The numbers may be larger, but the game remains the same. Pay your dues, then get paid. For five years, Joe Flacco did more than just pay his dues in Baltimore.
During the course of the season and 2013 playoffs, Flacco matriculated from Wacko Flacco to Fluke-O to General Flacco before winning his first Lombardi Trophy. On Friday night, just days before the Monday deadline that would force Baltimore to use its franchise tag on Flacco, he tacked another plaque onto his wall as the highest paid player in NFL history. The $100 million question is whether he can consistently live up to the elite graduate class of super signal callers he’s been thrust into.
The ceiling for quarterback contracts has been skyrocketing for years. Three years ago, Tom Brady’s four-year $72 million dollar extension set the benchmark. In 2011, Peyton Manning resisted eclipsing Brady’s record contract. So he matched it with a five-year $90 million offer. Following his first bout with football mortality, Manning and his agent Tom Condon weren’t so generous as John Elway shelled out five years and $96 million. Drew Brees’ negotiations were the most contentious of all. After months of haggling, GM Mickey Loomis awarded Brees the most prodigious contract in league history. In the first three years, Brees’ contract guarantees $61 million and $100 million total overall over five.
On Monday, Flacco and his freshly inked six-year, $120.6 million deal will officially strut through the NFL's doors. Just as the unstable dotcom and real estate bubbles burst in the 2000’s, exorbitant quarterback contracts may have hit their bust cycle. The Ravens will either hit the jackpot with a budding superstar or go “hammertime” broke. Flacco is an above average quarterback, but the Ravens may have fooled themselves by signing him to a deal based on his upside rather than his production.
The hope has to be that Flacco’s postseason prosperity carries over into the regular season because his new contract will likely hamper the Ravens cap flexibility depending on its structure and guaranteed money. At $6.76 million, Flacco was underrated but he’s never had the responsibility of carrying an offense as Manning or Brees have done over an extended period. On Monday, he’ll sign a deal that will immediately earn put more zeros in his account than he’s seen in his entire life. However, these high-risk scenarios rarely end well.
After winning Super Bowl XXVI, the Washington Redskins made a similar statement after signing Super Bowl winning quarterback Mark Rypien to a three-year, $9 million contract that paid him more than Elway and Bernie Kosar. Like Flacco, Rypien was one of the best deep ball throwers of all-time, which balanced out his below average completion percentage. However, the two-time Pro Bowler failed to reach the same heights. Two years later, he was a backup in Cleveland. Conversely, Flacco has never been named to a Pro Bowl roster or equaled the 28 touchdowns Rypien accounted for during his Super Bowl campaign. After their first Super Bowl title, Ozzie Newsome replaced economical game manager Trent Dilfer with $30 million Elvis Grbac. Grbac was cut a year later after refusing to take a paycut. The zeros have been multiplied and the stakes have been raised.
Flacco is Eli-lite but not quite the valedvictorian of the NFLs QB class. The hope is that he isn't the second coming of Rypien. If Flacco wilts under the Benjamins, his contract will be his legacy and play a lasting role in future quarterback contract extensions.
Flacco is in a class ahead of Dilfer and Grbac but he’s not in the same clique as the Mannings, Brees' or Bradys. He shouldn't get paid like them either.