Joe Flacco’s list of concerns right now include getting acclimated to an almost entirely new group of wide receivers, making sure rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are up to speed and maintaining an open dialogue with the new faces in the quarterback room.
He insists it doesn’t include consternation about his future in Baltimore or any personal competition with Lamar Jackson, the quarterback the Ravens selected in the first round last month and put in position to become Flacco’s successor.
“You pick guys in the first round - whenever you pick guys - you pick them for a reason. I don’t know what the plan is. I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen, but I’m worried about right now,” Flacco said after the Ravens’ organized team activity practice Thursday. “I’m worried about myself getting these guys ready to win football games. Nothing is every promised to us, man. That’s the reality of it for me.”
In his first public comments since the Ravens traded back in the first round to select Jackson, Flacco casually handled what has the makings of a sensitive situation. He laughed off the idea that he’s holding a grudge against the former Heisman Trophy winner, a storyline that gained steam when Jackson said after the rookie minicamp that he hadn’t yet spoken to Flacco.
Flacco didn’t even express opposition to the Ravens installing an offensive package that gets Jackson on the field this year, which he did in the past when the team worked to get his former backup, Tyrod Taylor, involved.
“Listen, I want to win football games; whatever’s going to help us win,” he said. “I’m probably going to maintain that myself under center is our best chance to win football games, but whatever helps us win football games.”
Heading into his 11th NFL season as the Ravens starter, Flacco might be under more scrutiny than ever before. The 33-year-old former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player has largely struggled since 2015 and his inconsistency has been compounded by significant knee and back injuries.
The addition of Jackson, the dual-threat quarterback who was a human highlight reel at Louisville, has added to the outside perception that this season could be Flacco’s final one in Baltimore. Flacco’s landmark contract certainly becomes a little more forgiving to move on from after 2018.
“Obviously, when you take a quarterback, when you take anybody in the first round, it means something. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know exactly what it is, but that’s not my job to worry about,” Flacco said when asked if he was surprised and/or disappointed the Ravens decided on this year to try to find his successor. “My job is to keep my approach exactly what it’s been for the last 10 years and to help our team win football games. We’ve got a couple of young tight ends, a lot of new wide receivers. My job is to get these guys on the same page and us operating at a high level.”
Only four of the 10 OTA sessions have taken place. There’s still the mandatory minicamp and then the mid-July start to training camp. But to this point of the offseason, Flacco continues to garner positive reviews.
Team officials were pleased by his commitment to the offseason workout program and his competitiveness in the various workouts. It appears he’s already developed a good rapport with new quarterbacks coach James Urban and Flacco’s early form in the OTAs has been widely praised. Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Thursday complimented Flacco for how well he’s moving around after he was burdened by a herniated disk in his back throughout last season.
There weren’t too many highlights from Thursday’s OTA, the first one open to reporters, but Flacco was pretty sharp, connecting with new receivers Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV, and looking engaged throughout.
He conversed often with Urban and with the team’s three other quarterbacks: Jackson, Robert Griffin III and Josh Woodrum. During a portion of the practice, he walked over to Chris Moore, one of the team’s few returning receivers, and demonstrated what he expected on a route.
“I think we have a lot to look forward to,” Flacco said.
Ravens officials have downplayed the immediate impact the Jackson acquisition will have on Flacco, maintaining his starting job is not in jeopardy. They surely grasp, though, that Flacco has played his best in his career when scrutiny has been its highest.
He memorably eschewed a lucrative contract offer from the Ravens before the 2012 season because he didn’t think the team was properly valuing what he brought. Deciding to bet on himself, Flacco wound up leading the team to a Super Bowl championship with one of the best postseasons ever for a quarterback. Weeks later, he cashed in, temporarily becoming the highest-paid player in the history of the league.
The current landscape is different and Flacco has never been in a situation where his potential long-term successor is on the Ravens roster. However, Flacco still exhibits some of the same characteristics that had initially endeared him to the organization. He has a great belief in himself and he seems almost immune to criticism from fans and reporters.
“He’s not worried about the outside noise,” Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams said Thursday. “He’s just worried about doing his thing, commanding an offense, leading us out to battle and winning games. That’s what it should be all about. It shouldn’t be about the tabloids, it shouldn’t be about who is this player coming in, or who is this player. It’s about, how can we come in, be a cohesive unit and win games?”
Flacco, who has long been open and accessible with reporters, seemed almost amused Thursday about the attention being paid to his reception of Jackson. No, he did not reach out to welcome the young quarterback, nor has he done that for most of the team’s offensive additions throughout his career.
Harbaugh called the storyline “much ado about nothing.”
“I think they’ve been great,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve been working together just like everybody has. It’s been really good.”
Flacco and Jackson spoke a few times during Thursday’s practice. Flacco said Jackson hasn’t asked him a lot of questions, but he said there has been an “open dialogue” during the various quarterback meetings.
“Everybody just wants to talk about it and they want to act like I’m holding some grudge. That’s not how it is,” he said. “I think you guys have been around me for a long time and you know the way I am. We welcome Lamar around here with open arms and that’s the same for me. At the same time, my approach doesn’t change. I want to go win football games this year and we’ve got a lot of new guys that I have to get ready to play and help us win those games.”