With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Baltimore Ravens:
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Joe Flacco -- $24.75 million
Josh Woodrum -- $630,000
Pending free agents: Ryan Mallett
Key stat: 82.1 -- Flacco's passer rating since being named Super Bowl MVP in 2012. It ranks No. 36 in the NFL over that span, behind Colin Kaepernick, Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Flacco has thrown 98 touchdown passes and 74 interceptions over that span, and the ongoing debate is whether his struggles are the result of his play or the lack of playmakers around him. He has dealt with injuries in recent years, suffering torn knee ligaments in 2015 and a herniated disk in his lower back last summer. Still, Flacco is one of the more durable quarterbacks in the NFL. He has started every game in nine of his 10 seasons.
Money matters: The Ravens have been overpaying Flacco for the past five years. Since 2013, Baltimore has given Flacco $112 million in salary and bonuses, getting one playoff win in return. His cap number is the fifth highest in the NFL this season, while his production last year ranks near the bottom of the league. Baltimore had no choice but to make Flacco the NFL's highest-paid player after he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl. The Ravens then made Flacco the highest paid before the 2016 season because they know they won't find a better quarterback right away. Desperate times call for disparate numbers.
Big picture: This is a pivotal season for Flacco. The Ravens are financially committed to him for only one more season. The first time Baltimore can save money by moving on from Flacco is next offseason. The Ravens can save $18.5 million in 2019 if they designate Flacco as a post-June 1 cut, spreading his cap hit into two seasons ($8 million in 2019 and $8 million in 2020). That means Flacco has to play significantly better this season in order to remain in Baltimore. But the Ravens continue to back Flacco and scoffed when asked if the team has started to think about life after him. "We've got bigger fish to fry, I guess," owner Steve Bisciotti said in February.
The game plan: The big question this offseason is how the Ravens will fill the backup quarterback spot. Baltimore is expected to go in a different direction from Mallett, the No. 2 quarterback for the past two-plus seasons. Coach John Harbaugh said after the season that the question of whether Baltimore will draft a quarterback in 2018 is a "fair" one because Flacco is now 33. "It is something that we will be talking about for sure," Harbaugh said. "Every position, certain positions are going to be more important than others, but when you have a veteran quarterback at this stage, that is the time you are always looking for a young backup."
It's still uncertain whether the Ravens will draft a quarterback in the first five rounds since selecting Flacco in the first round 10 years ago. Baltimore hasn't reached the playoffs in three straight seasons, and the pressure is on Harbaugh to win in 2018. Would the Ravens risk putting a critical season on the shoulders of a rookie quarterback if Flacco gets injured? Baltimore doesn't have the cap room to get a pricey veteran backup (like Philadelphia did with Nick Foles), but the Ravens might add an experienced backup at a bargain price in addition to drafting a quarterback around the fourth round.