In the battle of the nicknames, Action Jackson takes on RGIII and the Elite Dragon for a role in Baltimore’s, currently, pedestrian offense. As calls for Lamar Jackson season heat up down the stretch toward organized team activities, let’s take a moment to reflect on what decisions the Ravens front office will have to make in the next two years.
In 2008 the Baltimore Ravens traded back in the NFL Draft and took a quarterback in the first round. That quarterback was Joe Flacco. Over the next 10 seasons, Flacco put up over 35,000 yards, 200 touchdowns to 130 interceptions and an overall record of 92-62. That tenure included the masterful 2012 postseason that saw him beat future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning en route to a Super Bowl XLVII victory and the MVP trophy. In the 2012 offseason the Baltimore Ravens awarded Joe Flacco a, then, league-altering contract. Fans expressed a mixture of contempt and complacency in regards to that contract. Some fans understood that a contract like this would restrict the team’s ability to continue to bring talent in to Baltimore, except for from the draft.
Over the next six seasons, that prediction came to fruition. Baltimore suffered from poor early draft pick play and suddenly lacked a team identity. While the front office remained entrenched in the idea that Joe Flacco was the quarterback of the now and of the near-future, head coach John Harbaugh lead the Ravens through several injury riddled seasons and poor free-agent acquisitions (looking at you Maclin). Baltimore missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, even while being lauded as a contender. Those three seasons may have been the final three nails in Joe Flacco’s coffin. After two seasons of missing the post season because of one play, retiring, legendary, general manager Ozzie Newsome orchestrated one last offseason to remember.
In a flurry of offseason moves, the Raven’s front office completely revamped Baltimore’s receiver corps with free agents, acquisitions and shrewd draft tactics. The 2018 season was not going to leave any doubt as to the root of Baltimore’s struggles. That is not to say Flacco is the only pain-point to level all of the teams failures, however, it is to say that he might not be as beloved by the front office as he once was. To that end, Ozzie also brought in two new quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III and Lamar Jackson.
Both Griffin and Jackson were electric college players for Baylor and Louisville, respectively. They have playing styles reminiscent of Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. Griffin’s path through the NFL was tumultuous and marred by injury. While putting up decent number in his first two years, the 2012 No. 2 overall pick has failed to live up to such billing due to injuries and offensive scheme misalignment. Jackson enters the NFL as a quarterback, but one with concerns surrounding his accuracy and whether his college highlight reel would transfer to NFL-level competition.
With both Flacco and Griffin on the roster, for now, it is apparent that the Ravens are hoping to sit Jackson for at least one year and give him every available resource, including an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach who tutored Michael Vick, to help with his transition to the NFL and NFL-caliber defenses. Similar to how the Kansas City Chiefs sat Patrick Mahomes behind Alex Smith for a year before jettisoning Smith. Despite Jackson’s track record, see No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 10 Louisville, those immediate concerns are founded in past NFL dual-threat quarterback experiences.
Dual-threat quarterbacks have not fared well at the NFL level for a variety of reasons. Injury, scheme misalignment and predictability have sunken talented quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick, despite joining the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, Robert Griffin III and DeShone Kizer. While many of these quarterbacks were successful in some way, that success was short lived as defenses became faster and leaner as well as the NFL transitioning to a much heavier throwing league.
It is important to note that there have been successful dual-threat quarterbacks as well. Quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Randal Cunningham, and Michael Vick were all highly successful and have even won championships. It became highly evident that passing volume and accuracy would be more highly coveted than ability to make plays on the ground. Aaron Rodgers, for example, is an adept passer who can move the pocket if needed. This has become the prototypical and ideal quarterback. Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoappolo and Patrick Mahomes all fit that mold.
In the end it looks like the Ravens are going to follow the Chiefs model (after all, Harbaugh is a fruit from the Andy Reid coaching tree) in drafting a prospect, sitting him behind a tenured started and coaching him up with for a year before handing over the reins. A lot more will come to light as OTA’s begin and the 2018 season starts to take shape. I, for one, am looking forward to the new direction of our offense and share in the excitement for 2019 and beyond.