8:58 PM EST, March 2, 2013
Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback now.
Forget about Super Bowl rings, conference or division championships, win-loss record and ability.
The Ravens made him elite Friday night when the two sides agreed to terms on a six-year, $120.6 million contract that made him the highest paid player in NFL history. Flacco now makes more money than the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees and the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning.
An above average Joe has become "Elite Joe."
The question now is what happens to the Ravens, and where do they go from here as far as signing and re-signing free agents?
Despite the constant chatter from Flacco's no-name agent John, uh, Joe Linta, the Ravens didn't make Flacco the highest-paid player based on ability, but because it was the right thing to do.
If he was that good, they wouldn't have let the negotiations come down to weeks before free agency began.
Flacco helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl. He showed significant improvement shortly after Jim Caldwell became offensive coordinator late in the season, and his exceptional play carried over into the postseason, enough to fade the memories of some of his poor games in the past.
Since the Ravens don't have to use the exclusive or nonexclusive franchise tag on Flacco, they'll have extra room under the salary cap.
Now, the real fun begins.
With Flacco onboard, the Ravens' top priority should be re-signing inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. He emerged as an every down player in his fourth season in the NFL.
With Jameel McClain's playing status questionable for next season after a spinal cord contusion landed him on injured reserve, it would appear the Ravens have to re-sign Ellerbe to help improve a defense that is weak up the middle when it comes to stopping the run.
There is speculation that Ellerbe wants a multiyear deal worth $25 to $30 million, which is two to three times what McClain signed for last offseason. If that's the case, especially with so many good linebackers in the college draft, the Ravens should say goodbye.
With Flacco, there were never questions about his work ethic or durability. Those are still gray areas with Ellerbe.
Two other veterans that are about to become free agents are left tackle Bryant McKinnie and Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed. Both players should get contracts with moderate base salaries for their positions, but loaded with incentives, much like the last contract signed by Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.
There should be stipulations based on performance, playing time — and in the case of McKinnie, weight restrictions — during the offseason and going into minicamps.
If they don't agree to those terms, the Ravens should say goodbye.
The Ravens will probably let Paul Kruger, who developed into a strong pass rusher in his fourth season, hit the free agent market. If he gets an offer they can match, they'll re-sign him.
But that is unlikely. Despite being a part-time pass rusher, a specialist like Kruger commands big money.
Cornerback Cary Williams played well last season, but the Ravens have so much young talent in the secondary that Williams is expendable, and like Reed, he will probably be pursued by Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, the Ravens' former defensive coordinator.
There are a number of scenarios that will be played out now that Flacco has agreed to terms. It was the final domino to set things in motion.
Until the contract is turned into the league and all the fine print is read, we don't know how much it will affect the Ravens' salary cap, but the team might not have to release veterans like wide receiver Anquan Boldin or fullback Vonta Leach, or restructure deals for outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
You have to be careful with players like Boldin or Leach. They are tough guys who have just as much value in the locker room as they have on the field.
As for restructuring the contracts of Suggs or Ngata, both would be risks because reworking their deals would cost a lot of upfront money for players whose bodies are breaking down.
Before the Flacco deal, we were seemingly light years away from seeing some of these things unfold. We just waited and waited and waited.
But now the time is here.
An above average Joe is elite and the big picture should become a lot clearer soon.
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