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Commentary: Flacco unworried about pressure that comes with big deal

In one of the more amusing and oft-played sound bites from Joe Flacco's contract-signing news conference on Monday, the $120-million man poked the media a bit about one of the best reasons to win the Super Bowl.

"Then I don't have to listen to you guys in the offseason [talking] about how bad we were even though we made it to the AFC Championship game," Flacco said, drawing laughs.

It was a funny line. Unfortunately for Flacco, if he thinks he and the team were being criticized before, wait until he has his first bad game as the highest-paid player in NFL history.

Fact is, the five-year veteran who has never even been to the Pro Bowl yet said he was elite - and, after a so-so regular season, backed that talk up all the way to the bank with a stupendous postseason - now will be compared to the game's truly elite.

Looking good next to Philip Rivers or Tony Romo or Matt Ryan is no longer enough.

Now, Flacco's perceived peers will be surefire Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. And possible Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.

Winning at the same rate will be expected (even though nobody makes the playoffs five years in a row as the Ravens have), as will eye-popping statistics in line with those of the game's greats.

The Super Bowl XLVII MVP, of course, agreed to a six-year, $120.6 million deal late last week and happily signed Monday, apparently celebrating afterward with a trip to McDonald's.

Flacco had his timing down with his receivers during his epic 11-touchdown, no-interception postseason run. But that was nothing compared to his timing in becoming a free agent just after confetti rained down on him as he held the Lombardi Trophy.

He gambled on himself by turning down a lucrative deal last summer and won in a big way when he led the team to four postseason wins in a row, playing perhaps the best football of his career.

The Ravens didn't want to assume the salary-cap amount he would've received as a franchise player. And they sure weren't letting go of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. (They tried that once before. Didn't work out out so well.)

So Flacco will now be cashing bigger checks than anyone who has ever played in the NFL, improbable as that seems.

The pressure to perform after inking a huge deal can be immense, however, although Flacco dismissed that notion on Monday.

"When you are going out there and when you're on the field, you have confidence in what you're doing, and you're just trying to execute the plays," he said. "The last thing you're worried about is what you're getting paid."

Still, supersized expectations after supersized contracts can weigh on even all-time greats - see Pujols, Albert - and have ruined the careers of many good-but-not-great players in all sports. The NFL has examples like Michael Vick, DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth, Major League Baseball has A.J. Burnett and Barry Zito, the NBA has Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury. Among many, many others.

To be sure, character issues began the downfall of several of the above and Flacco doesn't seem to have that shortcoming.

In fact, the guy with perhaps the strongest arm in the NFL and maybe the coolest demeanor, too, may have been unburdened of his main shortcoming late last season when offensive coordinator Cam Cameron got the axe.

Flacco excelled under Jim Caldwell and the two will be paired up again this season.

While Flacco's deal could hamper the Ravens' chances of keeping their core together next year and of replenishing talent through free agency in the future, if he's able to perform as he did on Feb. 3 in New Orleans (and in New England and Denver before that) it's possible he won't hear the criticism he alluded to on Monday.

Then again, a three-interception game will have fans and the media citing 120.6 million reasons he shouldn't have gotten such a sweet deal.

But as he did when he declared himself elite, and when he rolled the dice on his contract last summer, Flacco displayed great confidence Monday that he would be able to handle whatever comes with his historic deal.

"I think if you start to try to do too much, you're going to be the one that falters and makes mistakes," he said. "There's a reason that I'm standing up here at this point. It's because what I've done so far has been the right thing.

"I'm going to be who I am, and I'm going to continue to get better every year."

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