Looking at What Joe Flacco's New Contract Hints About the Ravens' Faith in Him

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVMarch 4, 2013

Flacco's crazy 2012 has been capped off by him becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Flacco's crazy 2012 has been capped off by him becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history.Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

On paper, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been given the most lucrative contract in NFL history, worth $120 million over six years

Of course, the on-paper amount that Flacco is getting won't likely line up with reality. Contracts, especially ones with this much money attached, are designed to benefit the team as much as they do the player.

The contract itself is a reward for what Flacco has done over the course of his last five seasons—not least of all helping lead the Ravens to their second Super Bowl win in franchise history—but the money that comes with it still needs to be earned. 

Looking at the way Flacco's deal breaks down, it's easy to tell that while the Ravens certainly have faith in him, they're still protecting themselves. It also lines up with the recent Ravens practice of making their star players highly paid, albeit in the later years of their deals.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs both have high-paying contracts, but the bulk of the money owed to them comes in the final two years, and Flacco's deal is no different. He is set to receive a $29 million signing bonus that's paid out over the course of his deal save for the final year, and while $52 million of the contract is guaranteed and $62 million is set to come his way in the first three years, it's the last three seasons in particular where his salary cap hit is highest. 

In 2016, the combination of salary and bonuses gives Flacco a cap hit of $28.75 million; in 2017, this jumps to $31.15 million before falling to $24.75 million in his final season, thanks to him not being owed any signing bonus. It's hard to imagine that he actually sees all of this money—the amounts are just so high that they scream "restructure" rather than "realistic payday."

Does this mean that the Ravens don't have faith that Flacco can continue to play well through the duration of the contract? It's quite the back-loaded deal after all, and their hopes are likely that Flacco won't be paid the majority of that money. However, it doesn't mean they don't trust Flacco's chances of continued success.

Granted, the pressure on Flacco is much higher than that on Suggs or Ngata, simply by the nature of the position he plays. Even when games aren't won or lost based on how the quarterback performed, he often gets the majority of credit or blame, and that feeling of responsibility can echo in the minds of the decision-makers in Baltimore when it comes time for Flacco to get those larger paydays in the final half of his contract.

But no player, Flacco included, sees a contract of this value without having the confidence of ownership, the general manager and the coaching staff. Regardless of Flacco's 2012 playoff performance in which he threw for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, the fact that he's the team's all-time leading passer or that he's helped take his team to the postseason each year he's been there, he still had to be worth both the short- and long-term value of his contract, even if he never comes close to getting the entirety of the $120 million. 

There are reasons to be concerned about Flacco getting a deal this big. His 3,817 regular-season passing yards in 2012 were the most of his career, but he was still out-thrown by 13 other quarterbacks. His 22 passing touchdowns were the second-highest total of his career, but still ranked him 15th on the season. In fact, he's never had more than 25 touchdowns in a regular season, though his 10 to 12 interceptions per year are both consistent and impressive. 

Flacco isn't flashy, and a $120 million six-year deal certainly is. It makes sense why some may think that the Ravens are overpaying him and were simply forced into the situation because he won the Super Bowl MVP award at a fortunate time, when he was about to become an unrestricted free agent.

While timing had much to do with Flacco getting such a large deal, the Ravens aren't so naive as to pay him such an exorbitant amount simply because his best season came in a contract year. Arguments about "eliteness" miss the point. A quarterback doesn't need to be the best in the world to win games, he just needs to be good at his job, and his value isn't relative to what his counterparts around the league have accomplished—it's only based on what he has done for his own team.

In that respect, Flacco is worth more to the Ravens—even at such a high asking price—than any of their other options, either this year or in the next (up to) six seasons. While he may not see every dollar this contract is worth, the Ravens had enough confidence in him to give him this deal in the first place. This deal is a reward for his past contributions, but it also shows that the Ravens believe that he can play to the level of this contract moving forward.

He may not be the highest-scoring quarterback in the league or throw for the most yards, but Flacco has done more to win the Ravens games than to cost them victories, all while spending the majority of his career with an offensive coordinator who sought to rein him in and a constantly changing receiving corps.

This contract only cements that the Ravens are now Flacco's team—the symbolism of the contract says more about their faith in him than whether or not he sees all of that money by the time the deal expires.