Overpaying Flacco

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Posted by bernreuther on February 5, 2013 at 7:21 pm

This is not a new discussion, but after winning the Super Bowl more people are talking about Joe Flacco and just how big a contract he’ll command from the Ravens this offseason.

I have been fascinated by Flacco ever since he was drafted out of Delaware. At the time, I disliked Matt Ryan (I no longer do) and loved the underdog element to the Flacco story, given his background of losing out to Tyler Palko and transferring to a school not known for football prowess. I thought Flacco was decent value at 18 for Ozzie Newsome and I thought that it was likely that he’d end up better than Ryan and at a much lower price.

Over several years of watching him, though, I found myself annoyed more often than impressed. He’s got perhaps the game’s biggest arms but habitually underthrows receivers. He often “succeeds” by having defenders flagged for cheap DPI when the receiver hits them while slowing down to wait for an underthrown ball. (This is a huge pet peeve of mine, largely because there simply isn’t a good solution for it, but you’re still rewarding incompetence.) Even two of his long touchdowns, including the tying score in Denver, were underthrown. And he cost his team four points in last season’s AFC title game when he hung a ball up for Torrey Smith that should have led to an uncontested touchdown in the first quarter but instead ended in a field goal from the one (another pet peeve, especially in that situation in a scoreless game against the Patriot offense). Throw in the games against tough defenses wherein he played at a level no better than Mark Sanchez – a painful 10-9 Ravens-Jets game from 2010 comes to mind and it’s not among his worst, stats-wise – and there have been plenty of games where he left me, as a fan, smacking my head.

I should point out that I’m a big fan of the type of offense that the Ravens run, with the emphasis on throwing deep, and from personal experience I know just how much harder it is to throw to the sideline than it looks, even on short tosses. I know that the offense isn’t going to lead to jaw-dropping efficiency sometimes, and I know that it’s tougher to be accurate on difficult throws. Still, I often found myself thinking “if only they were getting better QB play, they’d be a real force.”

Things are different now, though. Flacco, while still inconsistent in 2012, put together a truly dominant run of four playoff games capped by a title, and now his agent Joe Linta is claiming that Flacco should be the highest paid QB in the game.

That’s ridiculous, of course, but that’s Linta’s job. And given the nature of contracts and evolution of salaries, it’s not reasonable to suggest that Flacco’s new deal simply slot in at salaries slightly lower than better QBs that signed deals years ago. Given the nature of the market, though, it’s likely that he’s going to be overpaid. We’re now left to sit back and wait to learn by how much. The Ravens may elect to risk giving him the non-exclusive franchise tag, which pays him $14.6 million in 2013 if a deal isn’t reached, but with the sad state of quarterbacking in the lower third of the league, it’s entirely possible that someone might be willing to give up the two picks required to steal him away. As Mike Florio points out, that leaves the exclusive franchise tag, which sits currently at over $20 million. Linta seems to think he can extract that much PER YEAR over the life of a new contract, which makes the exclusive tag a bit more palatable, but the team has a bit of a cap crunch so it’d be nice to work out a deal that saves them some money to be used on guys like maybe Anquan Boldin, who I think is criminally underrated by most of the media and makes every QB he plays with look a lot better.

The reality of the situation now is that there are other teams out there willing to overpay Flacco, and while Newsome has shown himself to be able to make dispassionate decisions and go strictly by his rules and values (like during drafts), the Ravens will be a significantly weaker team if they play hardball and let Flacco walk. There just aren’t any passable replacements at that position this year (or any year, in ordinary circumstances). So they will have to overpay as well, and in doing so, they’ll weaken themselves in other areas. The question will be by how much.

Boy would I love to be a fly on the wall in a room with Pat Moriarty and Ozzie Newsome during their calls to Linta. The Raven front office is one of the best in the game, and the team reached the pinnacle this year largely by avoiding big mistakes with the cap. This year they may have no option but to make one. But if any team can limit the damage, it’s them. It promises to be interesting.

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