Joe Flacco’s Legacy
It’s entirely possible that Sunday could be Joe Flacco’s last day dressing in the purple and black for the home faithful. We hope not, given that a Ravens win versus the visiting Browns clinches the AFC North and a home playoff game. Realistically, it could also be the final game of the year if things don’t go the Ravens way. With Ozzie Newsome’s 23-year reign as General Manager coming to end, the top three coaching positions possibly up in the air, rookie Lamar Jackson will be seven or more starts into his career, this offseason could be a transitional one.
Joe Flacco has a $26.5M salary cap hit coming up. Lamar Jackson, $2.1M. If they trade or release Flacco they will save at minimum $10.5M against the 2019 salary cap with $16M in dead money on the books from Flacco’s guaranteed money. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which direction the Ravens should move.
It seems a foregone conclusion that Joe Flacco’s days in Baltimore are numbered. He went down with a hip injury during the week 10 bye, giving way to the rookie Jackson for four games. Jackson and the 4-5 Ravens with a revamped, run heavy, ball control offense, combined with stifling defense, won three of their next four games and at 7-6, Jackson kept the starting job. Joe Flacco dressed and was benched while healthy, for the first time in his 11-year career. Another Ravens win got them to 8-6, then they would follow that up with the biggest team win in at least three years, going on the road to beat the now 11-4 L.A. Chargers to reach 9-6 and the division lead. L.A. had the AFC’s number one seed to play for, and had no answers for the Ravens top ranked defense, and didn’t slow down the Jackson offense until the fourth quarter. Too little, too late.
Is this how Joe Flacco will be remembered though? Benched for performance? Benched for a hot handed rookie? Losing the last three games he ever got to start here? It won’t be. What will happen to Joe Flacco is strictly business and not a reflection of his legacy one bit.
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Jerry Rice is the greatest football player of all time. After 16-seasons with the team that drafted him, the 49ers subjected the G.O.A.T. to the same business decision. The salary cap situation wasn’t worth the roster spot, and Rice would go play for the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks for four more seasons before hanging it up. But that isn’t Jerry Rice’s legacy. Johnny Unitas’ legacy isn’t that year he played four games in San Diego at the end of his storied career.
Joe Flacco is a guy who always had a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t getting playing time in division I football at Pitt. So he transferred to little old Delaware where he could play. Over the years he played his way into the first round of the NFL draft. But was still looked over by another quarterback. Matt Ryan of Boston College who went third overall to the Atlanta Falcons.
Flacco would be selected by the Ravens and for many years was measured alongside Matt Ryan. But even upon his selection he wouldn’t be the franchise quarterback, yet. He sat third on the depth chart behind Kyle Boller and Troy Smith. It was apparent that the Kyle Boller experiment was a colossal failure. Troy Smith, despite being a Heisman Trophy winner, wasn’t cut out for more than just a tryout in the NFL. But there was Joe Flacco, sitting behind these guys on the depth chart for some reason. Chip just growing and growing.
The injury bug paved the way for Joe Flacco to play the entirety of the final preseason game, reserved for third stringers and practice squad hopefuls, and then to start week 1 of the 2008 season. He would manage the game well in his first career start against the Cincinnati Bengals. He was 15-29 for 129 yards. But the highlight was a 38-yard touchdown run by Flacco. No one knew he had legs to do such a thing. Final tally, Ravens win 17-10 as the defense ruled the day. Injuries lead to his first start, Bengals at home, winning the game with his legs, defense stands tall. Sounds a bit familiar, no?
The Ravens finished 11-5 behind “Average Joe”. Despite throwing for over 200 yards just five times on the season, the Ravens got it done more often than not on the ground, with the defense, and with Flacco limiting the mistakes. Managing the game. More importantly, putting the game away with lengthy drives in the 4th quarter. Sounds familiar, no?
They would make it all the way to the AFC Championship against the rival Steelers and came oh so close to pulling the upset. A late interception, Flacco’s third of the night, returned for a touchdown by Troy Polamalu sealed the Ravens season. By this point though, the Ravens played with house money. Fans gathered at the Owings Mills Mall parking lot in the wee hours of the night to meet the team busses back from Pittsburgh and congratulate them on a season well done that no one saw coming.
