The Ravens' blockbuster $120.6 million contract with quarterback Joe Flacco is an arrangement banking on his future potential and not just how he engineered a Super Bowl victory.
Because Flacco is entering the prime of his career at 28 years old, the New Jersey native is now expected to maintain the Ravens' competitiveness.
The structure of his deal, which has been agreed to in principle and not signed, reflects that hope as it would make him the highest-paid player in the game. Flacco's deal is extremely front-loaded, according to sources with knowledge of the details. It includes a total payout of over $61 million in the first three years that tops New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' $61 million in the first three years of his $100 million contract.
"You pay players, and especially quarterbacks, based on what they can do for you going forward," said former sports agent Joel Corry, who analyzes contracts and the salary cap for National Football Post. "Ultimately with Flacco, you pay him and make him the highest-paid guy because he had that much leverage and he's a young ascending quarterback with a bright future ahead of him.
"Flacco made a great run in the playoffs after having an inconsistent regular season. He had a legendary postseason. Even though he hasn't been to a Pro Bowl and measured up in that respect to a Drew Brees or a Peyton Manning, you're paying Flacco based on expected contributions. You're paying him like you expect him to perform to that level in the future. The Flacco deal is all about the future. You're betting on him playing that way again and again."
Of course, Flacco distinguished himself in the playoffs with a stellar run.
Now, Flacco shares an NFL single-season postseason record with Joe Montana and Kurt Warner after delivering 11 touchdown passes in the playoffs with zero interceptions. He capped that run with three touchdowns in a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and was named Super Bowl XLVII's Most Valuable Player.
Flacco completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 1,140 yards, no interceptions and a 114.0 quarterback rating during the playoffs.
"The reason we've stuck to our guns is when you do a deal of this magnitude it should reflect on the past and the present," Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, told The Baltimore Sun on Friday night. "When coupled together, we felt strongly that Joe should be the highest-paid player in the league."
Although Linta still has to thoroughly review the agreement in principle and go over it with Flacco, who has yet to see the details, the former Delaware star has separated himself from a pack of fellow proven quarterbacks.
Flacco's annual average of $20.1 million now trumps the $20 million yearly average for Brees and the $18 million average for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
His total value is above Brees' $100 million and Manning's $96 million contract, which were both negotiated by agent Tom Condon.
The total guaranteed money and signing bonus remain unknown for Flacco. Brees got $60.5 million in total guaranteed money as well as a $37 million signing bonus. Manning's deal included no signing bonus, but contained $58 million in guaranteed money as well as fully guaranteed base salaries.
Flacco's annual average also tops New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ($18 million), New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning ($16.25 million), Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub ($17.5 million) and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers ($15.3 million).
But Flacco may not be at the top of the salary mountain for long. Based on what might transpire in the future, Flacco's deal could eventually be topped by pending negotiations for two other highly regarded quarterbacks.
Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Matt Ryan and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are expected to eventually be paid even more than Flacco. Ryan is entering a contract year, and Rodgers has two years remaining on his contract. However, both quarterbacks have outplayed their current deals.
"I totally expect Matt Ryan to be the highest paid player long-term regardless of the Flacco contract," Corry said. "And I expect the Rodgers deal to eventually blow the Ryan deal and all of the quarterback deals out of the water. It's just a matter of timing and the salary cap continuing to go up. That's how this thing works, one top deal builds on the last one."
Days before the agreement was reached, Flacco's college coach predicted that big money won't affect the low-key Flacco, who has an unassuming, stoic personality.
"Here's a guy who wasn't even sure he would get drafted at one point, and now look where he is," Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said Wednesday of Flacco, a married father whose wife, Dana, is expecting their second child. "It's all because Joe had tremendous talent and he has a great famly structure. The money will not change who Joe is. Joe would make sure of that. It would never change who he is. Joe likes who he is and he won't change for anybody.
"It's been a great marriage between Joe and the Ravens. They've got a great quarterback and it's a quarterback-driven league. So, you take care of him. In my conversations with Joe and Joe's dad, Steve Flacco, there's always been a lot of trust between them and the organization."
The Ravens narrowly avoided having to make Flacco their franchise player, which could have cost them as much as $19.086 million through an exclusive quarterback franchise tender or a $14.896 million nonexclusive tender. They were facing a Monday afternoon NFL deadline to either sign Flacco or use the franchise tender to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent since his rookie contract had expired.
"It's better to be safe than sorry when you're talking about a quarterback like Flacco," Corry said. "You wouldn't want to give another team an opportunity to structure a deal that you couldn't match. So, signing him is the safest course of action."
This pending deal continues the Ravens' tradition of narrowly beating a league deadline with vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty hammering out another big-ticket contract.
It follows Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice's five-year, $40 million contract last July roughly an hour before an NFL deadline where he would have had to play the entire season under the franchise tag, giving him a $15 million signing bonus.
Two years ago, the Ravens struck a five-year, $61 million contract with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata hours before an NFL deadline.
And those deals followed the six-year, $63 million contract for outside linebacker Terrell Suggs after he was twice named the Ravens' franchise player in 2008 and 2009.
"The Ravens have a history of paying their guys at the top of the market," Corry said. "They always did that with Jonathan Ogden. They did that with Haloti Ngata. Suggs was the highest paid at the time. They have a history of paying guys who perform at the highest level. That's what they're doing with Flacco, but it's based on what happens next as much as what he just did for them in the Super Bowl."
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