Repeat after me: "Joe Flacco is the highest-paid player in NFL history." It sounds weird, wrong, and utterly implausible. But it's entirely true. And the reality is that Flacco getting more money than any player in NFL history is directly related to the perfect timing of his performance.
Is Flacco the best player in the NFL? Noooo. He's not even one of the five-best quarterbacks in the NFL. It just so happens that his contract negotiations crescendoed perfectly with his playoff performance.
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Flacco shrugged off a $16 million-a-year deal before 2012, betting on himself to produce in the coming season as he prepared to hit free agency. It wasn't absolute lunacy, but given his inconsistencies, the move was bold.
It paid off in spades on Friday, though, when he landed a record-breaking six-year, $120.6 million deal that will pay him $62 million, also a record. The deal, which averages $20.1M per year -- also a record -- is an unfathomable amount for a guy who's never topped 4,000 yards in a single season. But Flacco brings different things to the table than mass accumulation of statistics; 2012's postseason showed as much.
The Ravens limped their way into the postseason, looking like dead men walking on the Ray Lewis retirement tour. Flacco elevated his game in a way few have, throwing for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four playoff games as Baltimore stunned the world by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in early February.
People pay big for hot streaks and the Ravens are paying big now.
The culmination of Flacco's monster deal isn't even directly related to his performance, though. The timing of the deal also hinged perfectly on the current quarterback market. Drew Brees set the market with a five-year, $100 million deal last offseason. And while Flacco is not as good as Brees, Brees didn't win a Super Bowl in 2012; and it just so happens that none of the guys in Flacco's quarterback "range" (in terms of production, age and contract status) were up for new deals before the Ravens signal caller was.
Matt Ryan is sitting back eying Flacco's deal and prepared to top it. Aaron Rodgers can just print out a sign that says "Joe Flacco A Buck Twenty" and walk into Ted Thompson's office when he wants to negotiate. Matthew Stafford is making insane money already and in negotiations. Mark Sanchez stinks. Josh Freeman is a wild card. Sam Bradford is locked down. We're a long way off from the new CBA quarterbacks seeing new deals.
And look at the Ravens situation. Even if they don't think Flacco is worth more than $20 million a year -- and who can fault them if they didn't? -- what options do they have if they let him walk. Draft Matt Barkley or Mike Glennon? Sign Matt Moore? Trade for Matt Flynn??? Getting two first-round picks back from whatever team would ultimately ink Flacco to an offer sheet if he wasn't exclusively tagged would be nice, but not having a quarterback would set Ozzie Newsome's franchise back years. That's unacceptable coming off a Super Bowl.
Flacco is a high-quality quarterback with some serious playoff performances on his resume. You can point, as I like to, at the 13-for-27, 187-yard, zero-touchdown, one-pick performance against the Chiefs in 2012 in Week 5 (less than four months ago!) and lament his flaws. They are there. But the dude has a history of winning in the playoffs, and he's clearly capable of putting a team on his back and taking down a title.
If he slaps together his playoff performance in early goings of 2012 and lays the Chiefs egg against the Colts in the wild-card round of the playoffs, we're not talking about this. As much as folks around the NFL like to discuss taking a larger-view approach to things, that never happens (ask anyone at the NFL Combine about perspective).
Flacco torching his opponents down the stretch made him millions. It was, if you'll forgive a phrase that was worn out whenever George Clooney started sliding portside, a perfect storm for the Ravens quarterback.
That he found out about the news while watching television is perfect. Flacco is not flashy, he's not particularly quotable and he's not even elite -- whatever the hell that means -- when it comes to quarterbacks in the NFL.
But he is a guy who gambled on himself and just kept flopping insane cards the entire way through the playoffs. He made big throws, he stood in the pocket strong and he led the Ravens to the highest mountain in the NFL. It couldn't have come at a better time and now Flacco is getting paid for it.