By Jeff Risdon
The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens have reached a contract agreement with Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Details are not official yet, but the deal is believed to be for six years and $120.6M. That works out to $20.1M per season, and the $.1M is critical because it makes Flacco the highest paid player in NFL history, edging out Drew Brees for that honor.
That is a big step up from his previous salary of just under $7M, the final year of his rookie deal. It’s also a huge leap of faith by the Ravens, who have apparently structured the deal in a manner that will cause serious cap pain down the road. They are banking that Flacco will build off his fantastic finish to 2012 that brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore.
The early word is that Flacco’s 2013 cap number will come out at about $7M. Jason LaCanfora tweeted that Flacco will make $62M over the first three years. What that indicates is that the Ravens are going to significantly backload the deal. The Saints did this with Brees’ then-record five-year, $100M deal, kicking the can of cap hell down the road. Brees counts over $25M against the cap in the final two years of his contract, and if the $7M cap figure for 2013 is accurate Flacco’s cap cost will approach $30M in 2017 and 2018.
If that seems insanely high, you are not mistaken. The total cap for 2013 is $123M, and rational estimates factor in about a one percent increase every year. That projects out to about $130M in the fifth year, meaning Flacco will take up almost a quarter of Baltimore’s cap room in each of his final two seasons. You don’t need to be a mathematician or capologist to know that this is a huge problem, the football equivalent of the federal budget sequester. It will force painful cuts that impact all facets of the team.
Baltimore has determined that Flacco is worth the sacrifice. There is no question that Flacco has proven to be a great playoff quarterback; even in his legitimately terrible playoff games (yes, it’s plural) his teams have generally found ways to win. He is in the midst of a brilliant postseason run the likes of which we haven’t seen since Joe Montana’s heyday in the late 80s. Flacco has more playoff games with a QB rating over 90 than Dan Marino or John Elway, and he’s played just five seasons to their combined 33. The team is built around his aloof cockiness and his awesome but occasionally erratic right arm.
GM Ozzie Newsome is apparently okay with the clunker games and senseless throws that still mar his career. Ravens fans were certain that the roller coaster was coming to a fateful end as late as Week 15, when Flacco threw a truly egregious pick six that sent the Ravens to their third loss in a row. The bad games were coming less frequently but still more often than the fans, and most national football writers, believed the Ravens could stomach. Flacco’s gamble on himself in turning down a big extension last summer appeared foolish. No rational arbiter would have considered Flacco a top 10 NFL QB at that point, just three weeks before the playoffs were to start. A compelling argument could be made that he was no better than 15th.
Yet Flacco got hot, and his team got hot around him. It doesn’t matter what his on field ranking is, because Joe Flacco is now the highest paid player in league history. He is the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champs and has the MVP trophy as the cherry on the sundae. Nobody would argue that Flacco is a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning right now. Yet he is their historical equal; all have one Super Bowl ring. Because Flacco’s ring is the shiniest, he gets the biggest contract.
His tenure as highest-paid won’t last long. Rodgers is due for a new deal sooner than later, and Green Bay is far more reliant on him than the Ravens are on Flacco. Matt Ryan is in a similar spot now to where Flacco was entering 2012. If he wins the next Super Bowl, not an unreasonable proposition, he will also cash in and do so more handsomely than Flacco. And there are methods to which the Ravens can ease the cap doom and gloom later on. Flacco will still be young enough in 5 years to merit another extension that can spread the money out over a longer term, similar to what Ben Roethlisberger has done for Pittsburgh. Ravens fans must take comfort that Ozzie Newsome is one of the best GMs in the business, owner Steve Bisciotti is a prudent and shrewd businessman, and that Flacco himself has not yet reached his peak.
They must hope that this deal isn’t the NFL equivalent of what their Beltway basketball brethren, the Washington Wizards, experienced with Gilbert Arenas after rewarding him for great playoff success despite some valid underlying issues. The Ravens are banking on Flacco after he banked on himself.