Saturday, March 2, 2013

Even When On the Rise, Joe Flacco Isn’t Worth Every Dime

Once maligned, now a superhero, Joe Flacco has earned millions that he can stash in the bank. Once, unappreciated to many, once unconvincing to claim elite status among NFL quarterbacks, Flacco is getting paid like a first-rate quarterback.

The money has finally come, unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Ravens’ victory of Super Bowl XVII, making Flacco the highest paid player in NFL history, a bloated and ridiculous deal for someone who has only won one Super Bowl championship, even with him emerging into a far more supreme quarterback. The check was issued to Flacco, the unsung hero who is Baltimore’s most accomplished pro quarterback since Johnny Unitas. He is now, unlike Unitas in those days, worth millions.

For Flacco, he’s an endearing superstar, like Unitas, who was never to be matched, the one pro quarterback with a long future in Baltimore. The Ravens and Flacco agreed to a six-year, $120 million contract on Friday. And he became the richest NFL player, pocketing more than Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton and Eli Manning and Drew Brees.

But, in truth, he’s certainly not worth more than $120 million — rewarding a player who still is unproven in a sense, after throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions with his best postseason as a starting quarterback. Because he led the Ravens to the team’s second Super Bowl title in 12 years, and because he solidified his status with a remarkable playoff run, Flacco was treated like royalty.

Players are overpaid for underperforming and a lack of effort, but fans fill their wallets. Owners are getting richer and stubborn, but fans pay for tickets. I, for one, am tired of athletes who are unworthy and haven’t nearly accomplished much. In fairness, Brady and the Mannings are all more laudable than Flacco at the moment.

Not to take anything away from Flacco, but he’s only on the rise to becoming a franchise quarterback, and the Ravens moved too fast. Flacco, the fifth-year quarterback, had a breakthrough season but he’s not worth more than Brees, the NFL’s highest-paid player at $20 million a season. There is, of course, Eli Manning in New York. He’s won two Super Bowls, but he’s only earning $106.7 million over seven years. It’s almost unreal, to say the least, that Flacco is getting more than those crowning quarterbacks. He, among others, amazingly takes home all the green. He was rebuked by doubters, and not close to a big payday.

It needs to be said that his regular season statistics aren’t as advertised as Brady’s or Manning’s, but he’s won a Super Bowl ring, hoisted the trophy, then left for a trip to Disney World and then a flight to New York to visit David Letterman. It might not have only been Flacco demanding an outrageous contract from the Ravens, but the person representing him could have been talking the Ravens quarterback into seeking a huge deal. His agent, Joe Linta, has constantly been voicing that his client was a top quarterback and believed he merit an elephant-sized paycheck.

Here’s hoping the Ravens spent wisely and not foolishly on a player who still needs to develop, in the National Football League. We’ll soon find out, but until then we can only speculate as to whether signing him long term and to the richest deal is worthwhile or a bust. With all the pain and suffering in our world, it’s egregious that one person can earn this much money, when there are unprivileged families, starving children and unwed mothers raising kids while struggling financially.

Although he’s not someone you’d expect to see earn the amount he’s now making, Flacco believes he’s the NFL’s best quarterback, appearing on a radio show and boasting about his greatness months ago. If Flacco had lost in the playoffs or even in the Super Bowl, he likely would not have been handed a boatload of money. It would be, however, a disappointment to see him not live up to expectations and not make his reputation as one of football’s most exciting players, while erasing all the doubts.

Like most athletes, he’s getting paid after one of his most memorable wins, entering the prime of his career at age 28. Honestly, this wouldn’t even be a discussion as to whether he’s worthy or unworthy, but because he set the market, it’s an ongoing conversation nationally that has not waned. The deal is bigger than what it really is, although Flacco played a big role in the Super Bowl and played like a star quarterback on the national stage.

It was apparent in that moment that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome signed him to a new deal as his previous contract was about to expire. They took a risk with Flacco by restructuring his contract, as the first indication is that he’s truly that good. But, as telling as it is, Flacco is an example of rewards following one major win. All it takes nowadays is an impressive playoff run, and even greater, a championship win. What you fail to realize or acknowledge is that Flacco got hot at the right time.

The organization was manipulated and rushed by Flacco and his agent into signing a mega-sized deal. Flacco and his agent seemed to be the dictators, forcing and pressuring Bisciotti and Newsome to offer the biggest contract on the market. By leading the Ravens there he felt he was worth every dime. The good news for the Ravens is that he delivered a Super Bowl title, winning the MVP with an eye-catching performance. That, by the way, was the main priority for the Ravens, locking up Flacco for a very long time, suddenly convinced that he could bring the team multiple Super Bowl titles. The Ravens, no doubt, are still among the best in the league.

After all that happened on Feb. 3 in New Orleans, it was apparent that the Ravens felt he was instantly a star. But, as it turns out, he’s a superstar who barely was born, a superstar who has not dominated well in the regular season. It’s one thing to join 49ers legend Joe Montana by throwing 11 touchdowns without having a pass intercepted, and become the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of the five seasons to begin his career. It’s quite another to have to duplicate the same kind of performance next season.

Sure he has six postseason road victories as a quarterback. Sure he’s tied with Brady for nine playoff victories in his first five seasons, the most among NFL quarterbacks. The problem is that he’s absurdly overpaid and overly pampered, and his enormous deal puts pressure on him to succeed next season with a team that probably won’t be as good or as lucky. Everybody in Baltimore must not be too concern with the signing and recognizes that Flacco had 63 victories total in the last five seasons, the best during that span.

At some point, he can become a great stud, but at the moment, it’s hard to rank his place in history. It’s hard to base someone’s status, following one remarkable postseason in pro football. Sometime around next season, Ravens fans will know what Flacco is truly about. It’s hard to say he’s worthy of a richer contract. But before anything else, he must win more often and captivate fans during the regular season, as well, not only in the postseason.

This is the same Flacco who has never passed for 4,000 yards in a season or thrown for more than 25 touchdowns. In addition, he’s only completed 60.2 percent of his passes and thrown 102 touchdown passes with 56 interceptions. In this scenario he’s not worth $120 million and will have to make us believe he’s elite, as well as lead the Ravens in the future, without the 2012-13 team if necessary.

Of course, Flacco, who has accomplished much at the apex of his career, won’t turn down cash. And while he’s won unlike Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan, he certainly can use improvement. And as he’s now the team leader, from carrying the team on his shoulders, he’s still not quite there and has a challenging task entering next season.

The offense had flaws, most notably at the quarterback position, especially under fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. It was obvious the Ravens needed a change, and sure enough, they flourished under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. Finally, there was a difference offensively. The most obvious turnaround was Flacco, who made smarter decisions with the ball and threw 15 touchdowns to finish the season, finding his go-to receiver Torrey Smith.

While he was out of sync to begin the season, he shouldered the blame for the Ravens’ struggles and then turned it around in the playoffs. When it mattered the most, even though he relied on the Ravens tenacious defense to bail him out at times, Flacco made plays, he executed his plays and connected with his wide receivers.

At the very least, doubters need to take into account that he is getting paid because he took a team to the Super Bowl and won the biggest game. Are the Ravens set for the foreseeable future or not? When the time comes, we’ll know whether or not Flacco is the centerpiece to Baltimore’s blueprint. It’s still uncertain when linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Ed Reed are free agents, and will likely test the market, as the Ravens have a little cap room.

Newsome had no choice but to restructure a deal, or else Flacco would have talked with teams. Newsome was hopeful, and eventually the two sides reached a deal.

But a typical 28-year-old, however, is not worth $120 million.