Three years ago, Joe Flacco belonged in the elite conversation like Kara DioGuardi belonged on the American Idol judging panel. Now, after completing one of the greatest playoff runs in sports history, Flacco has everyone convinced But not me.
What Beltway Joe pulled off this postseason is incredible. On Sunday, he became just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in a single postseason. His Super Bowl QBR of 95.1 tops the recent performances of elite quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers. Flacco has shot up the quarterback rankings faster than the hands of volunteers to play Walter in the GoDaddy commercial. With his Montana-esque postseason performance, the free-agent-to-be proved worthy of an elite-level contract, right? Absolutely not. I may be the lone survivor on the planet of Wacco Flacco, but Captain Kirk better bring the entire crew if he wants to get me off.
When, and I do mean when, Joe Flacco gets his reportedly desired $20 million-a-year contact, the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome will have made a colossal mistake. With that contract, Flacco will join Peyton Manning as the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, and the agents of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers will celebrate knowing they have a stronger case than any future child custody battle against a Jersey Shore cast member.
A Super Bowl ring. That’s the only thing Joe Flacco has in common with Manning, Brady, Brees, and Rodgers, the only current elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Each has led their teams to the Lombardi Trophy without the luxury of piggybacking the last ride of the greatest competitor in NFL history.
Ray Lewis was not only the unquestioned leader of the Baltimore locker room, he is the greatest leader in sports history. Each player on that sideline wanted one thing: to keep Ray’s career alive for just one more game, and not even a Jimmy Smith end zone hold could have stopped that train of destiny. Flacco flourished on a team where he had the least responsibility of any quarterback in the NFL. He was able to maneuver and succeed in the wake of Ray’s legacy, and when the clock expired Sunday night and the Ravens celebrated in the sea of purple and gold confetti, the owner hugged Joe Flacco, the players embraced Ray Lewis.
Consider the games Lewis did not play in this season. The Ray-less Ravens looked uninspired, losing four out of their last five regular season games, and they looked nothing like the indestructible Baltimore force we watched pull off upset after upset this postseason. Is this what we should expect next season? Flacco showed no ability or desire to take over when the team needed him most. Instead, players first turned to veteran pro bowlers Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin for guidance, two players who, after Flacco gets paid, may not be the on the Baltimore payroll next season.
The loss of Boldin alone should be a cause for concern for the Flacco supporters. While vertical threats like Torrey Smith can be found in the second and third rounds of the NFL draft every year, wide receivers willing to sacrifice their body for a catch are a rarity in this league. There is none better at that than Anquan Boldin, as the should be Super Bowl MVP has more bailing out experience than a Lohan parent.
Boldin and Reed won’t be the only victims of a Flacco pay raise. Starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe’s contract is up along with pass rushing force Paul Kruger. The Ravens will be lucky to re-sign one of them.
If only the $20 million-a-year hemorrhage ended there. If the Ravens make room for Boldin, they certainly will not be able to afford return specialist and big play wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who is owed $4 million in salary and bonuses next season. Bryant McKinnie’s emergence as a solid starting left tackle allowed Michael Oher, an overrated left tackle, to move to his natural position of right tackle. The 33-year old McKinnie is also a free agent who will be looking to cash in.
Sunday’s outcome changed Joe Flacco’s life, but it will not change his numbers. He is a 3800 yards 24 touchdowns 12 interceptions quarterback. Next year, it’s a near certainty that the elites and Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and a healthy Robert Griffin III will surpass those numbers. It’s even reasonable to expect that any of Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Cam Newton, Phillip Rivers, and Andy Dalton may surpass Flacco’s expected numbers as well. Yet you try and convince me that Flacco, a player that (as I just counted) 18 other quarterbacks can outplay next season, is elite and worthy of a $20 million-a-year contact? Somewhere out there Manti Te’o just called you delusional.
A common response to the statistical argument is that you are paying Flacco for what he can do in the playoffs, not the regular season. But if the Flacco contract limits the Ravens from retaining the very players that contributed to the last half decade of success, do you trust Joe to rise again with a new core? That’s the investment you’re making.
The elite-level contract signifies a trust in Flacco that he can take the Lewis torch and continue the decade of Ravens success for another ten years. Teams find themselves in holes when they pay for what has been done instead of what will be done. There is no way Flacco can match his incredible run this post season, yet that is exactly what Newsome will be paying for. I need to see Joe emerge from the 52 shadow and lead a team on his own, before dishing out the elite label and contract.
Joe Flacco is a very good NFL quarterback, and that’s more than I ever thought I would say three years ago. But will he ever be worthy of a $20 million-a-year contract? A Jeremy Renner Oscar for Hansel and Gretel may be the safer bet.