OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s been the narrative opening uttered over and over this month as Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl and then signed a $120.6 million deal to become the highest-paid player in NFL history.
The Ravens quarterback took a major gamble and won — or that’s what makes the story sound juicier.
Believed to be offered a contract in the neighborhood of $16 million per season last summer, Flacco didn’t think he was being reckless or risking much of anything after he had led the Ravens to a playoff win in each of his first four seasons and hadn’t missed a single game due to injury. His reason for walking away from general manager Ozzie Newsome’s best offer was quite simple.
And it had nothing to do with being a riverboat gambler.
“I thought I was worth more,” said Flacco, who viewed a serious injury as the only real risk in playing out his contract. “I didn’t really see any circumstances where I wouldn’t end up getting paid more than what they were willing to give me at that point. It wasn’t like I was going to make any different salary last year than I was making already [other than] I might have gotten some upfront money.
“I figured play one more year and see what we could do as a football team. Have confidence in myself, have confidence in the guys around me, and just let it play itself out from there.”
It played out perfectly for the 28-year-old as he took his $6.76 million salary in the final year of his rookie contract and completed one of the best postseason runs in NFL history by throwing for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, resulting in wins over two of the league’s all-time great quarterbacks along the way and leading the Ravens to their second NFL championship.
Flacco figured the original offer — claimed by owner Steve Bisciotti to be in the range of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league — would remain on the table at worst but said his opinion of his own value would have remained as high as what he ultimately received, regardless of how the postseason played out for Baltimore. In his eyes, becoming a Super Bowl MVP didn’t transcend what he had already meant to the franchise.
“If we didn’t win the Super Bowl this year, I still think I’m worth the same and I still think I’m the same person to this organization,” Flacco said. “It may not be seen that way, but that’s the bottom line. I still think I give the team the best chance to win moving forward, whether we won or lost this year. I think it makes it a little easier for Steve to reach into his pockets having said that we won the Super Bowl. People don’t have to look at him as crazy as they may have if he had given me this much last year.”
We’ll never know how the Ravens ultimately would have valued their franchise quarterback this offseason had they not made it to New Orleans or triumphed in Super Bowl XLVII, but it’s a hypothetical question general manager Ozzie Newsome is glad he doesn’t need to answer. Forking over the richest contract in NFL history is easier to swallow as you’re awaiting your second Super Bowl ring in the last 13 seasons.
And that’s not to mention any of the bad memories of searching many years for a franchise quarterback, sifting through first-round busts, declining veterans, and a number of projects and placeholders who didn’t pan out. The feeling of being stuck in the quarterback abyss was not a pleasant one for a franchise with a championship-caliber defense for nearly a decade before finally striking it rich with the University of Delaware product.
“We just returned from the [NFL scouting combine], and I remember the days of going there and studying and hoping that one of the quarterbacks could be our guy,” Newsome said in a team statement. “‘Could so-and-so be our third-round Joe Montana or our sixth-round Tom Brady?’ We’ve been out in that desert before. That all changed when we drafted Joe in 2008.”
Some critics have dismissed Flacco’s accomplishments over the four-game postseason run, citing the gaffe by Broncos safety Rahim Moore on Jacoby Jones’ 70-yard touchdown at the end of regulation in the divisional-round win in Denver.
Key changes such as the elevation of Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator and the insertion of Bryant McKinnie at the left tackle position, the improved health of several key players, and even good fortune were all important factors creating the necessary momentum for Flacco and the Ravens to reach the top of the mountain.
It started with a dismantling of the New York Giants in Week 16, continued with the luxury of resting starters in the regular-season finale in Cincinnati, and snowballed after a wild-card playoff win against Indianapolis in the returning Ray Lewis’ final home game. Before they knew it, the Ravens were raising the Lombardi Trophy in the Superdome and Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP.
“There are a lot of things that happened late in the season that if they hadn’t happened, we probably wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl,” Flacco said. “But they did. I’ve always said that there’s definitely a little bit of luck involved in winning the thing. It’s about the team that gets hot at the right time.”
The record-setting contract awarded to Flacco resulted in a perfect storm of his strong play, the financial difficulties by way of the salary cap, and a little bit of luck.
That’s not a knock on the quarterback, who played his best football over the most important four-week span of his career. The six-year deal will inevitably be revised as it’s structured to essentially be a three-year contract before cap numbers spiral out of control.
But it’s put Flacco on track to finish his career with the Ravens.
“That’s the plan,” Flacco said. “I can’t see it happening any other way.”
It’d be tough to bet against him on that one.
As he taught us this season, it’s not really gambling if you know what you’re doing.