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What drafting Lamar Jackson means for Ravens starting QB Joe Flacco

Both general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh made it clear in the moments after Thursday night’s first round of the NFL draft that Joe Flacco remains the Ravens’ starting quarterback. It’s been over a decade since that was even in question

However, the selection of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson certainly puts a spotlight on Flacco’s status with the Ravens. When teams take quarterbacks in the first round, it almost immediately puts the veteran starter on notice. Newsome and Harbaugh were asked several questions about Flacco last night and Harbaugh cautioned reporters not to make any assumptions.

But here is what we do know:

Flacco is under more pressure than ever before: For the first time in his career, he has a backup who the Ravens have made a major investment in and who is projected to be the team’s future quarterback. Flacco and the offense have been booed by Ravens fans plenty of times during his tenure, but never have the majority of

fans openly rooted for him to be replaced during the game. That wasn’t going to happen with veterans like Matt Schaub and Ryan Mallett behind him or even a young Tyrod Taylor. But if Flacco struggles early in 2018, you can bet that many fans at M&T Bank Stadium will start calling for Jackson, whose ability and athleticism is tantalizing.

Flacco has at least one more year in Baltimore: Flacco still has four years left on the six-year, $125 million deal he signed in 2016. Getting out from under that deal right now would be too damaging long term to the Ravens salary cap situation. However, there is no more guaranteed money remaining on Flacco’s contract after the upcoming season. So it would be far more manageable for the Ravens to move on from Flacco next offseason. The Ravens could create $18.5 million of salary cap space if they make Flacco a post June 1 cut next year. However, that space wouldn’t be available until much later in the offseason and long after free agency had tapered out.

Everyone would benefit from Flacco having a bounce back year: Newsome said it succinctly: The Ravens are in win-now mode and they need Flacco to win now. Flacco has struggled since 2014 and injuries and a lack of offensive continuity and firepower have factored in that. But Flacco finding his 2014 form would obviously increase the likelihood of the Ravens making the playoffs. And beyond that, if Flacco has a good season, it would create options for the Ravens. If the Ravens believe Jackson is ready to start in 2019, they could trade Flacco, who would have value after a productive 2019. They could also keep him for one more season, giving Jackson another year to develop while lessening the potential impact on getting out of Flacco’s contract a year earlier.

Flacco is thrust into the role as a mentor to a prized young quarterback: Flacco had a young understudy before in Taylor, but that circumstance was different. Taylor was a sixth-round pick and a developmental quarterback. Flacco was also a young quarterback himself when Taylor was drafted in 2011. But Flacco is now 33 and preparing for his 11th season. Flacco is beloved as a teammate

because he doesn’t big time anybody and he gives an undrafted rookie the same respect as he does a 10-year veteran. However, it will be interesting to see how much he embraces the idea of having Jackson around and whether he’ll be willing to serve as a mentor to the guy who is his likely replacement.

Flacco might have to get used to coming off the field from time-to-time: Flacco didn’t hide his disdain in 2013 when the Ravens experimented with The Wildcat offense with Taylor. He called it a “high school” offense. We’ll see if his opinion has changed because the Ravens would be crazy not to find ways to get Jackson on the field and get the ball in his hands.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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