Flacco extension more about future than short-term relief

March 02, 2016 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were never going to “win” the contract negotiations with franchise quarterback Joe Flacco and agent Joe Linta, who held all of the leverage like they did three years ago.

Sure, senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty could have negotiated a structure that would have created more salary cap space for 2016 than the extra $6 million provided by Flacco’s three-year, $66.4 million extension, but the Ravens have been down that road before and didn’t want to be forced to go back to the negotiating table three years from now. Instead, they sacrificed some immediate cap relief in favor of the long-term balance that will provide the organization more flexibility when Flacco reaches the back end of his contract.

“Going forward, it’s a very flat deal, especially with the rise of the salary cap as we’ve seen over the last couple years,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “The deal is a lot flatter. And if he wins three Super Bowls in a row, then we might have to revisit this thing — I don’t know.”

Flacco’s $40 million signing bonus is an NFL record — an emphatic win for Linta and his client — but the extension includes no future option bonuses that can eventually make cap figures untenable like we witnessed with the original six-year, $120.6 million contract that included numbers of $28.55 million for 2016 and $31.15 million for 2017. His deal now runs through the 2021 season.

To be clear, the Ravens didn’t get a favor from their longtime quarterback — he is now scheduled to be paid a whopping $125 million over the next six years — but they undid some of the cap damage from the first time around. The move wasn’t about any generosity from Flacco as much as it was about cooperation.

“It’s tough to say you give up anything when you’re signing these kinds of deals,” said Flacco as he laughed when asked if he had made any sacrifices by extending. “I mean, come on, I’m sure there are a couple things I could probably pick and say, ‘Man, I wish you guys could have done this and that,’ but no. This thing happened pretty quickly, and I took a couple days to at least sleep on it, because this only happens [a few] times in a career.”

For years, the Ravens have rewarded star players with back-loaded contracts, a practice that provides short-term cap benefits before a team ultimately pays the cap price in latter years. Lucrative contracts given to the likes of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ray Rice in recent years fell into that category, and the organization faced difficult decisions of whether to further extend aging star players with high cap figures or be forced to part ways altogether.

Flacco’s original deal was severely back-loaded as $25.85 million of the $62 million he was paid over the first three years of the deal had yet to be accounted for on the salary cap. That balance doesn’t just go away, no matter how you try to rework a contract. You can only kick the can so far down the road.

The 2008 first-round pick’s cap figures will remain north of $22 million over the duration of the contract, but the Ravens will have some flexibility over the final years. As a result, Newsome can feel more confident in constructing his roster knowing a dramatic spike in Flacco’s cap number isn’t looming.

Should the quarterback’s play diminish to the point that Baltimore is ready to move on, cutting him prior to 2020 — when he is 35 — will result in just $8 million in dead money. Parting ways before the final season of the deal would not leave any dead money, and if a 36-year-old Flacco is still playing at a high level then, the Ravens could easily rework his 2021 non-guaranteed base salary of $24.25 million into a short-term extension of another season or two with minimal cap ramifications.

For the time being, Flacco has again become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but the salary cap has also increased 26 percent since he signed the original deal in 2013. Newsome citing the money Washington and Philadelphia will pay Kirk Cousins and Sam Bradford, respectively, shows how expensive even unproven quarterbacks are becoming. The price was steep, but the Ravens can now take solace in knowing they’re off the quarterback contract carousel for the next several years.

Flacco certainly doesn’t come cheap, but the flatter structure of his deal coupled with an ever-increasing salary cap should keep the Ravens in position to be successful as long as they’re wise with other resources, something they’ve struggled to do over the last few seasons. The harshest detractors blame Flacco’s contract for the Ravens missing the playoffs twice in the last three years, but he accounted for a reasonable total of $36.15 million in cap space over those seasons.

“It’s all about winning football games,” Flacco said. “Once this thing is signed and over with, that’s all that we’re worried about. This gives us the best chance to move forward. Over the next six years, it’s a huge window to go win another Super Bowl — another two, another three, whatever it may be. At the end of the day, that’s our goal.”

And at the end of day, teams who have quarterbacks — whether they’re future Hall of Famers, elite, or merely good enough to get you over the championship hump — must do what it takes to keep them. Critics will say the Ravens overpaid for Flacco’s services again — his regular-season statistics would say they’re correct —  but you can’t value quarterbacks in a vacuum. Teams would rather have the right guy than to simply be right about how much to pay him.

Just ask the Cleveland Browns.

Flacco’s extension was more about righting the structure of the original deal and setting the Ravens up for the next six years with a quarterback who has already won a Super Bowl and plays his best football in the postseason. After spending more than a decade in Baltimore without a franchise signal-caller, Newsome isn’t about to question Flacco’s value, especially after watching the Ravens play without him this past season.

“I just spent about five days with GMs [at the scouting combine in Indianapolis] who are looking for a Joe Flacco, and they’re not sleeping at night, I can tell you,” Newsome said. “We did that, and no one can appreciate a good quarterback [like] Ozzie Newsome can after going through what we went through. I learned a lot of lessons along the way of what a good quarterback really is.”