A day after Ravens coach John Harbaugh declared that the 2016 season had already begun, the organization announced it had signed a quarterback in a move that was made with an eye toward the future, not necessarily the present.
The Ravens agreed to a contract with free agent Ryan Mallett that reportedly includes a $1.5 million base salary in 2016 with an additional $1 million available in incentives. While it's not out of the question that Mallett gets a chance to play at some point over the final three games this year, his deal immediately makes him the favorite to serve as Joe Flacco's backup next season.
Mallett, a one-time starter for the Houston Texans who impressed team officials in a workout about two weeks ago, signed the contract around noon Tuesday after arriving at the Under Armour Performance Center. He's been out of the NFL since late October, when the Texans cut him after he missed the team's charter flight to Miami, his latest lapse in professionalism.
His addition Tuesday was among a series of roster moves for the Ravens, who are 4-9, eliminated from playoff contention and guaranteed of the first losing season in Harbaugh's eight-year tenure. The Ravens play the Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
In addition to signing Mallett, the Ravens promoted running back Terrence Magee and cornerback Jumal Rolle from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. They also re-signed offensive tackle Marcel Jones to the practice squad.
To create roster room, they put defensive end Chris Canty (torn pectoral) on season-ending injured reserve, and waived quarterback Bryn Renner and running back-kick returner Raheem Mostert.
Harbaugh foreshadowed the moves in his Monday news conference, when he said that he was going to give some young players a chance over the final three weeks, and also get some veterans back into more natural roles.
Magee, an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana State who was on the Ravens active roster for two games this season, will slot behind top healthy running backs Buck Allen and Terrance West, and is an option to replace Mostert as the kick returner. Rolle, meanwhile, could see immediate snaps on the outside after Harbaugh stated his desire Monday to keep cornerback Lardarius Webb either in the slot or at free safety.
Rolle, who was signed to the Ravens practice squad in late November after he was cut by the Texans, played in 17 games for Houston the past two seasons and had three interceptions in 2014.
"Jumal Rolle is going to step up and get a chance," Harbaugh said Monday.
Mallett's chance might not come against the Chiefs Sunday. Harbaugh said Monday that Matt Schaub, who was inactive for Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks because of shoulder and chest injuries, will play if he's healthy. If he's not, the Ravens will give Jimmy Clausen another start.
"Jimmy played well," Harbaugh said. "Jimmy didn't do anything to hurt his chances of playing [Sunday], so I feel like we have two good options there."
The Ravens likely want to get Mallett snaps at some point this season, but of more importance is getting him acclimated to the organization and the team's offense. Mallett, a third-round draft pick by the New England Patriots in 2011, started four games for Houston this season and two last year. He's 2-4 in his career as a starter.
In 13 games over parts of five seasons, he's completed 120 of 226 passing attempts (53.1 percent) for 1,187 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Mallett is 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds and possesses a strong arm and all the physical attributes that teams look for in quarterbacks.
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However, consistency and professional conduct have been issues. When he missed the team charter before the Texans' road game against the Dolphins, it wasn't the first time that Mallett was late. The Houston Chronicle reported that Mallett was frequently fined for chronic tardiness. The newspaper also quoted one of Mallett's ex-teammates as saying that the quarterback "clearly just didn't get it."
Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that Mallett had some "personal things that he had to work through." The Ravens apparently feel that the upside is worth the potential risk.
With Flacco potentially missing part of training camp after having surgery last week to repair an ACL and MCL tear in his left knee, the Ravens need some insurance in case he isn't ready.
Schaub and Clausen will be free agents this coming offseason, and Mallett offers more upside than both. He also comes relatively cheap, another bonus for a Ravens team that will have a host of needs this offseason and not a lot of salary cap space.
Of course, for this to work out, Mallett is going to have to prove to the organization that he can be counted on both on and off the field, and that his maturity issues in Houston are a thing of the past.