Joe Flacco’s closest friends on the team would start the annual ribbing around draft time. This is the year, they’d tell him, that the Baltimore Ravens were going to use an early-round pick on his replacement.
Flacco, never lacking in self-confidence, consistently shrugged off the banter. But as he sat down to watch the 2018 draft, he knew the Ravens were at least thinking about his heir apparent. They almost had to amid a challenging three-year stretch that included just one winning season and no playoff berths. The Ravens offense had grown stale and Flacco, the venerable Super Bowl-winning quarterback who led it, had recently turned 33.
By the time the 2018 draft rolled around, the Ravens’ triumph in Super Bowl XLVII following the 2012 regular season seemed like a distant memory.
“We were watching the first round together at his house and we ended up trading back a couple of times and getting (tight end) Hayden Hurst. We kind of looked at each other and it was like, ‘Well, there it is,'” said former Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, one of Flacco’s best friends. “Then, all of a sudden a couple of picks later, we saw that Baltimore traded back into the first round. At that point, before they even announced the pick, we knew they were coming to get a quarterback.
“When they drafted Lamar (Jackson), Joe knew it then. You don’t spend that high of a pick on a quarterback and not want to see him on the field at some point.”
Flacco’s 10-plus-season run as the Ravens’ starting quarterback lasted about six more months, a hip injury sending him to the sideline in November 2018 and triggering a quarterback transition that happened earlier than anyone expected. Four years and three teams later, Flacco, who is replacing the injured Zach Wilson, is preparing to face the Ravens for the first time since they unceremoniously traded him to the Denver Broncos in February 2019 and officially ushered in the Jackson era.
The matchup between the one-time starter and understudy provides good theater for the regular-season opener between the Ravens and New York Jets Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. It also offers a reminder of a quarterback transition in Baltimore that had the potential to be far more difficult and contentious than it actually was.
“There was no awkwardness. Joe was respectful to him, Lamar was respectful to him. They both understand their roles on the team and their positions,” said former Ravens guard Marshal Yanda. “Joe never got butt-hurt or anything like that. When you truly understand the game, you understand that’s part of the deal and it is what it is. Joe took it in stride. He handled it the best way possible. Obviously, we all would have liked it to end differently that year, where Joe had a better sendoff. But that’s just not the way the NFL is.”
Flacco and Jackson both took turns praising each other Wednesday. Jackson said “it meant a lot” to have a chance to learn from a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Flacco lauded Jackson’s will and toughness.