The Ravens will soon be making the decision that has been the talk of the preseason, and everybody has been looking for clues.
Three quarterbacks or two?
The trade Tuesday that sent linebacker Kamalei Correa to the Tennesee Titans for a 2019 sixth-round draft choice certainly seemed like one. The main argument against the Ravens keeping both Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III has been the overall depth the Ravens have displayed and the value of each roster spot as teams prepare to cut down to 53 players this weekend.
Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that his team is so deep at the linebacker position that Correa was expendable at a point in which he was probably playing the best football of his pro career. He did not specifically deny that there might be a connection between Correa’s departure and whether Griffin remains, so you can draw your own conclusions.
“Probably a consideration,” Harbaugh said at his podium session Tuesday. “The whole puzzle has to fit together at this time of year. … I think it all pieces together that way. Kamalei was definitely one of our best 53, so it opens up a roster spot for another position that you probably need. It gives somebody an opportunity to make the team.”
The situation certainly adds some intrigue to the Ravens’ fifth preseason game Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium. The final preseason game is usually a yawner that features a lot of players who won’t be around next week, but with Griffin on the bubble and the Washington Redskins in town, it should be worth watching.
It’s already well-documented that the Ravens haven’t kept three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster in a long time, which is largely a tribute to Joe Flacco’s durability over the past decade. There has never really been a compelling reason to keep the team from filling a slot somewhere else and gambling that it won’t need to embark on a worst-case-scenario search for an unemployed quarterback in the middle of a season.
The Ravens have usually had a decent backup who was lucky to get into a game in garbage time, but it was pretty much assumed during Flacco’s prime as the team’s franchise quarterback that if they needed a third QB, there wouldn’t be a lot at stake at that point anyway.
This situation is entirely different. There has never been a time since Flacco became the full-time starter as a rookie in 2008 that the Ravens had anyone who was seriously considered a potential franchise quarterback of the future. Lamar Jackson was taken with the team’s second first-round draft pick to be just that, and he has shown why in several flashes of brilliance during this preseason.
He has also shown that — for a variety of reasons — he would not be the best choice to step in as the starting quarterback if Flacco was knocked out of action for an extended period early in the season.
No one can question his talent or fail to see that he has a chance to be a huge star at this level. His performance in the second half of Saturday’s victory over the Miami Dolphins showed that he has made measurable strides in a very short time. But there are too many questions that Jackson will not be able to answer in time for the Ravens to feel comfortable letting Griffin walk.
Though Jackson looked much better throwing the ball against the Dolphins and continues to display amazing elusiveness running with it, he has not been tested against a first-string NFL defense and his durability will be a problem until he figures out how to protect himself in the open field.
Meanwhile, Griffin seems to have impressed everyone with his veteran presence and I’ll-do-anything attitude. He has proven he can still play quarterback at a high level and would provide added value assisting in the development of Jackson.
But, really, there’s only one question that matters. If the worst-case scenario presented itself and Flacco was lost for the season, would RGIII or Jackson have a better chance of leading an otherwise solid Ravens team to the playoffs in this get-there-or-else season?
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The Ravens still might go all-in with Jackson, but Griffin would be the best man for that job.