“What if…” Baltimore never traded for Steve McNair?
When the Ravens traded for Steve McNair, they found a short dosage of stability from the quarterback position. McNair wasn’t a Pro Bowl level player in his Baltimore days, but he was very solid and he was a strong leader. Basically, the 2006 Ravens had something they never really had; they had a quarterback that they didn’t have to win in spite of. McNair had 16 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and just over 3,000 yards. It wasn’t the stuff of legends, but it was better than Kyle Boller or Troy Smith and it allowed Baltimore to get off to a 13-3 record. While the dominant defense was the headliner of the Ravens show, without McNair it could have been wasted.
The Ravens were coming into the 2006 season after a 6-10 record. The Ravens hadn’t made the playoffs since 2003. Coincidentally, it was McNair who beat the Ravens in the 2003 playoffs when he was with the Tennessee Titans. Brian Billick got a long leash from his Super Bowl XXXV run. In the early 2000’s the Ravens won a Super Bowl and had three playoff seasons. Coming into 2006, Billick was in a year where he had to prove it. The end result of the Ravens 13-3 season, which was the best regular season in franchise history, was a contract extension for Billick.
The Ravens ended up firing Billick after the 2007 season. It was a total disaster for the Ravens. They followed their best ever record with a 5-11 season. This disaster cost the franchise, as they still had to pay Billick after his departure. It worked out though. The Ravens hired John Harbaugh to be the next head coach of the purple and black. They drafted Joe Flacco and a new era was launched. This makes 2006 the most pivotal year in Ravens history.
If the Ravens didn’t trade for McNair they may have drafted a quarterback in 2006 or 2007. In 2006 that would have meant Vince Young, Matt Leinart or Jay Cutler. In 2007 the only first round quarterbacks were JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn. Compared to these options, the Ravens struck gold with Joe Flacco in 2008.
If the Ravens got desperate to replace their pitiful quarterbacks a year-or-two earlier than 2008, the Ravens could have been stuck with another quarterback that would set the franchise back. Worse, the Ravens could have stuck with Billick, to give whomever the Ravens drafted continuity. If the Ravens didn’t trade for McNair, the Harbaugh and Flacco era may have never happened. The Harbaugh and Flacco era produced six trips to the playoffs and a Super Bowl championship.
McNair only had one good year with the Ravens, but it shaped the franchise for years to come. McNair prevented a talented defense from being wasted, and kept the Ravens offense above water. He gave Billick one more year. 2008 was a resurgence of Ravens football that wouldn’t have happened if 2007’s disappointment took place a year earlier.