Forgive me if I’m not interested in discussing how much money quarterback Joe Flacco is really worth as he and agent Joe Linta reopen contract talks with the Baltimore Ravens this week.
That was a far more compelling debate just two months ago when Flacco fell into the category of good quarterbacks yet to win a Super Bowl. Now, the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player — fresh off one of the greatest postseason runs in NFL history — undoubtedly falls somewhere in the small group of premium-tier quarterbacks, making the value of his next contract less compelling as he now should be viewed as the next top quarterback in line for a payday.
Flacco’s the next man up at the ATM, ready to receive a record-setting deal that will inevitably be trumped by Aaron Rodgers or even Matt Ryan in the next year or two. That’s the way it works for the likes of Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning. It’s largely a cyclical process for the quarterbacks with staying power.
There’s no disputing that Flacco is going to get paid lucratively, whether you want to face reality or insist on saying he needs to show more than what he did over the final month of the season or that he should give the Ravens a discount to preserve the cap. That’s not to trivialize the complexity of negotiations between Linta and general manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, but Flacco will emerge somewhere among the top two or three highest-paid quarterbacks in the league — if not the highest — when it’s all said and done. All the signs point to it, regardless of where you stood on the Flacco meter prior to the 28-year-old throwing 11 touchdowns without an interception over four playoff games.
“When you do a contract of this magnitude, you look at two things,” Linta said on AM 1570 WNST.net last week. “One is his body of work, what he’s done in the past up to now, especially in the last five weeks, but especially the last five years. And then, as you go forward, what are the expectations over the next four, five, or six years? What is his health, his age, all those kinds of things? You factor all those things and then come up with something that you think is fair.”
Linta and Flacco hold all the leverage as they’re fully aware of the Ravens’ tight salary cap and how a long-term agreement is a necessity to avoid losing countless players — free agents and players under contract alike. Both sides know Flacco is entering his prime years and has never missed a game in his entire career. And it’s no longer a question whether Flacco is capable of leading a team to a championship; he’s done it already.
The challenge for the Ravens becomes how firmly Newsome can stand his ground in trying to negotiate the healthiest deal for his franchise while also remembering how critical it will be to have a deal signed by March 4, the deadline for using the franchise tag. In order to maintain any semblance of the 2012 championship team, the Ravens simply have no choice but to reach a deal with their most important player.
The problem is Linta knows that, meaning the agent can try to bleed every last nickel from the Ravens that he wants. This negotiation is about leverage and where Flacco is right now in his career, regardless of what anyone thinks his “true” value is based on the collective body of work through five professional seasons.
How the deal gets done isn’t nearly as important as when it happens.
If the sides are unable to strike a deal, the Ravens are faced with the reality of spending a minimum of $14.6 million by way of the non-exclusive franchise tag, which would still leave Flacco free to negotiate with other teams. Should another team sign him to an offer sheet, the Ravens would have five days to match the offer or receive two first-round picks from that organization.
The safer — but more costly — alternative would be to place the exclusive tag on Flacco, guaranteeing he would remain in Baltimore for another year but also meaning the Ravens would need to pay upwards of $20 million in salary for the 2013 season. According to NFL.com, the Ravens are roughly $12.9 million under the cap before addressing Flacco, their restricted free agents, or any of their impending free agents.
In other words, the exclusive tag means the Ravens would be waving goodbye to several more veterans, which could include the likes of fullback Vonta Leach, kick returner Jacoby Jones, and top wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Such cuts would be to simply clear enough room to fit the quarterback inside the cap without addressing any other holes created in that process.
And never mind what the exclusive tag price would mean to Linta’s negotiating position, with him then having the tangible $20 million-per-season platform on which to stand.