Mailbag: Is Flacco ready for his year-long NFL audition?

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Dan Hanzus takes questions from you, the readers, in his latest mailbag. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. That was cool.

Here's the ideal scenario for the Ravens: All the offseason chatter about Lamar Jackson's arrival "motivating" Flacco turns out to be true (which feels like a classic offseason trope, but you never know) and Flacco enjoys a turn-back-the-clock season that a) gets Baltimore back to the playoffs and b) pumps up Flacco's value before the inevitable trade to make way for the kid. You know how everyone keeps talking (and talking and talking) about how the Bears are following the Rams' model for success this offseason? Well, the Ravens want to follow the path of the Chiefs, who managed to get value for Alex Smith and open up a spot for Patrick Mahomes with one well-timed move.

Of course, it's important to contextualize what a "turn-back-the-clock season" constitutes for the now 33-year-old Flacco -- and whether or not that type of performance is even possible at this point. His best statistical year was probably 2014, when he set career highs in yards (3,986), touchdowns (27) and QBR (68.2), and posted near career-highs in interception percentage (2.2) and yards per attempt (7.2) for a 10-6 Ravens team that beat the Steelers in the wild-card round, then nearly took out the Pats in Foxborough in a game in which Flacco played like the 2012 playoffs version of himself. That version of Flacco as trade bait could easily approach what K.C. got for Alex Smith (a third-round pick plus a bona fide starting cornerback in Kendall Fuller).

Unfortunately, Flacco blew out his knee the year after his career-best effort, and he hasn't been close to the same quarterback since. The Ravens need Flacco to return to pre-knee injury heights or his trade value could be minimized to the point where they'll simply to decide to cut their former Super Bowl hero loose and take the $10.5 million in cap space. Either way, this season feels like a league-wide audition for Flacco, who is likely to be playing elsewhere in 2019.

As for your question, Mark, it's simply too early to gauge the quarterback landscape this far in advance. The Giants could make some sense if Eli Manning doesn't have a renaissance of his own. But just for fun, let's throw out the Patriots, who will be in desperate need of a veteran stopgap when Tom Brady abruptly retires next March.

I kid (or do I?).

HAVE YOU HEARD THAT THE BEARS ARE FOLLOWING THE RAMS' MODEL FOR SUCCESS THIS OFFSEASON? It's true, and if Matt Nagy and Co. pull it off, that will mean very good things for the backfield pairing of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Chicago already knows what it has in Howard, a strong runner (4.6 yards per carry in his first two years) with limited pass-catching ability. Cohen is the wild card. Last season, his electric playmaking ability stuck out like a sore thumb on the otherwise drab Bears offense. What if Nagy unlocked the best of Cohen while continuing to get consistent between the tackles production from Howard? No tandem will deliver a 1,500/1,500 season like Ingram and Kamara achieved last season, but Howard and Cohen ooze potential under new leadership.

Definitely the Browns. Their uniform re-design in 2015 was a total misfire and the club has been in talks about another re-design come 2020. Team owner Jimmy Haslam didn't run from the mistake during a chat with the Akron Beacon Journal back in April:

"We've had some mechanical difficulties with our uniforms, which has been very frustrating for the equipment guys, so I can definitely see that from a mechanical standpoint, we have to fix that," Haslam said. "From a design element, that's really up in the air."

Haslam acknowledged the re-design was a blunder.

"They've not been very popular with our fans, and obviously we serve at the pleasure of our fans. ... We definitely are going to look at it, and I think we were pretty new when that started the last time. We really didn't understand the process. I think we're much better equipped at it now to make better decisions."

Who else is super curious what the "mechanical difficulties" were? Who even knew that was a thing? Anyway, the Browns are 4-44 since the 2015 update, so it's time to rebuild ... again. As for your Rams potshot, I think all they have to do is remove the gold trim and they'll be, well, golden.

Speaking of the Browns ...

Hey Gelhar! This one's easy -- I've got my fingers crossed for a West Canaan Coyotes vs. Bud Kilmer-level locker room revolt involving Gregg Williams and several prominent Browns players. I'm thinking halftime of the third week of the preseason. Given the power, I'd make James Van Der Beek a camp body just so he could casually and subtly put the idea in the heads of teammates. "Psssst, boys, I ain't so sure Coach Williams has our best interests at heart."

So we're talking a worst-case scenario in which Keenum turns into a pumpkin and becomes the 2018 version of what happened with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets the year after "Fitzmagic" in 2016? It's a grim situation that would turn up the heat considerably on Elway, no doubt. Would it be enough to cost him his job, though? That would shock me, unless there were other menacing issues of organizational concern beyond the quarterback position. The truth is it's been a trying couple years for Elway, who needs his most recent draft class to hit. Keenum felt like a bigger gamble than the Broncos are willing to admit (in fairness, why would they?), but I give Elway credit for his willingness to acknowledge his Paxton Lynch stumble and move on.

Playing this out, if Keenum bombed and the Broncos had another double-digit loss season as a result, I'd imagine that would likely trigger Elway taking the big draft day swing at quarterback he was reluctant to take this April. At that point, Elway might be tying his job security to the fortunes of a single prospect. He's not there yet, however.

I don't mess with the "E" word; I'm all about The Superstar Club. Right now, I have eight passers behind the velvet rope: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Big Ben, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and newcomer Carson Wentz. Luck is back in once he proves he's healthy. Who's close?

» Matthew Stafford: Stafford was a sneaky stud last season, reaching a new apex in Year 9. Will that be his career ceiling? Right now, he's a lock for the Hall of Very Good.

» Jimmy Garoppolo: Yes, everyone seems to be in a rush to anoint Jimmy G as the next Great One, and I'll admit this pack logic makes me a little apprehensive. But he was damn good last year, and now he gets a full offseason of prep with Kyle Shanahan, one of the most gifted offensive minds in the game. Care to get fired up about his poor minicamp? Go ahead, I'm cool.

» Marcus Mariota: Like Garoppolo, this one's a projection. Mariota, frankly, has underwhelmed as a pro, but the thinking is that a new and improved coaching staff can unlock the Montana-like traits contained in the DNA of the former No. 2 overall pick. Last season's playoff berth and subsequent road win in Kansas City in the wild-card round offered up a glimpse of Mariota's undeniable potential. If Mariota stays healthy (shouldn't be assumed) and has indeed found a suitable running mate in offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, the Titans loom as a legit AFC sleeper.

Until next time ...

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. Send in your questions for the next mailbag using hashtag #DotComMailbag.

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