Ravens' revamped roster fails to make playoffs on heels of Flacco's mega-deal

12/30/13 in NFL   |   Matthew_Shovlin   |   735 respect

After winning the Super Bowl behind a strong postseason run from quarterback Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens had to make some sacrifices to retain their franchise signal caller, who was an unrestricted free agent last offseason. On the heels of winning Super Bowl MVP honors, Flacco's demands were high, and an appreciative Ravens' front office was willing to dish out some big bucks to keep him in Baltimore. General manager Ozzie Newsome handed Flacco a massive contract worth $120.6 million over six years with $52 million guaranteed.

The contract did not just affect the Ravens' wallets, but also their roster, particularly the defense. Faced with a plethora of impending free agents after winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens knew that they would have to largely transform their roster if they wanted to sign Flacco, and that is exactly what they did. The Ravens lost Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe, Cary Williams, Ed Reed, and Paul Kruger from their 2012 starting defensive lineup. They also lost all-time great linebacker Ray Lewis to retirement. Granted, the defense produced quite similarly, giving up only eight more points and notching three less takeaways on the season than the 2012 unit, but some of those players certainly could have helped the Ravens on that side of the ball.

Blog Photo - Ravens' revamped roster fails to make playoffs on heels of Flacco's mega-dealAs far as the offense, Flacco's unit saw significant statistical decline from a season ago. After ranking tenth in points, 16th in yards, and second in turnovers in 2012, the Ravens plummeted to 25th in points, 29th in yards, and 22nd in turnovers in 2013. A large part of their regression was their lack of a running game - a promising backfield starring Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry. Of course, the team's yards per pass attempt also dropped from 6.3 in 2012 (15th in the league) to 5.4 (30th).

The biggest losses on offense were center Matt Birk (retired) and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who was shipped to San Francisco in a trade to create cap space. The Ravens were forced to roll with fourth-round rookie Gino Gradkowski as their starting center, and he struggled quite a bit in his first NFL season. Boldin may not have put up huge numbers during his time in Baltimore, but he was an integral part of the offense as an incredibly reliable security blanket and occasional big play threat. Boldin's 85 catches for 1,179 yards (his highest total since 2006) with the 49ers this season certainly could have been useful in Baltimore.

As I am sure you saw on Sunday, the Ravens got blown out 17-0 in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals, giving them a 34-17 loss and eliminating them from playoff contention.

Flacco's mega-deal put Newsome in a tough spot as the GM, as he was forced to plug several inexperienced players into significant roles. Considering all the losses, Newsome should be given a good deal of praise for having crafted a roster that was just a win away from another postseason appearance.

That being said, when you give a quarterback a contract worth over $120 million, he should not need a bunch of great players surrounding him to find success. Look at Tom Brady, who led the New England Patriots to the second seed in the AFC despite free agent losses, an abundance of injuries, and a number of unfamiliar faces - that is the kind of player worth $120 million. Brady is currently playing under a five-year, $60 million deal.

No quarterback making $120 million should ever lead a 29th ranked offense that also ranks 30th in yards per pass attempt, regardless of the help he has. I don't blame Flacco for taking advantage of his stock after winning a Super Bowl, nor do I hold it against him that he said he is an elite quarterback (what else is he supposed to say when asked whether or not he is one of the league's best?). However, I can definitively say after this season that Flacco is not a quarterback worth $120 million dollars.

I don't believe that the Flacco's enormous annual salaries will keep the Ravens from contending for championships, as Newsome is one of the best GM's in football, but the team needs to surround Flacco with quality pieces in order to succeed - Flacco can't do it on is own the way a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning type player is capable of.

I think a lot of us saw this coming - a transformed Ravens roster featuring Joe Flacco as one of the highest-paid players in NFL history missing the playoffs just a year after having won the Super Bowl. Despite the contract and the ring, Flacco simply is not a top-tier quarterback. The draft will be huge for the Ravens while Flacco is playing under this deal, as they will look to acquire quality players at an affordable price to fill the holes on their roster. Offensive line and wide receiver help will probably be high on the priority list.
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