After the writing was scripted on the wall leading up to the draft with head coach John Harbaugh’s intention to add competition for the backup quarterback position well-documented, the Baltimore Ravens took action when they selected Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning in the sixth round.
With Tyrod Taylor set to become a free agent after the 2014 season and Baltimore’s urge to upgrade the backup quarterback situation, addressing the problem now instead of next year gives Baltimore a head start on the process.
While Taylor is still under contract with the team for the season and has three years of experience in Baltimore including appearances in 13 games (albeit in extremely limited fashion), is his job safe?
Let’s address some of the scenarios the Ravens could implement with the Wenning-Tyrod dilemma and determine the validity.
THE RAVENS CAN CARRY THREE QUARTERBACKS
This is the instant reaction for many; let Wenning and Taylor both play for the team this season, have Wenning play behind Taylor on the depth chart and allow Taylor to sign elsewhere next season, opening up the backup spot for Wenning.
There are two problems with this scenario.
First, the Ravens have only carried two quarterbacks on the active roster in recent years. In the three years Taylor has been with the Ravens, he has been the team’s only backup, with the Joe Flacco-Taylor duo being the only one in Baltimore since Taylor entered the NFL.
With only 53 roster spots and 46 active players on game day, every player counts, and keeping three quarterbacks is a waste of a roster spot. The Ravens will never need three quarterbacks in a single game, and odds are if three are carried on the active roster, only two will actually be active on game day, preventing either Taylor or Wenning from even suiting up every week.
Carrying three quarterbacks only weakens a roster; that roster spot would be much more valuable for an extra defensive back or offensive lineman.
The second problem is that, well, Wenning is simply a better quarterback.
Taylor has his fair share of fans in Baltimore, but in three years, his on-field cameos have been more in the form of gimmicks than displays of true NFL passing talent. He’s essentially the same passer that he was when he entered the NFL, and he has made it to this point because of his exceptional athleticism.
Wenning enters the NFL as a seasoned college veteran (49 career games, 47 starts), whose passing ability is equal to or better than Taylor’s at every level of the field. He’s among the most accurate passers from his rookie class, and displayed the arm talent to make every throw at Ball State, with limited arm strength overall.
As an athlete, he may be maxed out and his arm strength likely won’t vastly improve in the pros, but even at that, the passer that Wenning is right now is one that is capable enough of being a backup in the NFL.
He also joins the team with an early vote of confidence from the coaching staff, as assistant GM Eric DeCosta noted at a post-draft Q&A that Wenning was the only quarterback in this year’s draft to receive a consensus positive opinion from every decision maker in Baltimore’s draft process.
KEEP JUST ONE, AND MAKE IT WHOEVER HAS THE BETTER PRESEASON
In a perfect world, maybe. If NFL rules allowed rookies to be simply demoted to the practice squad without any conflict, then Wenning could spend part or all of his rookie campaign on the practice squad, let Taylor be the backup for one more year, then take over the job in 2015.
But with the waiver process getting in the way of retaining quality players, if Wenning were to be outplayed by Taylor in training camp and the preseason, it’s highly unlikely Wenning would make it back to Baltimore to join the practice squad if released. Teams that carry three quarterbacks or organizations with lackluster situations at the position would salivate over the opportunity to add a rookie of Wenning’s caliber as a developmental option.
Obviously, though, with Wenning under contract for four years and Taylor on the books for one more year, Baltimore’s coaching staff wouldn’t be pulling any hairs if Wenning overmatches Taylor before final cuts and the idea of Taylor being released is explored.
CUT TAYLOR, LET WENNING BE THE BACKUP IN 2014
This is the most ideal scenario. As mentioned above, at least from this perspective, Wenning is a superior quarterback to Taylor right now, even without having played a single down in the NFL. That alone gives him the leg up en route to winning the backup quarterback job.
Keeping Taylor is just delaying the inevitable, which is Wenning being the backup quarterback in Baltimore. At the latest, he’ll be Flacco’s counterpart at the start of the 2015 season, but since there’s a good chance that’ll happen, why not just get a head start and do it now?
Those concerned with Wenning’s on-field ability as a rookie should take note of two things: Flacco has never missed a play due to injury in six NFL seasons and Taylor was the team’s backup as a rookie in 2011. If the Ravens were confident enough in a rookie Tyrod Taylor potentially having to play in the 2011 AFC Championship Game in New England, there’s absolutely no doubt that Wenning can gain the same vote of confidence from the coaching staff.
If Flacco suffers a season-ending injury, Baltimore’s season is already on life support anyway, regardless of the backup. Smart teams live and die by their starting quarterback, directing little attention to the rest of the quarterback depth chart, and that’s the route Baltimore has opted to take in recent years.
Tyrod has his clique of supporters in Baltimore, but if you’re in looking forward to this training camp competition, don’t hesitate to join me in the Wenning circle.