xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

To get back on track, Ravens need a healthy Joe Flacco from the start next season

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco stands next to Justin Forsett during the first half against the St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 22, 2015 in Baltimore.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco stands next to Justin Forsett during the first half against the St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 22, 2015 in Baltimore. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Over the course of Thursday's "State of the Ravens" news conference, just about every subject relative to the past season and a very important draft ahead was dissected by the media and the team's braintrust, but that wasn't really necessary.

Much of what was said was obvious and the one thing that matters most is unknowable.

Advertisement

The Ravens will be as good as quarterback Joe Flacco is able to make them, and no one can really say whether he'll be under center when they take the field for their first regular-season game of the 2016 season.

Don't misunderstand. This is not some fatalistic attempt to project or cast doubt on Flacco's future effectiveness. He'll be the same old Joe Flacco when he comes back from his knee injury and the Ravens will fill in the gaps around him. It's just a matter of when he comes back, since the AFC North is so tightly wrapped that Flacco missing even two games at the start of the season could be the difference between the playoffs and a different tone at the next postseason news conference.

Advertisement
Advertisement

That's why you have to laugh when fans call up the talk shows and wonder if Ryan Mallett performed well enough in his two-game audition to improve the Ravens' bargaining power — or reduce the sense of urgency — when they ask Flacco to restructure his giant contract.

Those are two dots that don't need to be connected. Flacco knows that his chances of getting back to the Super Bowl will improve greatly if he allows the team to regain significant room under the salary cap to go forward with increased free-agent buying power and roster flexibility.

"You know it's coming, unless the salary cap makes some kind of enormous jump, but it's really kind of out of my control," Flacco said Monday. "It's just an issue that these guys are used to dealing with, day in and day out."

Does that sound like there's going to be a big problem? General manager Ozzie Newsome certainly didn't seem to think so when he commented on the situation Thursday. He even left open the unlikely possibility that the Ravens will be able to fill all of their offseason needs without it becoming necessary to change Flacco's ballooning cap figure.

Advertisement

The Ravens have made it pretty clear how they feel about their franchise quarterback, who has been particularly effective in the postseason over the course of his eight-year NFL career. If he starts in Week 1 next September and remains upright, the Ravens will be a playoff contender again.

Of course, there's a lot of work to be done between now and then. The guys sitting on the stage at the Under Armour Performance Center on Thursday tried to project a sense of organizational calm in the wake of their team's 5-11 finish. They rightly pointed at the long list of injuries that undermined the season. They made the case that the road back might not be as long as it looks.

It won't be if all those injured playmakers come back and pick up right where they left off. But that's a lot to wish for when Steve Smith Sr. will be 37 years old when camp opens and Terrell Suggs will be coming back from his second Achilles tendon surgery.

Newsome made it clear that the front office will make no assumptions. He'll be looking for at least one free-agent receiver and another strong pass rusher. He already has addressed the backup quarterback situation and appears to have assembled an adequate collection of running backs. But he must use his unusually good draft position to shore up the defense at several positions.

In the meantime, Flacco will continue to rehab the first serious injury of his great career and hope that he will be ready to take the first snap of the regular season.

"I'm heading into this [offseason] just like any other year: optimistic about our future," he said. "And we'll have to do as much work as we can to make sure we come back ready to go."

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement