Joe Flacco is quite a happy quarterback, one week removed from the end of a career-defining postseason that ended with a Super Bowl ring. And most importantly, his play speaks for itself as the contract negotiations soon begin with the Baltimore Ravens.
The negotiations should be a clear storyline to watch over during the offseason. Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, has echoed the sentiment that Flacco's historic postseason makes him the most valuable quarterback in the National Football League.
No matter where Flacco ranks among the upper echelon of quarterbacks in football, the Ravens will ultimately have to devote a large portion of their salary cap towards their franchise quarterback. They took that risk when a deal wasn't agreed to in the offseason or the regular season.
There are two scenarios that will ultimately form from this. Either the Ravens will offer Flacco a deal likely to compare in terms of Drew Brees' contract, or the franchise tag will need to be placed on the quarterback. If the Ravens sign Flacco to a deal now, it could allow to retain one of their other marquee free agents this offseason.
From here, the details begin to become complicated. There is a very good possibility that Baltimore will use the exclusive franchise tag on Flacco. This would prevent other teams from making a very challenging offer that the Ravens would be unable to match. However, it doesn't make matters that much easier for Ozzie Newsome and company.
In order to prevent other teams from offering an expensive front-loaded contract, the Ravens would need to apply the exclusive franchise tag, which is expected to be worth in the realm of $19-20 million.
The rest of the roster will therefore have a dramatic turnover due to the expense of their quarterback.
It will start with the defensive side of the football, where both Paul Kruger and Cary Williams will likely find new teams in the offseason. Though the Ravens haven't spoken publicly about either of these players, they ultimately become expendable for a few reasons.
In terms of Kruger, he had his best year as a professional in his contract year. He played his best football in the postseason, most notably against the Denver Broncos. However, it's worth noting that Kruger was virtually a non-factor during Terrell Suggs' absence. According to Rotoworld.com, Kruger had 1.5 sacks in the six games that Suggs missed while recovering from his torn Achilles.
With Courtney Upshaw waiting in the wings, the Ravens aren't likely to offer Kruger the money he wants. Meanwhile, Williams' situation is much more clear.
The Ravens offered him a three-year, $15 million dollar contract in the offseason and Williams rightfully turned it down. He felt he was worth more and will likely entertain better offers in free agency. With the return of Lardarius Webb and the emergence of Corey Graham, the Ravens are better off committing money elsewhere on the roster.
Dannell Ellerbe should be a main priority for the Ravens in the offseason. He was the most reliable linebacker on a weekly basis, especially in pass rush, where he vastly improved this season. Linebacker was a weakness before Ray Lewis announced his retirement. Now, it should be near the top of their priority list to resign one of their key contributors on defense.
The lone remaining question on defense is whether Ed Reed will return and ultimately end his career in a Ravens uniform. Reed wants to return to Baltimore and the front office has the same mindset. As Clark Judge of CBS Sports mentions, the Ravens could follow contract talks in the similar fashion they did with Ray Lewis a few years ago.
Reed could test the market, where there are bound to be a few teams interested (Patriots, Falcons come to mind) in his services. Eventually he'll have to see if an offer from another team is much more significant than the Ravens. I don't believe that will be the case.
There is no denying Reed's worth on a defense from a leadership standpoint. However, Reed's lack of tackling in open space (or lack of tackling, period) along with the lack of turnovers caused in the secondary could result in a lack of interest in terms of the money that Reed is seeking. The best bet is that he will return on a short contract with the Ravens and end his career with one team.
A logical observation is that the Ravens could reconstruct the deals of Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, and Anquan Boldin that would decrease the value of their contracts to create cap space for Flacco's new deal. That appears to be unlikely, however, based on Newsome's denial of that strategy last week.
Yet, it doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be some changes in these players' contracts. A possible suggestion could be for Newsome to extend the years on the contracts for these veterans. As a result, the Ravens could allow themselves to pay more money a few years down the line instead of paying the high salaries these players have right now.
Contrary to the rumors that the Ravens could cut Suggs or Boldin, the idea seems far-fetched to me. While Suggs did have a disappointing year overall, I can't criticize a player who played through a torn bicep and while recovering from surgery to his Achilles. He is one of the leaders of this defense, and it's difficult to envision him being cut in order to create room for Flacco.
The same situation goes for Boldin. Aside from the fact that Boldin has made clear that he won't sign with any other team, he was the most consistent wide receiver in the postseason of any team. He is committed to staying with the Ravens, and shined once Jim Caldwell utilized him well in the offense.
As for which potential offensive players could be cut, veterans Matt Birk and Vonta Leach could be on the way out. Birk could retire this offseason and save the Ravens money that way, but Gino Gradkowski is the replacement in waiting and could take the reins next year.
Leach is the best fullback in the NFL, but for a guy who isn't a consistent player on the majority of offensive snaps, it may be difficult to hold onto him for next season.
As the Ravens move forward with the decision on Flacco, there will be tough decisions that have to be made in order to create any negative tension with Flacco and his agent. In the end, the Ravens earned their second Super Bowl due to the quality of work that the Ravens front office has produced on a yearly basis.
It's time for them to work their magic once again in one of the more critical offseasons the franchise has faced in recent memory.
Matt Miselis is an NFL Featured Columnist for BleacherReport. Follow him on twitter @MattMiselisNFL
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