The Baltimore Ravens have been quite successful with Joe Flacco as their starting quarterback, but this offseason, the Ravens will have a tough decision to make with the future of the position on their roster.
Is Flacco good enough to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl? Nearing the end of his fifth NFL season, he has yet to prove he is.
Recently, Flacco has played as poorly as he has at any point in his career. If he cannot overcome his recent struggles in this year’s postseason, the Ravens should look in a new direction this offseason when his contract expires.
The Ravens have won at least one playoff game each year since Flacco became their starting quarterback as a rookie in 2008, and they are going back to the postseason this year. His individual performances, however, haven’t matched his team’s success.
Over his career, Flacco has only completed 60.5 percent of his passes in regular-season action, and has thrown at least 10 interceptions per season. His postseason numbers are even worse.
While he has won five playoff games in four seasons, he has completed just 54.3 percent of his passes for 170.2 yards per game in nine career playoff games, and has an even number of touchdowns and interceptions thrown with eight apiece.
His numbers haven’t improved this season, and in the midst of the Ravens’ current three-game losing skid, Flacco’s play has been at least partially to blame for their struggles.
Flacco has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in two of those three games, and has thrown an interception in each of them. His most recent interception, against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, which was returned for a 98-yard touchdown return by cornerback Chris Harris, put the Ravens in a 17-0 hole just before halftime from which they never recovered.
Flacco is generally considered by most to be an average to above-average NFL starting quarterback: a solid starter, but not among the league’s elite signal-callers. Even though he is better than many other teams' current starting quarterbacks, he may still be holding the contending Ravens back.
While the Ravens have consistently gotten to the playoffs and won once they’ve gotten there under Flacco, they haven’t overcome the hump to a Super Bowl berth. Considering seven of Flacco’s eight interceptions have come in his four playoff losses, his mistakes have been a big reason why.
There was a time when Joe Flacco would have been good enough to win a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Back in 2000, the Ravens won the title with journeyman Trent Dilfer as their starter. The Ravens no longer have the dominant defense, however, that they had then and have had consistently since the turn of the century.
With future Hall of Fame inside linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed nearing the end of their careers, the days of the Ravens’ defensive dominance are fading: The Ravens rank 26th in total defense this season, which almost certainly will make this season the first since 2002 that they do not finish in the NFL’s top 10 in yards allowed per game.
If the Ravens defense is taking a step back, then their offense has to step up and be able to score with the NFL’s top teams. Without a top-tier quarterback, taking that next step will be a great challenge.
Additionally, the NFL has become a league driven by elite quarterbacks. Among the six quarterbacks who have won the nine Super Bowls since 2003, five of them have had a completion percentage above 63 percent and a quarterback rating above 92 since that year, with the exception of Eli Manning, who has led the New York Giants to two titles.
Flacco has only achieved those statistics for a full season one time each over the course of his career.
The Ravens likely haven’t decided whether proceed with or without Flacco yet, and he has one more chance to prove himself. Even with a loss, the Ravens clinched a playoff berth Sunday, and if Flacco can lead the Ravens to a division title and/or a postseason run, the Ravens may decide that Flacco is the best guy for the job going forward.
Currently, however, the Ravens are reeling. If the Ravens end up losing the AFC North title to the Cincinnati Bengals and/or suffer a first-round exit from the postseason, the case toward making a change will become even stronger.
If the Ravens aren’t ready to give up on Flacco yet this offseason but aren’t ready to commit either, they can use their franchise tag. They would have to pay him nearly $15 million next season, but they could bring him back without committing to him long-term, while also using one of their early draft picks this April on a young quarterback to develop and potentially overtake Flacco in 2014.
Even if the Ravens determine an upgrade from Flacco is necessary, it’s not as if they can simply sign or draft an elite quarterback to replace him. But unless Flacco displays significant improvement in this year’s postseason, making a long-term commitment to him as franchise quarterback would be a mistake.