Flacco said he plans on getting together with his new receiving group before the start of training camp in mid-July. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
There were times last year when it was obvious that the season-long struggles of the offense and his inability to help fix it had taken a toll on Joe Flacco. Normally even-keeled, the veteran Ravens quarterback showed glimpses of frustration and appeared to be at a loss for how to reverse downward trends in his performance.
Three and a half months later, and in his first comments to the Baltimore media since he cleaned out his locker after the end of a disappointing 2017 NFL season, Flacco looked and sounded re-energized.
Speaking Tuesday on the second day of the team's voluntary workout program, Flacco insisted he's not bothered by the talk that the Ravens are looking to find his successor in next week's draft. He maintained that he feels great physically after dealing with a significant back injury all of last season. He spoke with excitement about the team's offseason receiver additions and vowed to get together with his new targets away from the Under Armour Performance Center closer to training camp.
Ravens left guard Alex Lewis had virtually gone underground since a shoulder injury last training camp forced him to miss the entire 2017 season. On Tuesday Lewis was one of several players available to the media as the Ravens began the first phase of the team’s offseason workout program.
"My priority? Shoot, winning 12-13 games, getting to the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. Winning the Super Bowl is the No. 1 priority," Flacco said. "That's what we're all here to do. I want to be able to be here day in and day out, stand tall in that pocket and deliver to big, strong, fast guys out there that are going to make plays. That's what our idea of an offense on this team is."
A lightning rod for criticism throughout his career, Flacco, 33, will enter the 2018 season under more scrutiny than perhaps ever before. The Ravens have missed the playoffs three consecutive years, the longest stretch since the franchise's first four seasons in Baltimore. The performance of Flacco and the offense he leads has been a primary culprit in the team's struggles and has prompted questions about his future in Baltimore.
It still seems unlikely that the Ravens use the 16th overall pick April 26 on a quarterback, but members of the team's front office haven't quelled the speculation that they are in the market for a young quarterback.
"Hey, it is what it is. It's a business. Eventually at some point, that's going to have to happen," Flacco said. "It's not really for me to worry about. I come in here and worry about what's here and now, and doing your job, which for me right now is getting guys out there working hard and making sure we're moving toward our goal of getting to that championship."
With Flacco having one of the worst seasons of his 10-year pro career in 2017, the Ravens ranked 27th in the NFL in yards per game (305.4) and 29th in passing yards per game (189.4). Flacco said he felt the offense gained some momentum toward the end of the year, but the front office understands reinforcements are needed.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has spent the offseason revamping Flacco's group of targets. Gone are wide receivers Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Campanaro (River Hill), along with tight end Benjamin Watson. In are wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown.
The Ravens, who have been active on most notable receivers and tight ends who have been available this offseason with the latest being former Dallas Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant, are still looking to make meaningful additions at those spots. Flacco praised Bryant, comparing his ability to make contested catches to the skill set that Anquan Boldin once brought to the team. Flacco, though, is excited about the receiver additions the Ravens already made.
"I've gotten the chance to watch Michael up close a few times and the physicality that he brings. His route-running, too, just how much strength he runs them with. He seems to be able to do a lot of the things. You can tell just by throwing with him a couple of times, he's smooth," Flacco said. "With John, a couple of years ago when he really came on the radar, you got to see just what he can do, [the] game-breaking with his speed and all that. I almost hate to bring up his speed just because I really do think he's a really good wide receiver. After talking with our quarterbacks coach, James [Urban], and a couple of guys around the building, they really, really believe he's the real deal. I'm excited about him."
Crabtree, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Ravens last month, returned Flacco's praise.
"That deep ball, I haven't seen nothing like that — in the air, that spin, it's just nice," Crabtree said Tuesday. "Being able to catch the ball from Flacco is just amazing."
Crabtree said getting comfortable with his new quarterback will be a "day-by-day" process. Flacco seems intent on doing what he can to speed things up. He's been criticized throughout his career for not organizing throwing sessions with his receivers away from the team facility in the offseason. However, Flacco said he plans on getting together with his new receiving group before the start of training camp in mid-July.
"There's no doubt, that stuff is important and we'll do it. I've already talked with John and Mike about it," Flacco said. "I think sometimes those things are just as much or more about developing a relationship with those guys and developing that trust, and for those guys to see that I really like who they are as football players and for them to see hopefully they like who I am as a football player. I think when you can get that relationship going, that's going to help your football team out a ton."
Flacco also appears to be buoyed by being healthy again. He reported to training camp last year with a significant back injury. He missed the entire preseason and while he got better about managing the injury as the year wore on and he never used it as an excuse, the injury affected his preparation all year.
Flacco said he's spent the offseason working on his back and "catering" to it to make sure it won't be a problem. Strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders said Tuesday that Flacco has looked great and the quarterback's competitive nature has been on display in the first couple of workouts.
"He drives this ship, man," safety Eric Weddle said. "It hurt us obviously not having him at all for training camp. People forget that he basically had his first rep the week of our first game and finally got rolling the second half of the year. It's nice to see. He's excited, he's motivated I think he likes what we're doing offensively. This team goes as he goes. He's going to get a full offseason with our new receivers, offensive philosophy, and what he wants to do and it's going to show."