NFL free agency 2013: Joe Flacco joins the elite

Mike Ehrmann

Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco is a free agent, and the Ravens have a big decision to make about their future.

Baltimore Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco added 'Superbowl MVP' to his resume, which simultaneously simplifies, and complicates his contract situation heading into the 2013 season. General manager Ozzie Newsome will now need to weigh the totality of the contract, to ensure his organization -- one that has so prudently managed the salary cap over the last decade -- doesn't put too much into Flacco at the detriment of the rest of the organization, a roster that will be in flux over the next few seasons.

Throwing for 287 yards and three touchdowns against one the NFL's best defenses, on the league's largest stage, should be enough to finally cement Flacco as an elite NFL quarterback, but questions still linger.

A career 86.3 rated passer, he's had some amazing ups during his five years with the Ravens, but also some head-shaking lows. In five regular-season games in 2012, Flacco posted a QB rating of under 70.0. With one-third of his season as an under-performing quarterback, there will be questions whether he's a player the organization can lean on long term. The Ravens must be careful to not make the same mistakes the New York Jets did with Mark Sanchez, destroying their salary cap.

An argument can also be made for Flacco as clutch quarterback. His 11 post-season touchdowns in 2012-13 ties the NFL record, and like New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning, he showed up the largest when the most was on the line. Herein lies the decision for the Baltimore Ravens -- are they in the Jets, or Giants situation? In both cases their perceived franchise QBs were due for extensions, in mirroring circumstances there were questions whether the quarterbacks deserved the money, but only in the case of the Giants did their player step up, take the brass ring, and prove that he was one of the NFL's best.

There's an outside chance that the Baltimore Ravens try to buy one more season. Electing to put him on an exclusive-rights franchise tag would cost the organization $20-million for the 2013 season, but it would also buy them much-needed time to evaluate the rest of their roster. At this point we know that Ray Lewis is retiring, and there's a possibility that free safety Ed Reed could also. This is an aging team with youth needed at many positions. A long-term, $100-million contract could be difficult to stomach at the quarterback position.

If reports are to be believed, Joe Flacco and his agent are seeking a contract that pays him as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Five straight playoff appearances, and now a Super Bowl -- it becomes more difficult to argue against his ability under center. What he displayed in the Superdome on Sunday proved that he can take that next step, and John Harbaugh can't expect to sustain success without a franchise quarterback. Is Joe Flacco an equivalent talent to Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers? No, he's not. These are transcendent players who can put an entire team, not just an offense, on their back and carry them through the playoffs. While they won't get a ring this year, they are in a class above Flacco.

The Baltimore Ravens can revel in their victory now and enjoy their much-deserved Super Bowl success, but the season starts for every team tomorrow. Roster evaluation, scouting and preparation are a 365-day operation, and Ozzie Newsome will move forward without emotion, doing what he needs to in order to keep the Ravens as one of the NFL's best teams. Time will tell whether that vision can afford Joe Flacco.

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