Is Joe Flacco worthy of the highest-paid contract in NFL history?

The $120 million man

Down at the One looks inside Joe Flacco's mammoth contract extension in the context of today's NFL

By AJ Young - March 4 2013  

News broke on Friday evening that Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens had reached a deal on a contract extension that will make Flacco the highest-paid player in NFL history. That's right folks, you read correctly. Joe Flacco's six-year, $120.6 million deal will make him not just the highest paid quarterback in NFL history but the highest paid player in NFL history full stop.


I won't bore you with another look at the merits of Flacco's extension in light of his sometimes inconsistent play over the first five years of his career. That's been a drum well beaten this past weekend and you'll find plenty of such looks elsewhere. The way I see it, there are a few lingering questions; would Flacco have got such a large contract had the Ravens lost to the 49ers; what does that figure really mean; and where does it stand in the context of today's NFL? Hopefully this piece will shed some light and perspective onto these questions.


My initial gut reaction - as I made clear on Twitter - was that this was a ludicrous contract that only came to fruition because Baltimore won the Super Bowl. Had Colin Kaepernick completed that pass to Michael Crabtree in the waning moments of the Super Bowl, then Flacco's contract would have been significantly lower. And I must say, as knee jerk logic goes, I think it was quite well reasoned. It'd be easy to think that had Joe Flacco and the Ravens agreed to a new deal last off-season prior to a Super Bowl victory, then the figure would have been around the $80 million mark. In this day and age however, that's just not the case.

Recent Quarterback Contracts
Joe Flacco20136 years$120.6 million
Drew Brees20125 years$100 million
Peyton Manning20125 years$96 million
Michael Vick20116 years$100 million
Eli Manning20097 years$106.9 million
Philip Rivers20097 years$98.25 million
Ben Roethlisberger20088 years$102 million
Carson Palmer20066 years$119.75 million

As you can see from the contracts handed out to quarterbacks in recent years, if Baltimore had signed Flacco to a contact last off-season, chances are it would have been around the $100 million mark anyway. By winning the Super Bowl, Flacco has simply added another $20 million or so to the bottom line; certainly not to be sniffed at but for those under any illusion that he was only good for about $80 million prior to winning the Super Bowl, that's just not the case. It's unlikely that he would necessarily have been a $20 million a year quarterback but if Rivers and Vick got $100 million without Super Bowl rings, then Flacco was going to get something similar.

So how much of that figure will Flacco actually realise? The final value was likely tailored by Flacco's agent so that he could say he landed the largest contract in NFL history; its real value will be significantly less most likely. Unlike in basketball or baseball, contract figures in the NFL aren't true representations of what will be earned over the duration of the contract. In the NBA or MLB, contract figures are guaranteed so the contract that Felix Hernandez recently signed with the Seattle Mariners to make him the highest paid pitcher in baseball is fully guaranteed. Whilst Hernandez will earn every cent of the $175 million contract he signed in February, Flacco will likely only realise about two-thirds of his $120.6 million contract. We don't know all the details yet regarding the guaranteed money of Flacco's deal but regardless of the finer details, it goes without saying that NFL contracts are fudged numbers largely dependent upon incentives and often heavily back loaded. They're also becoming more team-friendly in terms of severance; it's practically the norm now for a clause to be written in that specifies if a player is cut before the third day of the new league year then the rest of the contract is torn up (e.g. Peyton Manning last off-season, only one year after signing a 5 year, $90 million contract with the Colts). So regardless of the enormous figure, the only chance Flacco has of realising all $120.6 million of his new deal is if he wins the Super Bowl after throwing for 5000 yards, 50 touchdowns and being the league’s MVP every year. Sorry Joe, that’s not going to happen.

As I mentioned in Friday's Mailbag when I was talking about Tom Brady's new deal, there are a large number of quarterbacks awaiting contract extensions. Over the next twelve months, we'll likely see new deals for Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Josh Freeman, and Tony Romo. Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford could also join that list as both play out their rookie deals with punitive cap figures. It's difficult to quantify the value of Flacco's contract in some respects as it is likely the first in a new wave of quarterback contracts. It might appear to be a lot in light of previous extensions given to Brees, Manning and co but it'll likely be dwarfed by Aaron Rodgers and I'm sure Matt Ryan's agent will be lobbying for similar kinds of money. What Joe Flacco's extension boils down to is the fact that there are only a finite number of quarterbacks in the NFL capable of leading their team to a Super Bowl victory. Is Joe Flacco the best quarterback in the NFL worthy of the highest-paid contract? No, but that’s not the point. Like it or not, $100 million contracts are now the norm in the NFL for quarterbacks who either get a ring or show the potential to lead their team to the promise land.

In spite of sometimes sketchy play from Flacco over the course of the last five years, his contract ultimately represents how team’s value quarterbacks in the NFL. $120.6 million may appear a ludicrous number but in reality, it’s about par for the course in a league where your chances of winning the Super Bowl depend on who's taking the snap under centre. Flacco proved he was the guy that could get the job done for the Ravens and in return Baltimore paid the man. It’s now up to Joe to prove he’s capable of replicating such a feat again. If he does, the Ravens will have no qualms about his new deal. If he struggles, those dollars start to become an onerous weight both in terms of expectations on the shoulders of Flacco as well as on the Ravens salary cap going forward.

Everybody laughed hysterically last off-season when Joe Flacco said that he thought he was the best quarterback in the NFL. "I think I'm the best. I don't think I'm top five, I think I'm the best" he said on WNST 1570 in Baltimore. Guess who got the last laugh? The guy who's laughing all the way to the bank.

AJ Young is the editor of Down at the One. 

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