Although grammatically challenged, this sign posted during political commentary in Cleveland shows how far reaching the Joe Flacco debate has become.
Most may know the Baltimore Ravens quarterback as Joe Cool, but for whatever the reason, Joe Flacco has been the most polarizing quarterback in the NFL to both fans and media members since he was drafted in 2008. Sure Tim Tebow and others have claimed this title for a year here and there, but just like Flacco himself, his polarizability (of course it’s a word) has been steady and unflappable for nearly a decade. His latest contract signing once again ignited the spark that surrounds the Ravens QB and never seems extinguish.
Does he deserve this title? Probably not, and definitely not early in his career. However, it was the volume of his supporters and detractors during the 2008 and 2009 seasons that laid the foundation for the Arrowhead Stadium-like decibels heard today when Flacco’s name is mentioned in a story, no matter how mundane the subject may be. After the early foundation was set, there have been more than a few major events, both outside of his control and self-inflicted, to create this water cooler, cult, polarizing phenomenon known as Joe Flacco.
The Rookie Debate:
Joe Flacco was drafted in 2008, and fairly or unfairly he was immediately compared to Atlanta Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan, despite being picked 18th in the 1st round as compared to 3rd for Ryan. Their teams did have plenty in common record-wise. Atlanta was coming off a dismal 4-12 season after losing six of their last seven, and the Ravens went 5-11 after losing nine of their last 10. Both teams went 11-5 and made the playoffs after drafting their first round quarterbacks.
The two teams general makeup differed greatly. Ryan found himself with 1st team all-pro wide receiver Roddy White, and 1st team all-pro RB Michael Turner, but with average defensive support at best. Flacco had excellent defensive support, but his best teammates on offense included a 34 year old Derrick Mason (who was essentially their #1 AND #2 WR), and a converted fullback turned running back in Le’Ron McClain. There were also a couple of rookies who would be solid in the future, but received 1/3 the playing time in 2008 as they would later in their careers (Ray Rice and Todd Heap).
The end result of Flacco’s rookie year: Matt Ryan’s additional 28 passing yards per game and two more passing TDs total were enough to give Flacco detractors all the ammunition they would need to voice their opinion. On the flipside, despite Flacco’s lack of support on offense, he made it to the AFC Championship game after winning two road playoff games his rookie year, increasing the volume of Flacco supporters. The quick counter by detractors was that Flacco did little as the solid Ravens defense carried the team.
and so the polarizing began…
One word changed everything:
The heated Ryan/Flacco debate continued for a few more years as Flacco’s teams had more success in the postseason, but Ryan received more regular season accolades. Although Flacco’s 2012 Super Bowl victory seemingly put out that specific fire, Joe Polarizing had taken a life of its own. A couple of years earlier, prior to the 2010 season, one comment changed the Joe Flacco debate forever. Actually that would be significantly downplaying the effects of said comment. It became a national phenomenon. Not in a “trending” or “viral” way as everything is labeled these days. It took a life of its own and has now been going strong for six years, picking up even more steam this year in the form of NFL.com polls, political polls, questions presidential candidates are asked, jokes on late night talk shows, and conversation on sitcoms. Every sports website and many news sites have written or commented on the subject, literally hundreds of articles and tens of thousands of comments. It has been engrained in everyday American culture. The comment? “Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback” courtesy of John Clayton. That one comment in 2010 has led to discussions from serious to comedic, to sarcastic, to mockery, and has taken on a life of its own.
“I am the greatest”:
As if Joe Flacco needed any help fueling the elite fire, prior to the 2012 season he was asked a simple question: “Do you think you are a top five quarterback”? His answer wasn’t “I’ll let you guys decide that”, or “That’s what I strive to be every season”, it was:
“I assume everybody thinks they’re a top-five quarterback. I mean, I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m top five, I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’d be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way.
“I mean, c’mon? That’s not really too tough of a question,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean that things are going to work out that way. It just means that that’s the way it is, that’s the way I feel it is, and that’s the way I feel it should be.
Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe… If it weren’t for the Clayton comment, perhaps this would slide a bit, but it didn’t. The comment was clarified a bit in later discussions to essentially mean “this should be the mentality or confidence all quarterbacks should have to be successful”, but it was really too late at that point.
After the 2011 season Joe was entering the last year of his rookie contract. The Ravens and Flacco’s agent tried to work out a deal, reportedly including $35M in guaranteed money, but were allegedly $1M off and it was decided that Joe would gamble and potentially hit the free agent market in 2012. If he performed well, he would hold the cards with the Ravens. If not, the Ravens would as his open market number would drop. As the season progressed, it looked as though the Ravens were in the driver’s seat. Then a few things happened to change the course of the 2012 contract negotiations, and added even more fuel to the polarizing Flacco debate. First, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who’s conservative and some would say primitive offense limited the likes of Drew Brees long before he was an apparent barrier to Flacco reaching his potential. Second, Joe Flacco had a miraculous playoff run throwing 11 TDs and 0 INTs matched only by the great Joe Montana. Third, the Ravens won the Super Bowl and Flacco’s arm had a lot to do with it. The net result: Flacco signed the largest contract in NFL history (although his guaranteed money was certainly not the highest) despite his annual mediocre regular season numbers. His detractors had a field day with this one, and would blamed the Ravens cap woes on Joe for the next three years despite the fact that his cap hit from 2013-2015 was well below the top 10 at his position. The media fueled this fire as well by constantly using Flacco’s contract as the reason the Ravens couldn’t sign a player. Not surprisingly, they would rather stir the pot than conduct research.
2016 was the first year Flacco’s 6-year $120M contract would actually come into play salary cap wise, which meant the Ravens would either have to suck it up and eat the cap in 2016, or cave prior to the season, leaving Flacco’s agent holding most of the cards. The only cards the Ravens held were Flacco’s recent ACL injury, and the fact that his leverage would be cut in half after this year and would be non-existent in two years. Of course the Ravens also had leverage by simply pointing to Flacco’s mostly below average regular season play and poor decision making over the first three years of his big deal.
Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens negotiated a contract extension this week to the tune of $66M for three years. The knee-jerk reaction from some media outlets included “Flacco is the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, making more than Aaron Rodgers at over $21M per year”, “$66M in new money”, and ” The Ravens are stuck with him until 2021″, or similar emotion stirring assumptions. These articles were published before the details of the contract were even released. Perhaps on face value the assumptions are accurate. Those headlines do stir the pot, but don’t tell the whole story.
Understanding that there are numbers in the 3-year extension that may never be reached, and understanding that the rest of his original contract won’t be realized, the actual contract looks like this: Joe Flacco has a new signing bonus of $40M and it is stretched over five years, not three. Instead of a Flacco $28.5M 2016 cap hit, it’s reduced to $22.5M. Instead of an $18M 2016 salary from Flacco’s previous contract, it’s a $4M salary. In 2017 he has a $24M cap hit instead of $31.5M, with a salary of $6M instead of the original $18M. In order to bring years 2016 and 2017 down to those levels, Flacco’s 2018 season now has a $24.75M cap number with a $12M salary instead of the original $24.5M salary + bonus with no dead money. In 2019 the Ravens will have wiggle room with Flacco’s $26M cap as his dead money drops to $16M, and 2020 and 2021 are essentially option years because although Flacco’s salary is high, there is “just” $8M dead money in 2020 and none in 2021.
That said, there is plenty of ammo in the contract for all to discuss. If he leaves the team for any reason over the next three years, they are screwed. If he gets injured again over the next three years, they will either have a journeyman as a starter or a rookie. If he plays like regular season Average Joe, he wasn’t worth the money. Not to worry, controversy seekers. Even if he has a decent year or two or even three, folks will still use this contract, his last contract, or comments like “I’m the best”, “and Flacco’s elite” to keep the polarization conversation going until 2021 and beyond.