I’m pretty well aware that this comparison has been done to death over the last week or so, but I really wanted to make my final evaluation after watching these two go at it head to head. So since re-watching the Ravens @ Falcons a few times proved to be the low-light of my weekend, and since the highlight of my weekend was a fantastic time at John Rallo’s Shogun Fights III, I figured I’d give my first final say on the Flacco vs. Ryan debate in tale of the tape fashion.
The Price Tag: Start with the obvious, as the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 draft, Matt Ryan reportedly signed a rookie contract worth $66 million over 6 years. Bonuses aside, in layman’s math that’s $11 million per season. As the 18th pick overall, Flacco signed a 5-year deal worth about $30 million, or a relatively small $6 million per year or roughly 55% of Ryan’s annual salary. If the rest of the comparison is debatable, then it’s easy to say that the Ravens are getting more for their investment in Flacco than the Falcons are in Ryan, but the price tag argument goes much deeper than just their respective salaries.
When comparing the “pound-for-pound” values of these two, we are provided with a somewhat unique perspective on things. According to Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column on November 9th, the Ravens inquired with the St. Louis Rams prior to the 2008 draft about acquiring their first round pick that year (2nd overall) presumably to draft Ryan. King reported the price tag to be the Ravens 1st round pick (8th overall), 2nd round pick (38th overall) and 4th round pick (106th overall) in 2008, plus an additional third rounder in 2009. Instead the Ravens traded their 1st rounder to Jacksonville for for their first round pick (26th overall), two third round picks (71st & 89th overall), and a fourth round pick (125th overall). After that they traded the 26th and 89th picks just acquired from Jacksonville, along with their own 6th round pick (173rd overall) to Houston to move back up to 18th and select Flacco. The second rounder they would have sent to St. Louis (38th overall) was instead sent to Seattle for a second round pick (55th overall) and a third (86th overall).
Confused yet? Here’s the short story, the Ravens selected Flacco with the 18th pick gotten from Houston and gave up their own 6th rounder. They selected Ray Rice with the 55th pick gotten from Seattle, selected Tavares Gooden with the 71st pick gotten from Jacksonville, and Zibikowski with the 86th pick, gotten in the Seattle deal too. They also selected Marcus Smith with the 106th pick which was the 4th rounder that St. Louis wanted, and traded the 125th pick also from Jacksonville for Fabian Washington. The following year, the Ravens selected Lardarius Webb with their third round pick (88th) overall, which the Rams had also reportedly asked for as part of a deal. That makes the Ravens real choice in hindsight either Matt Ryan and an unknown 6thround pick (173rd overall) which the Texans used to select Dominique Barber, or Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Tavares Gooden, Tom Zibikowski, Marcus Smith, Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb.
*It should be noted that King’s report was based on information apparently leaked by the St. Louis organization. As Chris Pika points out here, the Ravens remain firm that no offer was made by them to the Rams, and this was just St. Louis attempting to posture and compel Atlanta to trade up. Still, if this was the reported asking price, it’s fair to say that whether they actually ever considered trading or not, we know what the cost of moving up would likely have been
Commanding the offense: It should be expected that Ryan should still have the early lead here. A starter since the last game of his freshman year at Boston College, Ryan had numerous opportunities to measure himself against high caliber and often times pro style defenses. He didn’t sneak up on the league like Flacco, and certainly had the entire football world’s attention as he embarked on his senior season. To that end Ryan has responded at every turn, maintaining his esteemed draft status throughout his senior season, and quickly living up to his billing as a high draft pick.
Flacco on the other hand after losing out on the opportunity to start to Tyler Palko at Pitt, snuck up on the football world on the strength of one strong season at Delaware, albeit against far lesser competition, and some strong pre-draft workouts. It should be considered a virtual no-brainer that Ryan enjoyed a substantial head start as it relates to football IQ and high level experience.
What’s more, while their NFL careers will seemingly be forever intertwined because of their similar circumstances, if you look deeper, perhaps their circumstances aren’t quite as similar as they might appear. Both were made first year starters under first year coaches, and both propelled their teams into the playoffs as rookies, that much is undeniable. But when John Harbaugh took over the Ravens, despite their miserable campaign the previous season, the feeling was that the team could turn things around right away if a few things went their way. The Falcons on the other hand turned over the reigns to Mike Smith in the immediate wake of Bobby Petrino, and not long after Michael Vick, for a franchise that hasn’t seen a lot of upside historically, it appeared as if they might have been in for their darkest hours.
To that end, the Ravens, forced to start Flacco from day one due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, did their best to hide the shortcomings of their rookie signal caller, balancing his development with the best interests of the team from a competitive standpoint. It’s hard to argue with their success. The Falcons on the other hand, with seemingly little to lose, placed a lot on their rookie QB right away, and to his credit he has responded in spades.
Therefore, it seems pretty easy not only to assess that Ryan is further along in his development in responding to defenses on the fly, but easy to diagnose the reasons why too. It could be argued too that Ryan is further along in this capacity because his coaches have allowed him to be. With that said, fans should also believe that if the Ravens coaching staff has been reluctant to put more on Flacco’s shoulders, it may be for good reason, and not simply because they believe that audibles are overrated. It could easily be argued that Flacco has come farther faster in his development than Ryan, but it seems pretty clear right now that he still has catching up to do.
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