OWINGS MILLS - Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl champion. He's a Super Bowl MVP. His agent has called him the best quarterback in the NFL and that, as a pending free agent, deserves to be paid like it.
Flacco is reportedly seeking a long-term contract averaging in the range of $20 million per season. Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, meanwhile, described the Ravens, a team expected to have limited room under the salary cap, as trying to come to terms on "a fair deal."
But as he's consistently done during the past two weeks, Newsome expressed confidence Thursday regarding the Ravens' ability to work out a long-term deal with Flacco this offseason.
"I'm coming away today thinking that we can get a deal done," Newsome said Thursday during the team's annual postseason news conference. "We got deals done with Haloti [Ngata], [Jonathan Ogden], Ray [Lewis], Ray Rice, Ed Reed, [Terrell] Suggs.
"I've got a very good owner who understands the business, who understands the importance of certain positions, so I'm optimistic."
But how soon can the two sides come to terms on a deal? If the Ravens can't work out a long-term with Flacco by March 4, the team is expected to designate him with an exclusive franchise tag that would be worth somewhere around $20.4 million.
For a team that already has around $108 million committed toward next year's cap, which is expected to be around $121 million, designating Flacco with the exclusive franchise tag - and having that $20.4 million working against an already tight cap - would not only inhibit the Ravens' ability to pursue available players in free agency, but it would hinder their chances of retaining their own free agents, and would likely force them to part ways with players on their roster.
Safety Ed Reed, middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, inside linebacker Paul Kruger and cornerback Cary Williams are some of Baltimore's other pending free agents.
The Ravens would also have the option of designating Flacco with the non-exclusive franchise tag rather than the exclusive. The non-exclusive tag is projected to be around $14.6 million, which is nearly $6 million less than the exclusive tag. The risk with that is that if Flacco is designated with just the non-exclusive tag, teams willing to part with two first-round picks would have the capability to negotiate with Flacco in hopes of offering him a long-term contract Baltimore wouldn't match.
If designated with the exclusive tag, Flacco can't negotiate with other teams.
The Washington Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams last March for the rights to the second overall pick in the draft, which they used to select quarterback Robert Griffin III.
"What you have to look at is what the Redskins did this past year to move up to get Robert Griffin," Newsome said. "If someone thinks a quarterback is that valuable - and I'm sure you can talk to [the Redskins] and they're very happy with RGIII right now, and they don't mind not having those draft picks, so I don't know what 31 other teams are doing, so we have to prepare ourselves.
"We also know what the exclusive tag does - it basically takes him off the market. Those are some of the things that we will talk about."
Flacco was reportedly seeking a contract worth around $100 million over seven years last offseason before talks broke down during training camp.
"We did, prior to the start of the season, get very close to a deal, but we did not come to an agreement," said Newsome, adding that all parties agreed not to negotiate during the season. "Everybody was on board with that and we would allow the season to play itself out.
"Joe had the opportunity to sit down and talk with [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] during the season, or earlier in the season about it a little bit. But, basically, the way we left it with the four of us is, 'OK, we didn't get a deal done, let's play through the season and once the season is over, we'll start back negotiating.'"
Flacco endured an uneven regular season, but he thrived once Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron as the team's offensive coordinator in early December, and he continued to flourish under Caldwell in the playoffs.
After being limited to 188 yards or less in six of his final nine games under Cameron, Flacco threw 13 touchdowns without an interception in the last five games that he saw a full workload under Caldwell. He threw for an average of 290 yards in those five games.
During Baltimore's win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns. All three scoring passes came during the first half, making Flacco just the sixth player in Super Bowl history to throw for three touchdowns in the first half.
Flacco finished the postseason with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has won nine playoff games since taking over as Baltimore's starting quarterback as a rookie in 2008, most in NFL history for any quarterback during his first five years in the NFL. Flacco has also won six road playoff games, the most for any quarterback in NFL history.
His 11 scoring passes during this year's playoffs tied Joe Montana and Kurt Warner for the most during a single postseason.
"That's what we wanted," Bisciotti said. "We wanted to see him do this, and he did. Like I've said, this is history, and I have faith that it didn't set us back in our negotiations, really. We offered him a top-five contract last year, and we will be back at the negotiating table, and it was pretty close last year.
"So, we'll be right back at the table, and I don't see us winning the Super Bowl making the negotiation any more difficult than it would have been had we gone out in the first round of the playoffs. That might have been more difficult. So, we both know that we want each other, and it's up to Ozzie and [agent] Joe Linta to work that out."