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Lamar Jackson means Joe Flacco’s days with the Ravens are numbered

Flacco isn’t going anywhere this offseason, but the Ravens can save big by moving on from him in 2019 or 2020.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Before speculation even had a chance to start Thursday night, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh shut it down. He made it clear that the No. 32 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Lamar Jackson, wasn’t going to take over as a rookie starter.

Joe Flacco is our quarterback, that’s the thing everybody’s got to remember,” Harbaugh said in a press conference Thursday. “Lamar’s going to have a great chance to develop. I think you get to this stage in a quarterback’s career — you’ve seen it done in New England, you’ve seen it in a lot of places — it’s time to start thinking about drafting a quarterback. When the opportunity came to get a really good one, we had to jump and take it.

“This really doesn’t change things in the sense that we’re going to go with Joe.”

All of that makes sense. Flacco is entering his 11th season as the Ravens’ starter and Jackson is still inconsistent enough mechanically that allowing him time to learn is in his best interest.

But make no mistake: the Ravens didn’t give up a 2019 second-round pick to climb 20 spots in the draft order for a quarterback just so that he’ll be a backup. Jackson is the team’s future and his selection means Flacco probably won’t be finishing his career in Baltimore.

It probably means Flacco won’t even reach a 12th season as the Ravens’ starter.

The Ravens can save big by cutting or trading Flacco in 2019

Flacco, 33, isn’t at the point in his career where the Ravens need to worry about him retiring or suddenly seeing a dropoff in his numbers. The problem is that his statistics have never really been all that strong to begin with, even with a Super Bowl title under his belt.

Twice in his career, Flacco topped a passer rating of 90, most recently in 2014. But his rating of 80.4 last season was the second-lowest of his career and just 26th in the NFL.

That’s not all his fault. Baltimore has struggled to find wide receivers who can make plays, and the team hasn’t always had the strongest running game to help him out, either.

But weak supporting cast or not, Flacco’s recent play hasn’t been up to par with the six-year, $125 million contract he signed in 2016. His upcoming cap number of $24.75 million in 2018 is the fifth-highest hit in the NFL and will climb to $26.5 million in 2019 and $28.5 million in 2020.

That is, unless the Ravens get rid of Flacco next offseason.

By releasing or trading the quarterback in 2019, the Ravens can save at least $10.5 million. Baltimore could recoup $18.5 million if it designates the move as a post-June 1 trade or cut.

If moving Flacco doesn’t happen in 2019, the Ravens could also cut ties in 2020 and save $20.25 million in space with $24.25 million in savings for 2021.

Essentially, the Ravens can toss the keys of the offense to Jackson whenever it feels like the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is ready to drive.

It all just depends on how long it takes for Jackson to be ready

Jackson was definitely the best player in college football the last two years. That’s not a slight to 2017 Heisman winner and the No. 1 pick, Baker Mayfield. He earned the award with a great year that ended in the College Football Playoff while Jackson went 8-5 at Louisville. Winning does matter plenty in the Heisman race.

But no other player was capable of single-handedly dragging an otherwise unremarkable Louisville offense into highlight reels, leading them to 38.1 points per game.

Jackson was the full package. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to immediately start in an NFL offense, though.

His viability as an NFL starter will depend on his ability as a pocket passer and there are many plays that suggest he has growing to do when it comes to the footwork required to succeed there. Here’s one example of poor movement in the pocket leading to an inaccurate throw:

At the time of his throw, Jackson’s feet are nearly parallel with the line of scrimmage, causing the ball to sail well over the head of his receiver.

But the good news for the Ravens is that Jackson made huge strides as a pocket passer between 2016 and 2017. He also played in a Bobby Petrino offense that likely prepared Jackson well for the NFL.

It’ll be Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg who will be tasked with helping Jackson continue that progression. It looks like a great fit.

If Jackson continues to make progress, he may be ready sooner rather than later. And if the Ravens think he’s capable of taking over in 2019, there’s a strong chance Flacco will be on the trading block next offseason.