Joe Flacco, even midway through last season with Denver, has been a 12-year NFL starting quarterback, a six-time playoff QB and a Super Bowl winner and MVP. Now he's continuing his rehab after neck surgery and trying to pick up the Jets offense with an eye toward being a backup and helping a younger starter, Sam Darnold, to continue his progress in the pros.
The two existences are worlds apart and how Flacco is dealing with the sudden change in football fortunes was one of the questions revisited in a conference call with Jets reporters. Typically, Flacco had some thoughtful riffs for the writers on how he's approaching things now in his 13th year as a pro.
"I obviously still believe I'm a starting quarterback. You never know what three years down the line is going to look like," Flacco said. "So I still have that confidence and the want-to to do that. But at this moment, that's not my role. My role is to help the team get better and to help a young quarterback see things as clearly as possible and help him on his journey to being a longtime NFL quarterback."
His new role was thrust on him, he explained, because of the injury he sustained right around the midpoint of his first and only season with the Broncos, after his long and distinguished career with the Ravens. He was asked if the injury even had him contemplating retirement.
"No. ... Well, sometimes it's not your decision," he said. "But not playing was never one of my choices. It was a tough decision for me to get surgery or not to get surgery in one respect, because I just didn't have a ton of symptoms telling me, hey, you need to get surgery.
"But when it became evident that I probably wasn't going to play football again unless I did get something done and a team that signed me could feel comfortable that when I was ready to go out on the field, I was going to stay healthy at least in terms of this area, it became very clear this is what I had to do.
"It's not ideal," he said, "but it's kind of what you sign up for when you get drafted or you get signed by a team. You sign up for getting beat up a little bit and things happen. I still want to play football. That's what I had to do and that's what I did."
See the Best Images of the Former Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens QB
So Flacco made the calm and rational — and for many a quarterback, a counterintuitive — decision to put his starting aspirations on hold for a while. He may still have to wait to play until the medical team caring for him decides he can return to the field. But he's good with helping Darnold's career along in the mean time, and had a pretty good scouting report on the Jets' third-year signal-caller even though he admitted to not having followed him that closely.
"I'm fully embracing it. It's where I am right now," he said, adding about Sam's game, "My impression is he's a young guy that has really good athleticism, can move in the pocket, can move out of the pocket, can create things for himself, has the arm strength to do what he wants with the ball, in the pocket and out of the pocket once again.
"I would say the biggest thing is to get him to play as fast as possible so he can use all those things that he has in his toolbox, all those natural talents he has, to be able to get out there and play football the way he knows how to."
Flacco doesn't know a lot of his new teammates, but there are a good number he ran into when he was in Baltimore — from GM Joe Douglas to WR Breshad Perriman, LBs C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor and O-linemen Connor McGovern (with the Broncos) and Alex Lewis (with the Ravens).
And being that Eastern Seaboard guy (growing up in South Jersey outside of Cherry Hill, playing at Pitt and Delaware), he said of his recent signing, "It wasn't necessarily a hard decision for me to come to the Jets. ... I honestly think there's a lot of good things about going up to New York and being on this football team."
"Sometimes things don't go the way you want them to or the way you expect them to," he said. "But you have to be able to push forward and put those things behind you and move ahead with the best mindset possible. And that's what I'm trying to do."