Over the next three seasons Flacco would continue winning more games than he’d lose. He’d keep leading the Ravens to the playoffs. He’d keep winning playoff games. Tough games, on the road, but wouldn’t seem to gain the respect he deserved because he couldn’t beat guys named Manning, or Brady, or Roethlisberger. The one playoff game the Ravens beat Tom Brady and the Patriots was thanks in large part to big plays on the ground by Ray Rice, and the defense reading Brady like a book, forcing the Patriots into four turnovers. Flacco completed just four passes for 34 yards in a 33-14 rout in the 2009 WC round game.
Joe Flacco wasn’t fazed by the high pressure situations. He did statistically out duel Tom Brady in the 2011 AFC Championship game, only to have the winning touchdown pass not secured good enough by Lee Evans. Coupled with kicker Billy Cundiff shanking a short field goal to send the game to OT, Flacco had a trip to the Super Bowl stopped short by no fault of his own.
Is Joe Flacco elite? He wasn’t someone you’d ever want on your fantasy football team where gaudy numbers with no context is all that matters. He was a winner. But was he elite? This was a real question before the 2012 season would get underway. Flacco was asked this before week 1 and he confidently responded that he thinks he’s the best player on the field whenever he’s out there. That if you have any other mindset, you’ve already lost. Of course this drew great criticism from most of the football world. Flacco must be pretty arrogant if he thinks he’s better than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and others. That chip on his shoulder only growing bigger. He’s never been to a Pro Bowl. How can he be elite? Overlooked in college, underrated in the draft, never measured up to his peers. All he did was do his part to give his team the best chance to win more often than not.
Flacco backed up his comments about “being the best player on the field” by helping lead the Ravens to a 9-2 start to the 2012 season. The play calling became questionable as the Ravens started stumbling down the stretch, costing offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, his job after week 14. Nevertheless, the Ravens had achieved enough to win the division and make it to the playoffs for the fifth time in his five years in the league.
The rest is history. Joe Flacco had a postseason run only ever matched by Joe Montana. He finally reached the top of the mountain by beating top rookie Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady to get to the Super Bowl, and won that too. Along with the game’s MVP.
In the last 15 years, the AFC Super Bowl team has been led by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, or Joe Flacco. That is it. Was Joe Flacco elite? Check out that company.
Flacco cashed in on a big contract, biggest ever, after bringing Baltimore a Lombardi Trophy. Although when the 2013 season started he was only the third highest paid player behind Matt Ryan, again, and Aaron Rodgers. Both got new deals after Flacco. 2013 was a transitional year with so many legends on the team moving on like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Anquan Boldin. For the first time in his career, Flacco would miss the playoffs.
He rebounded in 2014 under new OC Gary Kubiak to his best statistical season, and again a playoff run stopped short in Foxboro by no fault of his own. He once again hung in with the best of the best in Tom Brady, but the defense, a shell of its former self, coughed up two, 14-point leads in the divisional round game.
2015 saw Flacco suffer his first major injury, tearing an ACL, and missing the final six games of the season. 2016 he wasn’t quite right as he adjusted to playing with a brace and was timid to step into the pocket, phantom protecting his knee. 2017 he tweaked his back and it lingered for part of the season. Early in 2018 his numbers had been pretty pedestrian as the youth movement appears to be a strong one. Among the top QBs in the game are guys still in their first contracts. Guys like Pat Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, Jared Goff.
Flacco just hasn’t been the same guy that he was from 2008-2014. So as this chapter in Ravens football comes to a most likely close after 11 seasons, I ask, what is Joe Flacco’s legacy?
To me, he’s a guy who never got enough credit. Who it took winning a Super Bowl to gain respect. Who was never given the support system that other quarterbacks are fortunate to have and still managed to win a lot of games with it. A guy who the business side of the game was very beneficial to. Twice. But like all players eventually, the business side rears its ugly head against him now.
Joe Flacco will go in the Ravens Ring of Honor. Canton might be far fetched today. But as this chapter closes, a new one will begin for Flacco. His story is one that is not over yet and will be interesting to follow. Canton is a possibility depending how his next chapter plays out.
Hopefully there is no burnt bridges and when Joe Flacco decides to hang up the cleats, he signs that one day contract with the Ravens to retire in the purple and black he started in.
Thanks for the memories. Championships are forever, and in the era of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s dominance, he saw to it that Baltimore still got theirs. They can never take that away.