It was the perfect storm of circumstances for Joe Flacco to become the highest-paid player in NFL history, regardless of whether you think the Ravens quarterback is truly deserving of the title.
Believing Flacco isn’t the best quarterback in the league is more than fair, but it didn’t hold any weight at the negotiating table this time around as general manager Ozzie Newsome, owner Steve Bisciotti, and the entire organization were just fitted for their championship rings a few weeks ago. His play over the final four games of the season pushed him into the top tier of quarterbacks and that’s all that’s needed to fetch the richest contract in league history when it’s your turn in line.
That will become evident in the near future when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers receives his payday that will likely eclipse the Baltimore quarterback’s deal.
Yes, Flacco bet on himself last summer by turning down the Ravens’ best offer — rumored to be a contract in the $16 million-per-year range — and proved everyone wrong by completing arguably the greatest postseason performance in NFL history. With Flacco leading his team to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, arguments over whether he was elite or where he ultimately ranked in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks became irrelevant.
The sight of Flacco raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl MVP in New Orleans was all that was needed to predict what will become official on Monday when he signs a six-year, $120.6 million. Timing is everything when it comes to contract negotiations, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of a professional athlete seizing the opportunity.
Flacco, his agent Joe Linta, and the Ravens all knew there was no other outcome after the 28-year-old was at his best on the biggest stage possible.
Even if they paid more than they would have liked in a perfect world, the Ravens knew there was no way they could let their franchise quarterback go after he did exactly what they asked of him by throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in four postseason games, topping two of the greatest quarterbacks in league history along the way. Their salary-cap restrictions prohibited them from trying to play hardball as the use of the pricy franchise tag would have meant virtually no chance for the Ravens to make any other moves of significant note this offseason, in terms of re-signing their other unrestricted free agents or pursuing other talent on the open market.
The choice was simple: sign their franchise quarterback to a long-term deal now — even if it meant overpaying in some critics’ minds — or lose a number of other players and risk alienating Flacco and his representation further by using the franchise tag. And even though there was no tangible fear of losing their quarterback, the Ravens’ memory of lackluster play from the likes of Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Chris Redman, and virtually every other quarterback in town prior to 2008 was enough to provide a final nudge if necessary.
It wasn’t a choice at all, really, and that’s why critics arguing that Flacco’s new-found fortune is too much are wasting their breath. Negotiations don’t take place in a vacuum as Flacco’s side had all the leverage in the world. Taking a stand is a lot easier when you’re standing on the sideline, and Newsome and the Ravens had no such luxury.
The year-by-year breakdown of the deal has yet to be revealed, but the Ravens are likely to receive some relief for 2013 in comparison to the cap figure Flacco would have carried if slapped with the franchise tag. As any team paying a top quarterback will tell you, the Ravens hope the league’s new television deal will inflate the salary cap substantially starting in 2015 to ease the pain of what will be some gigantic cap numbers over the next few years.
But none of that talk can dampen the satisfaction of knowing the Ravens have their man locked up for the next six years.
The pressure will now be on Flacco to live up to the terms of his record-breaking deal. Observers will expect more performances like he showed in the postseason instead of the modest 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions he threw during the regular season.
The cost of business clearly went up in terms of the quarterback’s compensation, so the expectations will justifiably rise as well.
And that’s a compliment to Flacco as he enters the prime of his career with a full offseason to work with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, whose December promotion paid dividends for the Baltimore offense. Higher expectations will be there because Flacco showed he was fully capable of playing at that elite level against the best competition the NFL had to offer.
Flacco reached the pinnacle for the first time in his career last month and now he will be asked to do it again every year — even if we know that’s not really possible.
It may sound too harsh, but there are 120 million reasons why that’s a reasonable demand.
And knowing the Ravens quarterback, that’s perfectly fine with him.