The Baltimore Ravens Have a Major Joe Flacco Problem

By Jason Lisk

The Baltimore Ravens have a major Joe Flacco problem, even if they don’t realize it or want to admit it. Since going on his four-game streak to win the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, and getting a big contract, Flacco has been among the worst regular starters in the NFL, and the Ravens have won only one wildcard playoff game.

Here’s where he ranks among the 33 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 800 passes in the last five years:

  • dead last in yards per attempt;
  • dead last in touchdown pass percentage;
  • dead last in touchdown to interception ratio;
  • 32nd in passer rating (ahead of only Blake Bortles);
  • dead last in net yards per pass attempt;
  • dead last in adjusted net yards per pass attempt.

Last year, he averaged 5.7 yards per pass attempt. Let’s put that in some perspective. Ryan Leaf’s career yards per attempt was 5.6, and JaMarcus Russell’s was 6.0.

But it’s not as if he was great before last season, and had a quick downturn, as he has been well below average for each of the past three years. Pro Football Reference has year-adjusted stats so we can compare across different stat environments. Flacco has been well below average in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt each of the last three years (and in pretty much every other measure, such as Passer Rating). You know how many other guys had a ANYA+ of 95 or lower (where 100 is average) in three straight seasons at age 30 to 32? One. Marc Bulger with the Rams from 2007 to 2009. He never played in another NFL game after that final season.

If we expand it out, here’s everyone since the merger who has posted three straight seasons of a ANYA+ below 95 after their 25th birthday:

  • Randy Wright, ages 25 to 27. No more career starts.
  • Mike Phipps, ages 26 to 28. 22 more career starts (only 2 more with Browns).
  • Marc Wilson, ages 27 to 29. 17 more career starts (only 7 more with Raiders).
  • Joey Harrington, ages 27 to 29. No more career starts.
  • Mark Malone, ages 28 to 30. No more career starts.
  • Marc Bulger, ages 30 to 32. No more career starts.
  • Joe Ferguson, ages 32 to 34. 7 more career starts (none with Bills).
  • Jim Hart, ages 35 to 37. 3 more career starts (all 3 with Cardinals while backing up Neil Lomax).

Veteran QBs don’t usually get to suck for three or more straight years. With the elite guys, it’s usually that they more decline to average or have one big drop off. Half these guys never played again, and the ones that did were largely relegated to either backup roles or bouncing to other teams.

Flacco–at least it seems at the moment–is still the guy for Baltimore. The contract situation dictates that he is an anchor on this organization, and will remain that way. His timing was great when he signed a 6-year deal immediately after the Super Bowl win. But that deal would be expiring after next season, and he would have been a release candidate this year. But back in 2016, when they didn’t have to do so as the afterglow of the Super Bowl had worn off, the Ravens signed him to a three-year extension to–you guessed it–free up some cap space. They freed up about $6 million that year to take on way more obligation to Flacco, and now they are stuck.

His dead cap charge for 2018 is larger than his cap charge because of all the guaranteed money that would be accelerated. Next year, releasing Flacco would save about $10.5 million, but he would still accumulate $16 million in dead cap money. 2020 is the first offseason where it would be a large savings to release Flacco.

Despite that, though, there’s a pretty good argument that he needs to be replaced. Flacco’s contract is a massive mistake; it would be a separate mistake, and just as costly, to not try to move on. He’s 33 now. He came through what should have been his prime, from age 28 to 32, putting up decidedly mediocre numbers. Those guys don’t get better with age. His contract is a sunken cost, but if the organization waits to move on, they compound it.

Baltimore–if Joe Flacco was releasable–would be in a good spot to draft Lamar Jackson. Jackson would actually make sense with the recent Robert Griffin III bridge/backup signing. They’d be sitting after the initial rush of quarterbacks in the top 10. I know that the supporting cast hasn’t been great, but 5.7 yards per attempt and 8.9 yards per completion is abysmal. You can find 40 other quarterbacks who can produce above that. I’m confident that a “not-ready” Lamar Jackson could come in with rushing production and a tailored passing game and far outstrip it. If Flacco is not in the Top 25 Quarterbacks, whether he is paid $30 million or $3 million, the Ravens need to have alternate plans.

They cannot wait until 2020 to wake up and realize it.