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A smart deal can be made that more than satisfies Flacco, Ravens

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The biggest ongoing negotiation in the NFL reaches a pinnacle this weekend, with the Ravens trying to extend Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco before the Monday deadline to apply the franchise tag.

Getting Flacco extended means keeping his cap number below $10 million for at least one more year, while tagging him means him counting $15 million against the cap immediately and, then, possibly $20 million come April once the new figure for an exclusive-rights tag (should the Ravens apply the high tag).

Both sides want to avoid any of those scenarios and there is plenty of motivation to do a deal. It would silly for them not to hammer it out.

With that in mind I spoke to several contract negotiators on both sides -- NFL executives and agents -- to get a sense of what a fair deal for Flacco would look like. After some back and forth, I think we have a pretty good template here, with plenty of flexibility as well.

I played around with five-year deals and six-year deals, and the reality is that many of these contracts could end up spurring renegotiations well before its conclusion anyway. Ultimately, after looking at projections from a few people I greatly value and trust, and bouncing it off others, and weighing what I know about what will be most important to Flacco and his agent, Joe Linta, as well as what the Ravens prize most, I began an exercise to explore what the Flacco deal could look like.

So let's begin with this five year template:

Negotiating a Joe Flacco deal
Contract No. 1
YearBase salarySigning bonus prorationOption bonus prorationSalary cap number
2013$5M$4MN/A$9M
2014$7M$4M$6.25M$17.25M
2015$8M$4M$6.25M$18.25M
2016$12M$4M$6.25M$22.25M
2017$13M$4M$6.25M$23.25M

In this scenario Flacco earns $45 million in base salary and $45 million in bonuses for a five-year, $90 million deal. He would average $18 million per year and make $65 million over the first three years of the deal. Not too shabby, but certainly not the $20 million per year some would say he deserves. As some agents pointed out, this is a deal that might look better to Flacco further down the line, say perhaps as camp approaches, and as the threat of having to play it out for one year on the franchise tag starts to look more real.

And from the Ravens' standpoint, they might want to keep the cap numbers down a little more beyond the first year of the deal. I'd call this a fair deal, but I understand it may not be perfect.

From Baltimore's perspective, adding a sixth year would allow for more proration on the option bonus (bonuses can be spread over a max of five years and in this case it is only over four. So with that in mind I took this approach:

Negotiating a Joe Flacco deal
Contract No. 2
YearBase salarySigning bonus prorationOption bonus prorationSalary cap number
2013$5M$4MN/A$9M
2014$7M$4M$5M$16M
2015$8M$4M$5M$17M
2016$12M$4M$5M$21M
2017$13M$4M$5M$22M
2018$18MN/A$5M$23M

So now we have a six-year, $108 million dollar deal that is still worth $18 million per year. Of course, we're still at $18 million per year and not $20 million per year. Now, if we bump that signing bonus up to $25 million from $20 million (easy for us to do, right?) then, voilà, you have a deal that's worth $18.83 million.

So now we're just under $19 million annually. And of course, we would be adding $1 million more in cap space on each of the first five years of the deal, too, so his cap numbers would be: $10M, $17M, $18M, $22M, $23M, $23M.

I ran this past a few more people and a few salient points were raised.

From the Flacco/Linta perspective, one caveat would be that traditionally the Ravens have been unwilling to include full guarantees for skill, cap and injury in their deals. Flacco is obviously a unique case and quarterback deals of this magnitude are generally going to have those provisions in.

But if they persist on not going with the full guarantees, than several agents said they would demand that the first-year take home pay be higher.

"You need to flip the option and roster bonus, and get the higher total up front," one contract expert suggested. "I'd want $30 million in the first year, if they're not going to go all the way with the guarantees."

In these templates, Flacco takes home $25 million in 2013 (the $20 million signing bonus, plus the $5 million base salary. So with that in mind I put together this six-year projection:

Negotiating a Joe Flacco deal
Contract No. 3
YearBase salarySigning bonus prorationOption bonus prorationSalary cap number
2013$4M$6MN/A$10M
2014$4M$6M$5M$15M
2015$6M$6M$5M$17M
2016$10M$6M$5M$21M
2017$14M$6M$5M$25M
2018$20MN/A$5M$25M

So in this case, we have a six-year deal in which he makes $58 million in base salary and $50 million in bonuses for a total of, you guessed it, $108 million.

Flacco gets to take home $34 million in the first year (more than twice the franchise tag) and if for some reason he is gone after a year, so be it. He got paid. And he still ends up getting $18 million per year (which he won't entirely love -- and I truly get his argument -- and perhaps that is the biggest flaw in my templates here).

It still keeps the cap figure below $25 million each year for the duration of the deal, and there are no massive spikes, which helps the club. And the cap charge doesn't get above the franchise tag total (projected totals for 2014 and 2015) until probably at least 2016.

There seems to be ample compromise here. Could you make the case that bump up one of the bonus totals a bit, or a base salary by a few million here or there (again, easy for us to say) and get that average per year to $18.5 million or $19 million and call it a day)?

Sure, you certainly could.

And, we could easily get the average per year up by cranking up the salary totals in 2017 and 2018 to $18 million and $22 million, respectively.

The reality is, after year four, if Flacco is producing like a top tier quarterback and keeps piling up the playoff victories, the Ravens are going to want to extend him again around age 32 to purchase a few more years of his services down the road, and open up a conduit to prorate more bonus money into the future. (See what Tom Brady has been doing the past few years).

As we've seen here, it's pretty easy to manipulate the numbers and change a total slightly here or there, which then ripples through the entire contract. Go back to the first projection -- Flacco received $65 million in the first three years of that deal.

He would get $64 million in this one, but his take home pay is up $10 million versus what it was in "Contract 1". Not many of the key thresholds changed between the three, other than the first-year take home gross pay, and if the Ravens are willing to put in more across the board guarantees, then Year One pay may not be as important a threshold, anyway.

The bottom line is there is a smart deal to be had that more than satisfies each side, and, from both perspectives, it makes more sense to do it before than franchise tag comes into play than after it.


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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