With only two weeks left in the regular season, the playoffs are officially looming. And even though they'll ultimately provide the best answer, there is a question I can't get out of my head every time I think about Flacco's contract situation. Is Flacco essentially Nick Markakis? Is he a nice player we'd all like to see take the next step and become an superstar player, but deep down we're starting to realize it's probably not going to happen? Flacco's biggest boosters can stomp their feet and deflect blame until they're purple in the face, but at some point, they're going to realize the description fits. He's not a rookie anymore. We're four years into this experiment. Overall, it's been successful, without question. But there is an obvious ceiling. And this might be his ceiling. That's not a terrible thing. It's just not quite what you were hoping for. Flacco, like Markakis, will have brilliant games where he'll make you believe he's going to turn the corner and become an elite player. And like Markakis, what he's best at is putting together sustained stretches of solid, above-average performance. They even have similar reserved personalities. People in Baltimore love them, and people outside of Baltimore don't really understand what the big deal is. Case in point: Bill Barnwell of Grantland was suggesting the Ravens should be suitors in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes if he's healthy next year because the Joe Flacco experiment, in his opinion, "is not working." I disagree that it's not working. I think that's too harsh, and I think Barnwell is looking at nothing more than statistics, which is fine if you're judging baseball players, but not quarterbacks. There are other factors in play. Leadership and chemistry do count for something. But is Flacco a guy you end up paying superstar money, even though he may not ever become a superstar? I think it's fair to say the Orioles were hoping for more than three straight years with an OPS hovering around .800 from Markakis when he signed his big contract. Bisciotti is no fool. You could tell from his comments at the end of the 2010 season, he wanted to see Flacco take a step forward. And if anything, Flacco has regressed a bit, even though the Ravens record is similar to what it was a year ago. Is that enough to please the man who ultimately signs the checks? Everyone concedes Flacco is the best quarterback the Ravens have ever had. And he does get too much of the blame when things don't go well. He wasn't the reason the Ravens lost in the playoffs to the Steelers last year. I'll adamantly defend him on that. But is he worth committing $75 million to? Especially when it means you probably can't keep Ray Rice and Ben Grubbs if you give him that money? People who cite his "wins" as evidence that he's a "winner" make no more sense than those who do it with Tim Tebow. Maybe Flacco deserves that kind of contract just for the sake of stability. Maybe you continue to build around him, and see how he responds with a different offensive coordinator. (You know who might be great? Norv Turner.) Maybe you could even get him at a bit of a discount, since statistically he's not having a great season this year. Every game, he'll make at least one throw that turns me back into a believer. His touchdown throw to Ed Dickson was gorgeous. It makes no sense that the same player threw a pass essentially right into the hands of Takeo Spikes later in the game. Whenever the post season comes to a close, the Ravens are going to have to answer some tough questions -- even if Flacco plays his best football of the year.
Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun