Looking back on the tenure of Joe Flacco in Baltimore

The Baltimore Ravens agreed in principle to trade Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos in exchange for what is reportedly a fourth-round draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The move comes as no surprise as the team makes their transition to 22-year-old Lamar Jackson as its next franchise quarterback. The move will create $10.5 million in salary cap space for the Ravens but will also include the team eating $16 million in dead money.

It also comes as no surprise to me that for many Ravens fans it is goodbye and good riddance. Many fans are grateful for what Flacco did in guiding in the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012 and ungrateful for what occurred pre and post Lombardi.

For the rest of us, it marks the end of one of the more successful tenures in the NFL for Flacco and the Ravens. Over the past 24 hours, the hot takes machine has been consuming the social media and TV media world. Here are some of my favorite thoughts:

These are just five absolutely embarrassing takes in regards to Flacco’s tenure in Baltimore. There are hundreds even thousands more from local media, national media, and fans alike. They’re comparing the guy to Case Keenum. CASE FREAKING KEENUM.¬†I’ll get to him later.

Perhaps the saddest post of the day in regards to this was from @MileHighReport, a Denver Broncos news and analysis site that boasts nearly 59,000 followers:

Looking at the replies you would think that the Broncos just acquired Ryan Leaf.

Most of what folks believe to be true about teams outside of their own is rooted in fantasy football and what the national media narrative around a player might be. They are silver spoon-fed the Matt Ryan’s and Matt Stafford’s of the world while they are consistently reminded that Flacco is a joke.

The narrative is that Flacco was carried for years by his defense to success and since the Super Bowl, when more fell on him, he has floundered. He had it easy when he came into the league and coasted to the success he achieved on the coattails of others. In order to look at this correctly, his career needs to be examined start to finish.

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Flacco joined a tumultuous situation in Baltimore out of the University of Delware. Image Credit: Delaware Athletics

When Flacco arrived in Baltimore in 2008 as the 18th overall pick the NFL Draft out of the University of Delaware, he joined a franchise that hadn’t yet boasted a franchise level NFL quarterback. He joined a team that had just fired head coach Brian Billick after a nine-year tenure that saw the Ravens go 80-64 and win their first Lombardi trophy. He joined a team that had a defense that ranked in the top ten five straight seasons prior to his arrival and had quite a swagger about them to say the least. To say it wasn’t the easiest locker room to enter for a FBS rookie quarterback is an understatement.

In his first five seasons, the Ravens went 54-26 in the regular season and 9-4 in the playoffs. They won a playoff game in each of those seasons, made it to three AFC title games, and won a Super Bowl on the right arm of Flacco.

But of course that early success and eventual triumph was only because of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and the rest of the lights-out Ravens defense.¬†That’s partially correct. In 2008 and 2009, the defense finished second and third respectively in total defense and Flacco was 100% a game manager. He had just one touchdown and six interceptions in the playoffs.

But in 2010, the script flipped unbeknownst to the national media. The defense was ranked tenth in total defense in that season. After a bounce-back ranking of third in 2011, fell all the way to 17th in the 2012 season. However, Flacco’s playoff performances were significantly better as he totaled 18 touchdowns and two interceptions over those three seasons. Flacco outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC Title game in Foxborough before the Lee Evans¬†(another big offseason addition) and Billy Cundiff debacle.

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Five years in to Flacco’s career, he helped Ray Lewis win his second career Super Bowl. Not the other way around. Image Credit: Chris Graythen

He then led the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012, throwing 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. The 2012 postseason run is widely regarded and rightfully so as the greatest postseason run in NFL history. The Ravens defense gave up 428.5 yards per game in the playoff run. They allowed 35 points in the AFC divisional round in Denver and 31 in the Super Bowl against the Niners. They were an average unit at best throughout the season and a dismal one in the playoffs. But remember, he was carried by his defense for the first five years. The team success had nothing do with Flacco. His offense only averaged a pedestrian 31 points-per-game in the run.

Then the contract happened. In 2013, Flacco was made the highest-paid player in NFL history when he signed a $120.6 million contract. The deal included $62 million in guaranteed money. Everything that has happened since then has been blamed on Flacco.

That offseason, the Ravens would jettison top target Anquan Boldin after he refused to take a pay cut. Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta figured to play huge role heading into 2013 with the exit of Boldin. Lewis retired and Reed should have but he left the team and went to Houston then New York to join Rex Ryan.

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Much was needed heading into 2013 from Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice with the exit of Anquan Boldin. Things didn’t go as planned. Image Credit: Getty Images

2013 was a nightmare for the Ravens and Flacco as they went 8-8 to miss the playoffs despite controlling their own destiny with two weeks remaining. Rice produced just 981 total yards after averaging 1877 total yards in the four previous years. Pitta started just one game as his eventual career-ending hip problems began. Torrey Smith aside, the passing game had Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones, and Dallas Clark. For God’s sakes they tried Brandon Stokley at receiver, who was 87 at the time. For the record, the defense finished 12th in total defense. The Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time with Flacco and it was all his fault.

2014 was a better year for Flacco and the Ravens under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. It was the third coordinator in three seasons for Flacco but the offense had their best year, finishing 12th in yards-per-game. Newly-acquired 35-year-old Steve Smith Sr and Torrey Smith led the passing game. Justin Forsett emerged as a Pro-Bowler at running back with 1266 yards and eight touchdowns. To that point he had been a journeyman in the NFL.

The defense ranked eighth but was depleted by injury come playoff time. After a 10-6 regular season, the Ravens would defeat the Steelers 30-17 in the Wild Card round. But they blew two-14 point leads, afforded by Flacco’s four touchdown performance to fall 35-31 to the Pats in Foxborough in the divisional round. Obviously 31 points in New England in January isn’t good enough. Another one on Joe.

Heading into 2015, the team moved on from Smith despite averaging 898 yards and 7.5 touchdowns a year as a Raven and a strong rapport with Flacco. They brought in Marc Trestman to be the offensive coordinator as Kubiak left for Denver’s head coaching job. They drafted wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round of the draft and he would miss the whole year. Perriman joined Torrey Smith as the only receivers drafted by the Ravens in the first three rounds in the Flacco era.

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The Ravens struggled in 2015 when healthy, but losing Flacco, Forsett, and Smith Sr. didn’t help. Image Credit RX Forum

The team started 3-7 with all games decided by one score or less. Having lost Smith Sr for the year after week seven, Flacco went down for the year after ten games with a torn ACL. Forsett went down in week 10 as well in what would be his last meaningful season in the NFL. The Ravens would select Ronnie Stanley that summer to be their new left tackle at sixth overall. The Ravens reportedly could have traded up to get into position to select Ezekiel Elliott. My how things could have been different.

2016 saw Marty Mornhinweg come in as the fifth offensive coordinator in five years and the Ravens added Mike Wallace to pair with Smith Sr at wideout. Wallace was joining his third team in three seasons after disappointing stints in Miami and Minnesota. Terrance West paced the rushing attack that year with 774 yards in 13 starts. West had ten combined starts in the rest of his career. He is currently out of the league.

The Ravens had a nice year but melted down in a week 16 road loss to the Steelers 31-27 on Christmas night. A win would have moved the Ravens to first place in the AFC North and all but locked up a playoff spot, but the seventh-ranked defense blew a 27-24 lead with 1:18 remaining. Antonio Brown stretched across the goal line for the game-winning score with nine seconds left. If only Joe and the offense could have done more right? The team would lay a collective egg the next week in Cincy and the Ravens would miss the playoffs for the second straight year.

Flacco entered 2017 with a lingering back injury but he had a new weapon in Jeremy Maclin at his disposal to go along with Wallace. Maclin was cut by the Chiefs after a disappointing 2016 campaign where his numbers dropped for a second straight year. Alex Collins emerged as the number one back for the Ravens, a former fifth rounder cut by the Seahawks. The new look offense was ninth in the league in points per game.

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Ben Roethlisberger torched the Ravens top flight defense late again in 2017, locking up the AFC North for the Steelers. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

But the Ravens fell in Week 14, 39-38 in Pittsburgh to give the Steelers the division. A nine-point lead with six minutes left wasn’t enough for the NFL’s sixth ranked defense. After back-to-back wins the Ravens hosted the hapless Bengals Week 17 in a win and in scenario. The offense was a mess early but put it together. The Ravens held a 27-24 lead late before the defense allowed an 11-play 90-yard drive capped off by a 4th-and-12 game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd. Flacco really should have stopped them there.

The Ravens selected Jackson with the 32nd overall pick of the first round in the 2018 NFL Draft. The writing was on the wall that Flacco’s time in Baltimore was approaching its end. Flacco said all the right things about the situation and handled it with class throughout. The Ravens came into the season with a brand new receiver group including castoffs Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead.

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Michael Crabtree was the latest free agent WR to disappoint in Baltimore. Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

They started the season 4-2 despite Crabtree dropping a game winning touchdown in Cleveland in a game the Ravens would lose. They followed that start with three straight losses to the Saints, Panthers, and Steelers before hitting the bye and switching to Jackson due to a hip injury for Flacco.

The rest is history. And so is Flacco in Baltimore.

There has never been a “franchise QB” in the history of the league who has been given less to work with offensively than what Flacco was given. After the Super Bowl, his top target was taken from him. From the 2013 draft on, the Ravens have drafted one wide receiver in the first three rounds of the draft. They have drafted no running backs under the same parameters.

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The Ravens front office did their franchise QB no favors over his tenure in Baltimore. Image Credit: Baltimore Sports and Life

Their free agent acquisitions have been retreads and has beens in Smith Sr, Wallace, Maclin, and this year’s cast. All of them were either cut or allowed to explore other options in free agency. Most of the money on this team has been sunk into the defensive side of the ball with contracts like Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, and most recently Brandon Williams.

And yet outside of the injury year in 2015, the Ravens consistently found themselves with opportunities to make the playoffs. In 2016 and 2017, the defense had quite a few glaring shortcomings that ultimately costed the Ravens a chance to make the dance. Swing those two seasons in his favor as they should have been and he would have been 8-for-10 making the playoffs. And we all know the exploits of January Joe.

Flacco has never had a losing season in a year where he started and finished the season which is something that Ryan, Stafford, and other quarterback golden boys can’t say. Those two are 4-9 lifetime in the playoffs. And don’t give me the they don’t have a defense trash. Flacco’s defense carried him early but has been the reason they’ve missed the second season in recent years. Furthermore, they’re the reason the Ravens were bounced in 2014 as well.

And if those two guys are so friggin great, why are they unable to will their teams to playoff berths and victories? Also I guess Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Michael Turner, and Devonta Freeman¬†weren’t enough help for the two elite gunslinglers to lead playoff teams and achieve postseason success.

With that being said, Flacco was pedestrian in the regular season throughout his tenure in Baltimore. He threw for 4,000 yards only once. He never threw for 30 touchdowns. His career average is 234 yards-per-game passing. Numbers are adorable and in the fantasy football-crazed world we live in today, they are more paramount than ever. You think Lions fans would trade Stafford’s big numbers for those Flacco seasons of sustained success? The answer is a resounding yes.

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Joe Flacco did a ton of winning in Baltimore and still holds the record for most road wins in NFL playoff history for a QB. Image Credit: Getty Images

Flacco led one of the strongest organizations in the NFL the last 11 years and is 96-67 lifetime with a 10-5 playoff mark and a Super Bowl MVP. And the clowns have the audacity to ask if this an upgrade for Denver over Keenum. The same Keenum who is 26-28 lifetime over seven NFL seasons. The same Keenum that has had two total seasons as starter because he wasn’t good enough to start in the first place. The same Keenum who threw two touchdowns and three picks in his only playoff appearances last season? Keenum also might have had a bit more help:

Grow up people. There’s no comparison between the exploits of the two and no doubt whether or not this is an upgrade.

Clearly, Flacco isn’t elite. Outside of a few weeks in early 2013, he never really was. He’s often been the reason the Ravens have lost games. He’s not perfect. He makes bone-headed rookie mistakes still and can be maddeningly inaccurate.

But he’s a winner. He’s the greatest quarterback in the history of the Baltimore Ravens.¬†And perhaps most commendable is that he never once asked for help at the skill positions. Never once complained that they drafted Jackson. Never once let the Jackson/Flacco story become a distraction inside or outside of the locker room.

He was a class act from start to finish. One day, folks will realize how good Baltimore had it with Flacco. And I’ll be the one anxiously waiting to say I told you so.

Image Credit: USA Today Sports

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3 thoughts on “Looking back on the tenure of Joe Flacco in Baltimore

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