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Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

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.

Fair point.

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

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP

Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

RELATED: FIVE OFFSEASON QUESTIONS RAVENS MUST ANSWER

Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.

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Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

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USA Today Sports

Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

Mark your calendars now because the Ravens are already gearing up for their 2018 season.

From the Pro-Bowl all the way to the start of the regular season, here are the key dates.

January 28th: Pro Bowl, Orlando, Fla. 

Safety Eric Weddle, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley will all be in attendance. In addition, Suggs and Weddle were named starters. The game will take place at Camping World Stadium. Kickoff is at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN.

February 3rd: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 Class announced

This will be a very important day for Ray Lewis and the Ravens organization as Lewis waits to here if he will be sealed into football history, one day prior to Super Bowl LII. 

February 5th: Waiver system takes effect

The waiver system allows players' contracts or a club's NFL rights to a player available to other clubs in the league. Upon doing this, the other 31 teams can place a claim to obtain him or waive their chance. During this 24- hour period, once a club waives a player it can not take the player back or change his status. Assignments are based upon draft order until the third week of the regular season. If a player does not get claimed, he becomes a free agent. 

February 20th:  First day to franchise or transition tag a player

February 27th- March 5th: NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, IN

This seven day period will be crucial for General Manager Ozzie Newsome to get a good look at potential Ravens.

March 6th: Deadline to franchise or transition tag a player

March 12-14th: Teams are allowed to contact and negotiate with agents of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents

March 14th: Start of new league year at 4:00 p.m. ET

At this time, all 2017 player contracts expire meaning teams can begin seeking and signing free agents. Ravens free agents include Mike Wallace, Benjamin Watson, Ryan Jensen, Terrance West, James Hurst, Michael Campanaro, Steven Johnson, Ryan Mallet, Brandon Boykin, Crockett Gillmore, Brent Urban and Luke Bowanko.

March 25-28th: Owners Meeting, Orlando, FL

April 16th: Voluntary OTA's can begin

April 20th: Deadline for restricted FA's to sign offer sheets

April 26th-28th: 2018 NFL Draft, Arlington, TX

The Ravens will be heading down to Arlington, Texas in hopes of picking up their next franchise player. Positions needed include wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and outside linebacker.

May 4-7th or 11-14th: Potential three-day rookie minicamp

May 31-June 2nd: Ravens Beach Bash, Ocean City, MD

July 16th: Deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player 

Mid-Late July: Training camp begins

August 2nd: Hall of Fame Game, Canton, OH

August 4th: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Canton, OH

Again, keep this date marked as it could be the day Ray Lewis is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

September 6th: Start of regular season