Sports columnist Mike Preston gives his take of the State of the Ravens press conference with owner Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsomes, Dick Cass and John Harbaugh. (Kevin Richardson/Baltmore Sun video)
The Ravens will spend the offseason looking for solutions to the solution.
Nearly three years ago the Ravens declared Joe Flacco their quarterback of the future by signing him to a six-year, $120.6 million contract that made him, at the time, the highest-paid player in NFL history.
But at the "State of the Ravens" news conference Tuesday, the Ravens didn't put him in the same elite category as Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers — quarterbacks who can carry a team.
They made excuses for his less-than-average showing in 2016, and at the same time challenged him. It's a major theme heading into 2017.
"We were better this year with Joe Flacco back in the lineup, but I certainly don't think we saw the Joe Flacco that he's capable of being," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. "We've seen a better Joe Flacco in the past.
"We need to get more out of Joe, and Joe would agree with me, and Joe is committed to making that happen. "Hopefully, that can go from five to eight to 11 [wins]. That's what I believe."
The Ravens have to work with Flacco because they are stuck with him for at least another two years, when his contract will count more than $24million annually against the salary cap.
He has to play, but there can be no more excuses. It's not as if his performance just dropped off this season. He wasn't very good in 2015, either. Flacco played in 10 games that year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He completed 266 of 413 passes for 2,791 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also had 12 interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 83.1.
This season Flacco finished with 4,317 passing yards by completing 436 of 672 passes, but he also threw 15 interceptions and had mechanical and accuracy problems. Bisciotti thought Flacco's difficulties were related to the injury. When the offensive line got hit by injuries early in the season, Flacco got rid of the ball too quickly.
"Last year, we didn't know what we were going to get from an injury standpoint with Joe and [receiver Steve Smith Sr.] and [tight end Dennis Pitta] and all those guys coming back from injuries that had been really good performers in the past," Bisciotti said. "Did that mess with his mind? Did it mess with his timing, his accuracy? I think it did. Joe is going to have to prove that he's back and better."
Asked whether the team had a timetable for Flacco to improve or an heir apparent in waiting, coach John Harbaugh began pitching Flacco like a salesman selling a new car. But Flacco has been in the NFL for nine years and has a lot of mileage.
That didn't deter Mr. Optimistic.
"We're looking at it like, we're going to be as good as we can be next year, which means we're going to be great," Harbaugh said. "That's how I'm looking at it. We're going to build a football team around Joe and Joe's going to be another year removed from the injury. We're going to build an offensive line that's the best in the league. We're going to put a running game together that's going to support the quarterback. That's what we want to build. To me, as a coach, Joe can get that done and Joe is going to be better next year."
"You saw over the weekend what happens to teams when your No.1 quarterback gets hurt and you're trying to win a playoff game," Newsome said. "Whether we end up drafting one, you have to have two quality quarterbacks in this league to be successful year in and year out. Whether you go through the draft, whether it's a free agent, whatever it is, we realize that Joe is one play away from getting injured. We've seen that."
A team always needs a Plan B. If there has been a major fault in Flacco's time, it is that the Ravens have babied him. They want to know whether he likes his offensive coordinator and his quarterbacks coach. They should be getting on him about spending more time with his receivers and extra time at The Castle.
They need to criticize Flacco for poor footwork and pocket awareness. They need to demand patience going through his progressions instead of throwing to his check-down guys so quickly.
Harbaugh, Newsome and Bisciotti talked about fixing the offense, and they had some good ideas. Some we've heard before. The Ravens want to improve their offensive line and they want to get Flacco a complementary receiver.
After two years, we're still waiting. But Tuesday was a feel-good day for the Ravens. Bisciotti expressed the confidence he had in Newsome as well as Harbaugh, and emphasized how he preferred continuity.
But three years ago, the Ravens broke up a Super Bowl team to keep Flacco, and they thought he could carry this team and make players around him better. Instead on Tuesday, a lot of the talk was about bringing in players to make him better.