be suffering from buyer’s remorse?
Unfortunately the owner’s investment didn’t come with a money back guarantee and if Flacco and the Ravens offense don’t get things fixed, the big-armed Super Bowl XLVII MVP could become a noose around the franchise’s neck.
We’ve all heard that Flacco’s deal has been written more like a 3-year contract due to the $28.55M cap figure that waits in 2016. Conventional thinking is that the exorbitant cap number would trigger an extension for Flacco BUT… if he’s not worthy of extending and therefore not worthy of having a $28.55M cap number, they may really have no choice but to release him and take the cap killing hit.
Given the healthy size of his signing bonus ($29M paid last March) and the $15M bonus that he’s going to get this coming Spring, the Ravens aren’t really going to be able to “easily” get out from under the deal should he continue to not perform to the level of his contract, until 2016.
But even then, while saving $2.7M in cap space, they would still be forced to carry almost $26M in dead money against the Cap and given the team’s history, that’s not likely to happen.
The Ravens could potentially make him a June 1, 2015 release, again should he continue to underperform, but that would clear only $4M in cap space for 2015, and still cost them the close to $26M against the Cap in 2016. Since he would not be terribly expensive (for a QB) in 2015 (@ $14.55M), the Ravens would probably give him the 2015 season to continue to re-establish his contract-worthiness.
2017 is really the first year that it would be reasonable – from a cap perspective – to release Flacco and create $15M in cap space (but “only” have to carry $15M in dead money).
Flacco’s new deal ONLY made sense IF he performs at the 2012 postseason level. Otherwise it could stall the franchise. So far the signs aren’t good and there’s really no way that they can get out from under Flacco’s new deal any time soon.
Therefore in order to get their money’s worth, the Ravens will have to spend more to protect their investment yet available cap dollars won’t come easy. Both starting tackles are unrestricted free agents and the team doesn’t have a tight end under contract for 2014.
Plus the team can’t ignore the defense. Arthur Jones is practically playing himself off the roster with his ascent and the vastly improved Jimmy Smith is up for a new contract after the 2014 season.
It’s a conundrum of sorts for sure, leaving the Ravens with little choice other than to lean on next year’s draft and their current young offensive players like Ricky Wagner, Ryan Jensen, Gino Gradkowski, Marlon Brown, Deonte Thompson, Kyle Juszczyk and Matt Furstenburg to perform well.
Of course Flacco playing to the level of his pay might help too but outside of those unforgettable performances to close out the 2012 season, the signal caller’s body of work has been average to above average.
And unfortunately that just doesn’t measure up to his elite pay.
NOTE: There is one unknown variable and that is whether the 2015 Option bonus of $7M is “fully” guaranteed or perhaps only guaranteed for injury. If only for injury, they could release him in March of 2015 – before paying the $7M bonus – and increase the above Cap savings on 2015 to $5.75M which reduces the 2016 dead money down to around $21M. If things do not get better before then, let’s hope that that bonus is guaranteed for injury only.
Brian McFarland contributed to this article.