Joe Flacco Has a New Contract: Next Big Thing or Next Cautionary Tale?

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On December 16, the Baltimore Ravens lost their third game in a row, 34-17 to the Denver Broncos in Baltimore to drop to 9-5 on the season and virtually clinch a relatively ho-hum four seed in the AFC.

On that day, their starting quarterback, Joe Flacco, completed 20 passes on 40 attempts for 254 largely inconsequential yards, good (or bad) enough for a very pedestrian 76.5 passer rating and an outright awful 0.4 QBR (ESPN's more situationally and versatility-friendly methodology of measuring quarterback proficiency).

Before the season, as Flacco was turning down contract extension offers from the Ravens, questions about his "eliteness" or potential for "eliteness" abounded. The questions seemed silly to skeptics at the time they were asked, and on December 16 seemed laughable to even bring up again.

Well, six games, four playoff wins, one monstrous Jacoby Jones "Hail Mary" and a Super Bowl ring later, the opinion of the skeptics really doesn't matter anymore.

Joe Flacco just got paid.

As first reported by FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer, the Ravens took care of the most pressing offseason need, inking their franchise quarterback and Super Bowl XLVII MVP Flacco to a six year, $120.6 million deal:

Flacco will reportedly sign on Monday and will become the highest paid player in NFL history. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is currently the highest paid player, averaging $20 million per year. Flacco was set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12.

Flacco led the Ravens to a victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and was named the game's MVP. Drafted in the first round back in 2008, Flacco became the team's starting quarterback from Day 1.

He has thrown 102 touchdown passes in 80 career games in Baltimore. His teams have won the AFC North twice during his tenure and he has led Baltimore to three appearances in the AFC Championship Game.

The deal apparently is the perfect balance of respect and practicality, as Flacco can now puff his chest out and say that he's the highest-paid player in the game while reportedly sporting a deal that, at least in Year 1, is very salary cap-friendly, with Flacco reportedly only counting $7 million against the Ravens 2013 cap, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

With the questions of Flacco's level of eliteness within the pantheon of upper-tier NFL quarterbacks largely being a byproduct of his contract extension, that storyline is now far less relevant than it is debatable. The biggest question is, "Will the Ravens get their money's worth going forward?" understanding that a Super Bowl ring this past season skews the scoreboard heavily in favor of "Yes" before Flacco even throws a pass under this new deal.

For some context on trying to answer that question, take a look at the 15 highest salary cap figures for the upcoming season at the quarterback position, as of Sunday afternoon (I need to caveat the time that I wrote this post, mostly because a few of the names on here could be restructured or cut outright -- yes, you, Kolb -- before this post goes up Monday morning. You never know.):

1. ELI MANNING, New York Giants $20,850,000 2. MATT STAFFORD, Detroit Lions $20,820,000 3. PEYTON MANNING, Denver Broncos $20,000,000 4. DREW BREES, New Orleans Saints $17,400,000 5. PHILIP RIVERS, San Diego Chargers $17,110,000 6. TONY ROMO, Dallas Cowboys $16,818,835 7. CARSON PALMER, Oakland Raiders $15,335,000 8. TOM BRADY, New England Patriots $13,800,000 9. BEN ROETHLISBERGER, Pittsburgh Steelers $13,595,000 10. KEVIN KOLB, Arizona Cardinals $13,500,000 11. MARK SANCHEZ, New York Jets $12,853,125 12. SAM BRADFORD, St. Louis Rams $12,595,000 13. MICHAEL VICK, Philadelphia Eagles $12,200,000 14. MATT RYAN, Atlanta Falcons $12,000,000 15. MATT SCHAUB, Houston Texans $10,750,000

At a time when we've been saying, "It's a quarterback's league!" exactly two of the top 13 quarterbacks from a salary cap figure standpoint in 2013 made the playoffs in 2012. That's incredible. Adding Ryan and Schaub to the list still only makes it four out of the top 15. Don't get me wrong; you still need a good quarterback to win at the highest level in the NFL, I'm not saying you don't, but the number of teams that whiffed on identifying and securing that guy is, well....let's see how many whiffed, shall we?

1. Ryan, Stafford and Bradford are all still playing under their rookie deals, so it's hard to criticize their teams for signing them to deals that were essentially slotted before the rookie cap went into effect with Cam Newton in 2011, although if I had to gauge how happy each team is with their investment (on a scale of 1 to 10), I'd say Atlanta is probably a 9, Detroit is a 7 and St. Louis is a 5, at best. (When it's all said and done, Bradford may end up being best remembered for having the last "first overall pick rookie deal" before people finally said "Um, $50 million guaranteed before a guy even suits up is insane.") 2. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (conspicuously absent from this list with a very cap-friendly $8.5 million figure for 2013) are generally the first names rattled off by football fans when the "E word" comes up. So it goes without saying that their teams are fine with their deals.

3. Also, I'm sure the Giants and Steelers are fine with Eli's and Ben's deals. A Super Bowl ring is practically diplomatic immunity when it comes to a player's contract being good or bad. Does anyone bring up what Eli makes when he's having one of his typical Eli "non-Super Bowl, way more average than you'd think" kind of seasons? Of course not. Because for every three average, turnover-laden seasons he puts up, he gets a Super Bowl ring. Any team would take that.

4. The Chargers, Cowboys and Texans will all say they're fine with their quarterbacks' deals, while their respective fan bases spend hours on end watching YouTube clips of every semi-mobile college quarterback online fantasizing about the next Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson. (Speaking of which, as an aside, I'd be remiss not to point out one of the biggest reasons so few highly paid quarterbacks were in the playoffs -- the rookie and sophomore classes, and their cap-friendly, wage scale-muted deals, represented six of the 12 playoff teams this season. That matters.)

5. The Raiders, Cardinals, and Jets all whiffed badly, albeit in entirely different ways. The Raiders desperately mortgaged the top of two drafts for Carson Palmer's aging carcass, the Cardinals where the next in along line of teams to pay big money to career backups, and the Jets inexplicably extended Mark Sanchez when nobody else in the free world thought they should.

6. The only reason Vick is showing up on this list is because he agreed to a one-year attempt at Chip Kelly reviving his career, otherwise he'd be a free agent right now, but needless to say, his Philly experience post-big contract extension has been a colossal failure.

So if we categorize the fifteen employers of the above names, they go like this:

UNCONDITIONALLY HAPPY (3): Broncos, Saints, Patriots HAPPY MOST OF THE TIME (3): Giants, Steelers, Falcons SAD CLOWN "laughing on the outside, crying on the inside" (6) : Lions, Chargers, Cowboys, Rams, Eagles, Texans JUST PLAIN SAD (3): Raiders, Cardinals, Jets

If you're trying to find a tier where Flacco will reside for his Ravens career during this new deal, I'd go with the Eli/Big Ben/Matty Ice level. The playoff run was a drastic outlier statistically for Joe Cool, but the ring on his finger keeps him out of any of the other lesser acclaimed categories.


Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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