Don't look now, but Joe Flacco is suddenly the Ravens' $80 million problem.
Yes, Flacco has proved he can be – dare we say it? – elite. He has a Super Bowl ring and shiny Super Bowl MVP car to show for it. But he hasn't played at anything close to an elite level for at least two years, and that's a huge problem for a team that will commit roughly 15 percent of its salary cap to that one player.
And reading between the lines of Tuesday's "State of the Ravens" news conference, Flacco is the biggest reason embattled offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will return in 2017.
At the news conference on Tuesday, owner Steve Bisciotti said what anyone who watched the Ravens in 2016 was thinking: "We’ve seen a better Joe Flacco in the past."
"We need to get more out of Joe," Bisciotti added. "Joe would agree with me, and Joe is committed to making that happen."
One way, apparently, is by continuing to work with Mornhinweg.
Many observers expected Mornhinweg to be jettisoned after the season, as the Ravens showed little offensive improvement after Mornhinweg took over for the fired Marc Trestman. But Harbaugh announced last week that Mornhinweg would return.
Even Bisciotti admitted in so many words that the Ravens offense this fall was a mess. The running game disappeared, and the Ravens had no semblance of an offensive identity. Flacco threw a team-record 672 passes – one shy of the league lead – but the Ravens ranked 26th in passing yards per play.
"I do not think that we are going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times," Bisciotti said. "It is just not our identity, and I do not know how we got that far away from it."
Well here's an answer: They got away from it because Mornhinweg decided to get away from it. He's the one calling the plays. And he'll be doing so again next season.
When asked on Tuesday about the decision to bring Mornhinweg back for another season, Bisciotti said tersely, "My quarterback seems happy with it."
So there it is: The Ravens are all in on Mornhinweg because their $80 million quarterback wants it that way. After all, there probably isn't anyone in the Castle – other than Bisciotti – with more job security than Flacco.
He has a salary cap hit of $24.5 million this year, with more than $47 million in dead money tied up in a contract that still includes more than $80 million in base salary through 2021. Translation: He isn't going anywhere, so if he wants Mornhinweg to return, Mornhinweg returns.
On the one hand, that's understandable: Flacco has been through a revolving door of coordinators, and hasn't even been with Mornhinweg for one full season. Flacco will have an entire offseason of workouts, which he didn't have last year as he recovered from knee surgery. Mornhinweg has an entire offseason as the coordinator, which he didn't have last year.
But the Ravens are losing one of their go-to receivers in Steve Smith Sr. They could lose the starting right tackle and fullback – a key cog in Mornhinweg's passing game – to free agency. They could lose Flacco's top target in tight end Dennis Pitta as a cap casualty.
Even if most of those players return, Flacco still has to get right. He needs to make better decisions. He needs to fix himself mechanically and get rid of the back-foot floater throws. He needs to get on the same page as his receivers. And oh by the way, the Ravens need at least one more legitimate receiver. General manager Ozzie Newsome said as much on Tuesday.
In other words, there are a whole lot of question marks going into 2017 for the Ravens offense. The notion that Flacco and Mornhinweg will somehow have this offense purring next fall seems, frankly, wildly optimistic.
But the Ravens have about 80 million reasons to hope and pray that happens.
MORE RAVENS: Ravens owner wants more out of Flacco