Putting a price on Flacco
Despite how often he looks lost and confused on the field throughout the regular season, Flacco is a Super Bowl champion. Not only did Flacco win a Super Bowl, he did it at the perfect time for his personal financial success - Flacco turned down a contract extension just before training camp because he felt he could prove he was worth more money, and that is exactly what he did.
The Ravens' top priority will now be to sign Flacco long-term, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in March if the Ravens can't lock him up before then. The franchise tag is essentially out of the question, as it will count over $20 million against the Ravens' salary cap, and they need more wiggle room to secure other impending free agents, such as Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, and Dannell Ellerbe.
Now we are presented with a very tricky question: how much is Joe Flacco worth?
Players often base their contract demands off of the contracts of other similarly successful players. Flacco has very adamantly stated that he feels he deserves the same money as the "elite" quarterbacks, and he certainly won't back off that stance after being named Super Bowl MVP. His contract offer from the summer of 2012 was reportedly worth $17 million annually, and Flacco turned that down.
Peyton Manning was the highest paid quarterback in the league in 2012 (as far as money that counts against his team's salary cap), making $18 million. His contract is worth an average of $19.2 million annually. Manning earned that contract by putting together a Hall of Fame career. Flacco may have propelled himself to be in the conversation with the NFL's elite quarterbacks, but it's a bit too soon to begin talking about the Hall of Fame. As far as I'm concerned, Flacco does not deserve that Peyton Manning type money.
The next highest salary among quarterbacks in 2012 was Sam Bradford, who made $15.6 million. Flacco can easily make a case to be paid more than Bradford, but keep in mind that Bradford was a first overall draft pick who was signed before the new CBA, which moderates rookie contracts, was put into effect. Just because a player is better than, let's say, JaMarcus Russell (another first overall pick), doesn't mean that player deserves JaMarcus Russell type money.
The third highest paid quarterback in 2012 was Philip Rivers, at $15.3 million - higher than his contract's $14 million annual average. While the case can be made that Flacco had a better 2012 campaign than Rivers, Flacco has never made a Pro Bowl, compared to four Pro Bowls for Rivers. Rivers has also led the NFL in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and quarterback rating over the course of his career. Flacco has never led the league in any significant statistic.
The case that Flacco will make, however, is that his postseason success trumps Rivers' excellence in the regular-season. It's a reasonable belief, as Rivers has never made it to the Super Bowl and has been one-and-done in two of his four postseason appearances. This is why Flacco's contract negotiation will be so difficult - how much should his postseason success factor in compared to his regular season mediocrity?
I think the currently active player that has had the most similar career to this point is Eli Manning. Manning has really only had one or two regular seasons that jump off the stat sheet. The only passing stat that he's led the league in is interceptions. However, he somehow manages to turn it on once the playoffs come around, and has won two Super Bowls.
If I were Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, I would price Flacco in the area of Eli Manning's seven-year, $106.9 million deal. Manning was the fifth highest paid quarterback in 2012 with a salary of $11.9 million, but his annual salary is about $15.3 million on average. I would expect Flacco to receive more guaranteed money than Manning, who got $35 million, as Flacco has proven not to be any sort of injury risk (has started every possible game of his five year career).
Flacco is expected to begin negotiations demanding a contract similar to Drew Brees, which would be an average of $20 million annually with $60 million guaranteed. Drew Brees is a Super Bowl winning future Hall of Fame quarterback, and while Flacco did come up big on football's biggest stage, he has not proven to be a Hall of Fame caliber player. I think the area of $16-17 million annually with $45-50 million guaranteed would be the appropriate price for Flacco. His postseason success certainly warrants a big contract, but I would not put him on the same level as Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.