Elite. What exactly does that word entail? Does it mean you put up the best numbers every year? Or is it simply proving yourself time and time again? Critics have often struggled to place the "elite" tag on Joe Flacco, but if he leads the Ravens to win the 2013 Super Bowl, his supporters will only grow stronger in their claim.
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Flacco's regular season wasn't exactly jaw-dropping. He finished 14th in passing yards (3,817), 15th in touchdown passes (22), and 19th in completion percentage (59.7). Pretty run-of-the-mill numbers for a quarterback, it would appear.
His postseason numbers, though, make you think differently. Flacco is averaging 284 yards per game with eight total touchdowns and, here's the kicker, zero turnovers. Say what you want about No. 5, he knows how to play mistake-free football in the postseason. The Ravens are 7-0 in the playoffs when Flacco doesn't throw an interception.
Pro Football Focus rated Flacco as a 4.7 overall in 2012, tying him with Kevin Kolb for 20th best at the quarterback position. You don't have to be Mike Mayock to know being placed in the same league as Kolb isn't exactly a positive sign.
Fans are quick to point out Flacco's success throwing the long ball, citing several touchdowns against the Broncos and constant highligh-reel scores to Torrey Smith in 2012. According to PFF, Flacco attempted a pass of 20 yards or more 17.3 percent of the time, the highest of any quarterback with a minimum of 50 attempts. He finished with 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns in these situations.
Flacco only held a 40.2 percent completion percentage on deep throws, ranking him 15th in the league. Again, mediocre statistics when you're looking at the big picture. But, the main stat Flacco fans will point to is that he hasn't thrown a single pick in 101 deep pass attempts.
He's winning playoff games, and boosting his asking price for contract talks this offseason. How big will his new deal be, though?
Kurt Warner believes Flacco has earned a $100 million contract, citing his consistency throughout this year's playoff run. The Ravens cap space isn't abundant right now. If they franchise Flacco, they'll be on the hook for $14.6 million in 2013. If the sign him to a multi-year deal, the Ravens will have to structure the contract to lighten the load for the upcoming season with so many free agents ready to hit the market.
Matt Schaub signed a five-year, $66.15 million deal less than a year ago. He was seeing plenty of success in 2011 before ending his year with a Lisfranc injury. He threw for 4,370 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2010, comparable numbers to Flacco's fifth season. Just looking at the numbers on the stat sheet, you wouldn't really expect Flacco to be in for a ridiculous payday.
However, his track record seems to put all that aside to some. Bruce Raffel of Baltimore Beatdown believes Flacco has earned a top-five payday. "In his five seasons, all Flacco has done is lead his team to the post season each year, including three trips to the AFC Championship Game," says Raffel.
Flacco faced the 49ers last season, throwing for just 161 yards and a touchdown. He didn't turn the ball over, and the Ravens won 16-6. Often has this been the case in the past. Baltimore's defense takes control, Flacco just manages the game. There's your winning formula.
To call a quarterback elite is to say he is the best of the best. Elite puts you in a select group that other players only dream of attaining. No one seems to have a problem calling Tom Brady elite, even if he hasn't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season. On the other hand, everyone seems to have a problem calling Joe Flacco elite, even if he's won 61 total games since 2008, the most of any passer in that span.
Does it really matter? At the end of the day, Flacco is playing for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, they're all sitting at home watching, or at a bar, or whatever they do with their lives when the Super Bowl goes on without them. Flacco believes in his mind that he's an elite quarterback, and if he beats the 49ers, there won't be anything you can say to deter him from that notion... at least until contract negotiations roll around.