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Flacco has leverage, but not getting a deal done would be a big mistake

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The time for the Baltimore Ravens to lock up Joe Flacco is right now. That is no mystery. Both sides desire the same result. And I expect them to get this done.

They will meet at the combine in Indianapolis this week, this much is certain. And, frankly, expect there to be regular dialogue between the Ravens (read: cap guru/chief negotiator Pat Moriarty) and Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, from this weekend until the March 4 deadline to apply the franchise tag, you know, assuming they don't get a deal done before then.

My money is on them working this thing out. Remember, they came within a few million bucks of getting a deal in August, and that was at a time when Flacco's place in the game was much more nebulous, when he hadn't yet had a postseason for the ages and he hadn't won a Super Bowl and didn't have that new Corvette and the Super Bowl MVP and all of that good stuff.

But at this point, certain things are obvious to all.

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Flacco, as a Super Bowl MVP at age 28 with some of the most superior playoff totals of all-time, is going to be paid like one of the five-highest compensated players in the NFL. That's how it goes with quarterbacks. No way around it. And Drew Brees, who makes more than anyone in NFL history, will be the template for a new deal for Flacco -- again, no way around this.

Throw out the Peyton Manning deal; Manning is in his mid-30s and has all the neck stuff going on and, furthermore, Flacco is already statistically superior to Manning in every postseason category that matters. Toss out Tom Brady, because that deal was done a while back, and it isn't the best comparable in this case, again, due to age and the fact he is Tom Brady.

But Brees, while older himself, has one Lombardi, like Flacco, and did a long-term deal just a year ago in a situation where he was franchised originally and it was a contract not impacted in any way by the old CBA system in regards to rookie compensation.

So we know that there is a case to be made that Flacco, too, is a $20-million-a-year player, even with some of his regular season inconsistencies.

The key question will be: How dead-set will he be about achieving that number? Especially, with the Ravens in a difficult cap situation and still wanting to be able to put a quality roster around Flacco, and despite the fact that the cap has been basically stagnant for five years now, how much will he budge off $20 million, if need be?

I've known Flacco long enough, and spent enough time figuring out what makes him tick, to know that in the end he wants to win and he wants to feel respected, and he is no one's sucker and he never lacks for confidence ... but above all else he wants to win. And he wants to win in Baltimore. And at a certain point, what is the difference between $61 million over the first three years of the deal, and $55 million over the first three years of the deal, or $64 million over the first three years? When the bounty is that large, how do those monetary values really differ?

This is a guy who could live like a king in Delaware on $250,000 a year given how frugal he is, how charmingly un-caught-up he is in the pro athlete lifestyle. He values people and friendships above the common trappings of status-symbol excess. He doesn't need jewelry and cars and the biggest house on the block; that stuff doesn't register with him.

Flacco is also smart enough to know, that, even having won by gambling on himself last summer and rejecting the Ravens offer -- a deal that would have paid him $16 million a year or more -- he is still incurring risks moving forward. Just as the Ravens need the cap relief that would be provided by getting Flacco signed long-term rather than have him count over $20-million against their 2013 cap, which swings leverage, so too must Flacco know that actually playing out the season on the franchise tag is another big gamble.

Let's say, for instance, that the Ravens actually franchise him at the non-exclusive level, for $14.6 million (and keep in mind the Ravens let him walk away from a long-term deal less than a year ago over a mere few million bucks, and this was a team that could have probably locked him up at $11-$12 million a year had they been willing to do a long-term deal after his first trip to the AFC Championship Game). So we can't assume, beyond any doubt, that Baltimore slaps him with the exclusive tag.

What happens if, for the first time in his career, Flacco gets hurt? What happens if his cap total forces the departure of key receivers like Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones -- set to make $9 million between them -- and let's say the Ravens go 8-8 and miss the playoffs and Flacco has another ho-hum regular season with 24 TDs and 10 INTs and less than 4,000 yards, which has been his norm.

What would that do to his value then?

And while we all assume that the Ravens putting the non-exclusive franchise tag on him would be nuts, and that teams would be lining up to give up two first-round picks for him and put together front-loaded offer sheets that Baltimore couldn't match, do we know that would be the case?

Sniffing around some myself, I'm not sure that any team outside of Cleveland actually would put one together.

So, let's play that one out:

Let's say that the Browns put together a deal worth $21 million a year, and the Ravens are at, say, $18.7. Is it worth it to walk? Is it worth it to go to a franchise that has done nothing but fail since re-entering the NFL, compared to staying in Baltimore, with a superior recent history and front office, and have the chance to win a Super Bowl any given year? Would whatever utility Flacco derived from that extra $1.5 million to $2 million a year be worth walking away from what he's giving up? Again, especially for someone who is pretty good at saving his money, and could probably live comfortably for a long time on what he has already banked from his rookie deal?

Flacco means more to the Ravens, and Baltimore, than he possibly could to anyone else, and I believe the opposite is true. This is a city that had not seen a semblance of quality quarterbacking since Bert Jones won an MVP in 1977, and a franchise that has been weighed down by horrible quarterbacks for much of its existence despite having such outstanding defenses. And Flacco must still remember all the time the Ravens spent on him leading up to the draft and how they took him in the first round despite him being let go by Pitt and playing at tiny Delaware, and how they built this team around him, and what a perfect fit he is with this team and this town and these fans.

It works both ways.

They needed each other, badly, back in 2008, when the Ravens selected Flacco, with owner Steve Bisciotti stepping out of the shadow of former owner Art Modell and John Harbaugh still a surprise choice as head coach and Baltimore still an offensively-inept franchise. They need one another just as badly now.

The stakes are higher and the prices have soared, but the endgame is the same. Flacco needs the Ravens and the Ravens need Flacco. They make infinitely more sense together than apart, and on some level, they have to know it. The engagement has gone on long enough. It's time to get married.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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