Only one quarterback has started 100 games for the Baltimore Ravens. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage (min 30 starts), yards per attempt (min 30 starts), and wins. In 2012, he had arguably the best post-season for a quarterback in NFL history, delivering the franchise their second Super Bowl. His name is Joe Flacco, and during the last off-season, the Baltimore Ravens traded him for a fourth round pick. Why? Because of one man, Lamar Jackson.
Lamar Jackson Proves It’s Okay to Move On
It’s hard to find a good quarterback. In the 11 drafts since the Baltimore Ravens selected Flacco, 33 quarterbacks have been taken in the first round. Of those 33, only 23 are still in the league. Of those 23, only 16 are still on the team that drafted them. Of those 16, only 14 are still starting on that team. And of that remaining 14? 10 were drafted over the last three years, so the jury is still out.
Between 2009, the year after Flacco was drafted, and 2016, only Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston are still starting for the team that spent a first round pick on them. More quarterbacks have been taken in the first round over the last decade than there are NFL teams, and very few of them have panned out.
So even if Joe Flacco wasn’t a perennial 4,000 yard, 30 touchdown passer, he had a winning record, and the capacity to play well under the right circumstances, and that’s hard to find. He’s certainly better than the likes of Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, or Paxton Lynch. The Ravens could’ve traded Flacco and moved on, but there was no promise that the risk would pay off. Lamar Jackson showed flashes, but he was no sure thing last season.
Last Year Lamar
Making fun of people that didn’t believe in Lamar Jackson is very, very popular right now. The analysts that dare speculate he “should’ve played receiver” or “is just a running back” are hung out to dry all over social media like “witches” in 1690’s Salem, as he continues to establish himself as a favorite for the league MVP.
But we should ignore everything Lamar has done this season and look at the tape. Last year Lamar and 2019 Lamar are not the same quarterback. Last year Lamar only completed 58% of his passes, averaged just under 240 total yards a game, and paired 10 fumbles and three interceptions to his nine touchdowns. Against the Los Angeles Chargers in the playoffs, Derwin James isolated and deactivated Jackson, rendering him essentially useless until garbage time.
In the biggest game of the season, Baltimore’s quarterback of the future looked more like gimmick running-quarterbacks of years past than the second-coming of Randall Cunningham. The Ravens were gambling their stable, reliable quarterback on the development of their second year quarterback.
As 2019 begins to wind down, Lamar Jackson finds himself in the MVP conversation, while Joe Flacco sits on Denver’s IR. In eight starts, Flacco managed to accumulate 1,822 yards and six total touchdowns. This season, Lamar Jackson has two games with five touchdowns. He’s tossed 25 scores through 12 games, two shy of Flacco’s season best, and that’s without including Jackson’s seven rushing scores. The Ravens are 10-2 and currently hold the NFL’s best record, on pace to have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, boasting wins over fellow 10-2 teams, the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.
The Baltimore Ravens gambled and it has paid off huge. If they’d stuck with their safe, complacent quarterback, there’s no way they’d be among the NFL’s elite. Sure, they could’ve crashed and burned, but they’re not the only examples of this working.
How about Kansas City? They walked away from Alex Smith, who was a perfectly consistent quarterback, for Patrick Mahomes, who had only made one career start. That season? He won league MVP, throwing for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in 16 games.
And hey, there’s also way back in 2002, when the New England Patriots sent their established starter, Drew Bledsoe, away in favor of some kid named Tom Brady, who managed the team to a Super Bowl the year before.
“There’s No Lamar Jackson in this Draft”
This is the most common response to this argument. Lamar Jackson is an undeniably explosive and special player, and it’s not fair to assume that anyone you draft could step in and replicate his success. On the surface, that seems like a solid argument, but if you dig a little deeper, it’s hardly relevant.
Firstly, I’m not saying teams should be chasing the “next” Lamar Jackson. Time is a flat circle, and every season brings a new style of offense. A second ago, everyone wanted the “next” Sean McVay, and before that, they wanted the “next” Cam Newton. Don’t try to copy what someone else is doing, because even if you do find the piece you’re missing, by the time you do, the rest of the league will have figured out how to stop it. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be afraid to move on from complacency, because the only way to create change is to allow change.
Secondly, there wasn’t a Lamar Jackson in Lamar Jackson’s draft either. He’s the talk of the town in 2019, but Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen were all drafted ahead of him in 2018. As recently as August, Jackson’s detractors (myself included) were extremely vocal about how he couldn’t carry the team’s success. Don’t pretend to know what these players will turn into, especially considering these same experts didn’t sneeze at Chad Pennington being selected 181 picks ahead of Tom Brady.
Teams That Could Follow Baltimore’s Lead
The Carolina Panthers
This one might already be happening. Cam Newton hasn’t been the same player since his MVP campaign in 2015. He hasn’t broken 4,000 all-purpose yards or 30 combined touchdowns, he’s missed more and more time with injuries, and the team has suffered as a result. He’s not getting any younger, and there’s already speculation that he’ll be moved in the off-season.
While Cam Newton has been very good, and when he’s been healthy, he’s kept the team in playoff contention, the Panthers might want to move onto someone younger. Especially while franchise staples like Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, and Christian McCaffrey are still around.
The Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford has always been very good. Between 2011 and 2018, he averaged 4,466 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only 14 interceptions, and it wasn’t his fault the Detroit Lions couldn’t give him a competitive team. Sure, he had Calvin Johnson during that span, but it’s not like his defenses or run games were ever elite.
Over the last few years, he’s started to slow down. Since 2017, he averages 3,573 yards, and only 23 touchdowns to pair with his nine interceptions. To date, he hasn’t won a playoff game, and based on how competitive the rest of the NFC North is, he won’t get a chance any time soon.
Stafford is easily Detroit’s best quarterback since Bobby Layne left in 1958, but he’s 31 years old, and his play isn’t trending upwards. It’s not a criticism of Stafford’s play, as he’s given the franchise his all since the very beginning, but maybe it would be for the best if both parties went their separate ways. The Lions could get a young quarterback to build around and Stafford could help a franchise (like the Jacksonville Jaguars) that need a veteran under center.
The Las Vegas Raiders
I’d be lying if I said this article was geared at anyone but Jon Gruden’s Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. Derek Carr‘s mythical 2016 season grows older every year, and no matter what, he fails to replicate his own success. He’s abysmal in cold weather, he can’t seem to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, and his numbers are just not good enough.
Just like Flacco, Carr has excuses. His offensive line hasn’t always been the best, his receivers remain unreliable, and his defenses are putrid year in and year out. But the fact remains, many other quarterbacks make more work with less. In order for Carr to succeed, he needs everything else in his offense to function perfectly, and that just doesn’t happen regularly enough.
For a quarterback that essentially a flashy game manager, Carr is making too much money. He’s taking up $22,500,000 in salary cap, and while that’s relatively affordable for a starting quarterback, that money could be spent better elsewhere with a cheaper replacement who could do a comparable job. Whether it’s a rookie or a journeyman like Teddy Bridgewater, the Raiders could get similar production at a significantly cheaper price. And then some of that money could go towards receivers that can actually catch or adequate defenses.