Joe Flacco Contract: 6-year deal makes him highest paid player ... for now

Jim McIsaac

The six-year, $120 million deal Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will sign on Monday may make him the highest paid player in the NFL, but his deal will invite other statistically superior quarterbacks to top his contract, and very soon.

The easy lede is "show me the money;" comparing Ravens quarterback and his record six-year, $120 million contract to the simplified instructions fictional Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell gave his agent, Jerry Maguire.

Maguire was asking Cardinals GM Dennis Wilburn (played by Glen Frey) for a contract extension for Tidwell; four years, $10 million. A reasonable offer for a receiver who just caught 110 passes for 1,550 yards, which would have put him fourth and fifth, respectively, in the NFL in 1995.

Maguire was able to parlay Tidwell's swell of popularity after his touchdown catch on Monday Night Football against Dallas into a four year, $11.2 million contract after that season.

Flacco, like Tidwell, was forced to play into the last year of his contract. Flacco, though, won a Super Bowl and the argument can be made he has a better agent, Joe Linta, than Tidwell did.

He wasn't yelling "show me the money," or making the universal "cash" symbol from across the room like Maguire did to Wilburn. He basically said "our lowest acceptable offer is the highest deal the game has ever seen."

And there was little Baltimore could do to argue. Linta did what Maguire failed to do, and it's something every other quarterback will exploit in the future; he made Baltimore pay for not paying him last year.

Flacco's contract is far more likely reparations from the Ravens for making him play into the final year of his contract, an unprecedented move for a quarterback with Flacco's statistics, even in his pre-Super Bowl MVP days. And depending on the details of the contract, which is expected to be finalized Monday, it could be one which history will show to be the impetus for quarterbacks' salaries skyrocketing over the next few years.

This will, in turn, essentially make quarterbacks impervious to the franchise tag - a designation implemented to allow rebuilding teams an opportunity to buy more time to work out a long-term deal with a valued player.

Quarterbacks have become so incredibly important in the game, they're above even the franchise tag. The Ravens wouldn't have dared to risk the non-exclusive tag, which would have returned two first-round picks if Baltimore declined any offer given to Flacco. The exclusive tag amount was $20.1 million, all guaranteed and all against the 2013 cap.

Signing a player to a long-term deal even at the average of $20 million a year allows a team to spread the cap hit over the duration of the contract, meaning it's far less painful, cap wise, to sign a long-term deal than use the tag. But with the tag being an average of the top five players at that position, and several quarterbacks being able to easily lay claim of statistical equality to, if not superiority over Flacco, that average will be extraordinarily high in the coming years.

And it will only continue to increase.

His deal will reportedly trump that of former highest paid player Drew Brees, including the $61 million in the first three years that Brees got. That's basically three consecutive exclusive franchise tags.

These are two quarterbacks who have at least one Super Bowl ring. Statistically, Flacco's deal may be higher, but he's nowhere near Brees' level of production per game.

Games Comp Att Yards TDs INT Rating 30+ TD seasons 40+ TD seasons
Flacco Career 80 1,507 2,489 60.55% 17,633 102 56 86.3 0 0
Per game 18.84 31.11 220.41 1.28 0.7
Brees career 170.00 4,035.00 6,149.00 65.62% 45,919 324 165 94.3 5 3
Per game 23.74 36.17 270.11 1.91 0.97

Each have one Super Bowl ring and one Super Bowl MVP trophy, which, largely due to Flacco's contract, will be the ultimate comparable statistic in contract negotiations for quarterbacks.

Compare Flacco's stats to ringless Matt Ryan, who statistically is closer to Flacco than Brees is, but has a slight edge in most categories.

Games Comp Att Yards TDs INT Rating 30+ TD seasons 40+ TD seasons
Flacco Career 80 1,507 2,489 60.55% 17,633 102 56 86.3 0 0
Per game 18.84 31.11 220.41 1.28 0.7
Ryan career 78 1,654 2,637 62.72% 18,957 127 60 90.9 1 0
Per game 21.21 33.81 243.04 1.63 0.77

Also, Flacco has 34 career fumbles to Ryan's 17. But Flacco has the ring.

However the Falcons want to slice it, there's little chance Ryan will not be using Flacco's contract as the first comparable in his pending negotiations.

Take out the ring and there's little argument that Ryan deserves what Flacco is allegedly going to be paid.

What about the guys who also have a ring? The club Flacco joined by winning a Super Bowl is exclusive, but by no stretch of the imagination has Flacco done something no one else has. He's just going to be paid like it.

For now.

There's little chance Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn't licking his chops over what Flacco's contract means to him. While Flacco is probably the least-statistically productive Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Rodgers is likely to use Flacco's new deal as the low-end comparable in his negotiations.

And statistically, he has plenty of reasons to do just that.

Games Comp Att Yards TDs INT Rating 30+ TD seasons 40+ TD seasons
Flacco Career 80 1,507 2,489 60.55% 17,633 102 56 86.3 0 0
Per game 18.84 31.11 220.41 1.28 0.7
Rodgers career 85 1,752 2,665 65.74% 21,661 171 46 104.9 3 1
Per game 20.61 31.35 254.84 2.01 0.54

Rodgers' brother, Luke, even poked fun at Flacco's contract based on his statistics recently, tweeting that he "can't wait to see (Bills QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick's deal."

Rodgers has a ring, a Super Bowl MVP trophy and a league MVP trophy, something Flacco has never sniffed in his five years in the NFL. It equals what Brees has, indicating Rodgers didn't need Flacco to sign a huge deal to justify his extension, which almost assuredly will make him the highest paid player in the league. But it does increase the base value of Rodgers impending deal, and gives plenty of justification for him to receive upwards of $66 million in the first three years.

The cap numbers of quarterbacks are increasing to unparalleled levels. That in itself isn't a shock, but it's clearly creating two issues. It is forcing teams with those high-dollar passers to restructure those deals each season to create cap space and it creates a massive gap in guaranteed money between quarterbacks and the rest of the league.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl rings, just restructured his deal for the third consecutive season. It shaved $6 million off the Steelers salary cap figure for the 2013 season, and bumped his guaranteed payment for 2013 to $9 million.

Roethlisberger has increased the guaranteed money in the 8-year, $102 million deal he signed in 2008 from $33.2 million to $53.5 million, and sets himself up for massive cap numbers (over $17 million in 2014 and 2015).

That will all but assure Roethlisberger, barring injury in 2013, of an extension after this season.

But, the question for the Steelers, and many other teams who will eventually face the final contract years of their franchise quarterback, is whether Roethlisberger is willing to do exactly what Patriots QB Tom Brady did this offseason, when he signed a three-year extension for a fraction of the new market value.

Brady rules all quarterbacks in terms of winning, and while his contracts will be nearly fully guaranteed for the rest of his career, getting quarterbacks to accept significantly less than their market values may be the only option for teams attempting to get out of the salary cap nightmares many of them will have to suffer in order to keep the most important position in the league (and maybe in all of sports) under contract.

Even if Tidwell ended up crying on national television for getting 11 percent more than he hoped to get. If he wanted money shown to him, he should have learned to throw instead of catch touchdowns in traffic against Dallas.

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