By all appearances, this is the beginning of the end for Joe Flacco.
That doesn’t mean Flacco’s NFL career is over. But it seems pretty obvious that his career as a Baltimore Raven is.
Flacco has been the face of the Ravens franchise for the last decade. He has been their franchise quarterback ever since Baltimore moved up in the 2008 draft to select the University of Delaware All-American.
An injury pushed Flacco into the starting lineup when he was a rookie and he never left. And now an injury has pushed Flacco out of the starting lineup and, barring something unforeseen, he’ll never return.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh announced on Wednesday that rookie Lamar Jackson will start Baltimore’s game against Tampa Bay this Sunday, even though Flacco is finally healthy after missing the last four games with a hip injury. The Ravens were 4-5 when Flacco got injured and they’re 3-1 since, which is the main reason Harbaugh is sticking with the rookie.
Flacco was supposed to be the Ravens’ franchise QB, but this decision shows that he isn’t. Can you see Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or Philip Rivers not getting their starting jobs back as soon as they were healthy again? Of course not. But now Joe Flacco, an established No. 1 quarterback, is now a backup after starting all 16 games in nine of the previous 11 seasons.
And in one of those seasons, he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship and was named the MVP of that game after a playoff run that included 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. That came in after the 2012 season, and in the offseason following the Super Bowl, Flacco signed a mega-contract worth $120.6 million, at the time the richest deal in NFL history.
Flacco played well in many of the seasons following that Super Bowl triumph, but there’s no question that his play has declined in the last few years and the Ravens failed to make the playoffs. That’s why the Ravens drafted Jackson, a talented but raw player who everyone agreed needed lots of grooming before he was ready to take over.
Then Flacco got hurt, the Ravens won three of four to climb back into the playoff race, and that timetable changed, just like it did for Flacco when he was a rookie.
This turn of events is very similar to what happened with the Eagles and coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb — Harbaugh drafted Flacco in his first year as coach to be his franchise quarterback, and Reid drafted McNabb in his first season for the same reason. And when McNabb’s play started to decline, Reid drafted Kevin Kolb to replace him and eventually traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins, and now the same thing appears to be happening with Harbaugh and Flacco.
So, the handwriting is on the locker room wall – Joe Flacco’s days in Baltimore are numbered.
So, where will he end up next? It’s hard to see Flacco agreeing to be a back-up after a decade of being The Man, so the odds are heavy that he’ll be wearing a different uniform next season. But which one?
The fact of the matter is that there aren’t a lot of openings out there and he might have to accept being a non-starter if he wants to stay in the NFL. Teams either have an established starter already or a young stud they drafted and are grooming. And it’s doubtful that the few teams that could be looking for a new QB (Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Washington) would want a fading star like Flacco.
But no matter what happens in the future, Joe Flacco has had a heck of a run, from being a transfer to small-college Delaware to earning a starting job in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl MVP. Plus, he’s a multimillionaire with a growing family and he’s still in his 30s, and who wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, even if those shoes aren’t cleats anymore?