• Sunday will mark the first time Flacco has ever been a backup in his NFL career. What does it mean for the veteran’s future?
By Conor Orr
December 14, 2018

Welcome to QB Stock Watch. This is the third in a series running for the remainder of this season analyzing some of the league’s most difficult, and intriguing, quarterback decisions to be made for 2019 and beyond.

Current contract situation: In March 2016, Flacco signed a three-year extension that runs through the 2021 season. A quick look at his deal summary shows prorated bonus amounts of $8 million in both 2019 and 2020, meaning that it isn’t a slam dunk he’ll be gone should the team decide to move forward with Lamar Jackson as their starter and import another backup with a similar skill set. It’s $16 million of dead money or a $26.5 million cap hit to keep him on next season; $8 million of dead money or a $28.25 million cap hit in 2020. Could the situation come to a head before that? On Sunday Flacco will officially be benched for Jackson for the first time, in a pivotal game against the mercurial Buccaneers with a postseason berth on the line. Baltimore has gone 3-1 since Jackson assumed the role of starting quarterback, filling in while Flacco rested an injured hip.

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2018 season: Before that creeping hip injury forced Flacco to miss time, the Ravens were 4-5 heading into their bye week. Flacco’s interactions with Jackson on the field have appeared passive-aggressive at best, though all parties involved insist that it’s simply football stuff we don’t understand. This was set up to be Flacco’s grand reemergence. In the preseason, he looked great. Privately, the Ravens were very high on his progress and assumed that, minus the back injury and with the assistance of an improved supporting cast, he could return to form and Baltimore could stash Jackson for the long-term. As we’ve come to find with first-round quarterbacks, that is now nearly impossible.

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What to expect for the rest of the season: Here’s where it gets strange. Baltimore is still in the hunt for the division and the wild-card spots. Should Jackson play adequately in a victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday, that would likely quiet calls for Flacco to come in and run his offense. But if Baltimore pinballs into the playoffs with a few uneven performances, there is no question we will have a Tony Romo/Dak Prescott situation on our hands. It would not be stunning to see Flacco shuffling back on the field in a fit of desperation by the team. I am of the mind that those pushing Flacco back onto the field are looking at his last few seasons through rose-colored glasses, or fail to see the advantage of an offense that could possess the ball for nearly 40 minutes in a game. For those who prefer a more conventional offense, the quarterback needs command of such a system for it to be an upgrade. A common refrain I hear from Ravens fans is that Jackson does not throw the ball down the field enough. The Ravens were 13th, 26th and 32nd, respectively over the last three seasons in passes of 20 yards or more; while that is not all on Flacco's shoulders, it paints a broader picture of an ineffective passing game with him under center.

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Will he be on the same team next season: Should the season continue going in this direction, no. The Ravens could get creative, maybe designate Flacco as a post-June 1 cut or simply walk away financially comfortable with the $16 million in dead cap space considering it would deliver more than $10 million in cap relief. Either way, Flacco could emerge as one of the top targets for QB needy teams on the market, a la Alex Smith a year ago. His timing may not be great—it seems only Washington, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Miami and Denver could be looking for a QB on the open market, which could soften the bidding war. The Ravens, though, could benefit from a relatively soft draft class for teams who need a QB right away.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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