Welcome to the first installment of my Dear Coach (e)mailbag; intending to evoke reader input in the spirit of Dear Abby meets Dean Smith; where the wisdom of John Wooden and Coach K(rzyzewski) meet the (Bill Simmons') Sports Guy mailbag. Let's get to it...
"I just led my team through the NFL playoffs and won the Super Bowl. By winning the Super Bowl I won-over even the biggest boo-birds in Baltimore. Now, it's time to get paid! What do you think I should ask for? My agent says that I should demand to be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL? How much is too much?
Wow, Joe, thanks for writing in! Let me preface my reply with a few qualifiers. First, I am not an NFL salary cap expert; and, well, I've never understood the whole Fantasy Football craze; participating once by default; and, being that guy who left a starting quarterback on my roster during his bye week; I don't fancy myself an amateur NFL GM.
If we're being honest, I've never been a huge fan of yours. But, to be clear, I've never been a hater either. I think the arguments made by those who sing your praises and those who lament your shortcomings have merit.
[As an aside; it's nothing personal, I'm just not a big Ravens' fan. I think it's more that I don't want to be guilty by association with or to certain Ravens' fans; the Route 1 University of Maryland basketball fans that claim to be Duke's rivals, who are also quick-to-jump on-and-off of the Ravens' bandwagon; who try to mimic the tough-loving fans of the Philadelphia Eagles; who display a lack of perspective and genuine loyalty; who fly the flag when it's fun to do so; who over use the word "we" when referring to the team's successes; who are annoyingly boastful in victory; who have an excuse for every loss; and, who never concede that another team was just better than theirs on a given (Sun)day.]
To be honest, I would have loved to see Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome's stance had you guys gone out early in the playoffs, or if you'd lost the Super Bowl; Mr. Newsome offering you a deal in line with top-10 quarterback money, but not top-five quarterback money. But, you won. And, with that win, and Ray's retirement, you become the demigod in-residence; the B.M.O.C. of B'more. You may have the best negotiating stance of any professional athlete in recent history. But, with those Rt. 1 Maryland-Ravens fans in mind; be careful what you ask for.
The proverbial talking heads seem to be saying that your agent, Joe Linta, is asking for a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $18-$20 million per year for five years; making you one of, if not, the highest-paid quarterback in the league. Be careful, Joe. If you demand, and are given that money it will handcuff the Ravens; preventing them from re-signing, among others, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Ed Reed. Consider how quickly you'll go from hero to goat if, with Ray's retirement and the forced departure of those guys, you go out and start to crap the proverbial bed in the first few weeks of the season; the depleted defense doesn't have the ability to bail you out; and, Ed, having been traded to the Patriots, picks you off once (or twice).
Breath3. You can prevent this. Here's how.
Rather than trying to secure some sort of $20 mil per year, incentive-laden contract, go for guaranteed money. Right now, your agent is salivating over his 3.5% of your would-be deal. You have almost unparalleled leverage. Use it to accomplish something unheard of - get 100 percent guaranteed money. Get $13-15 mil per year, GUARANTEED for 6 years.
It would be a watershed accomplishment. Your agent would more than make up for perceived lost percentage points by the number of new clients he would land; having been the guy who brokered the first fully-guaranteed NFL contract. You would free-up $5 mil per year; allowing the Ravens to re-sign other players; particularly in the form of receivers you cannot afford to lose.
Next, have the Ravens contribute e.g. $500,000 each year during the term of your contract to your Foundation. [Utilize one of the donor-advised-styled philanthropic organizations like Prolanthropy (ask Matt Burke) while you're playing.] This becomes deferred compensation; and, you can run your foundation, and draw e.g. a $100,000 per year salary for a decade or two when you're playing days are over. Remember, 65 percent of your NFL peers go broke within 2.5 years of retirement. Guaranteed money, plus deferred compensation make you a case study in how not to become another cautionary statistic.
Next, negotiate for the Ravens to pay for acting lessons. You're like the Bizzaro to Peyton Manning's prefect-pitch-man Superman. Your agent's take is capped at 3.5 percent of your NFL contract; but, he can see up to 25 percent of your endorsement deals. Your Pizza Hut pitch for Flacco's Favorites is laughable for all the wrong reasons. You could host Saturday Night Live and do an art imitating life imitating art imitating life, self-parody where you do spoofs of previous Peyton Manning skits. [A Buick Verano commercial-skit where you try to talk to the OnStar operator, who cannot understand your in-articulable mumbling. Halfway through the skit, Ed Reed, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis and Jacoby Jones get in the car and carry it (the skit not the car) through to a successful end. Ray gives an impassioned speech. The crowd erupts. Oddly, you get the credit.]
I cannot overstate the leverage you have; nor the delicate situation you may actually be in. To further bridge any perceived monetary gap, you can ask for a few non-monetary perks akin to what major college coaches get in their contracts to round it out; including (i) a membership at Caves Valley for the duration of your contract, (ii) tuition to the private school of your choice for your son, (iii) a suite at Ravens and Orioles games for you to give out tickets as you see fit, (iv) the keys to Mr. Bisciotti's Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, (v) the trademark on "the Brow" from Anthony Davis, (vi) Ray's house on Tufton Rd (if he hasn't already moved to SoFla full-time, he will be soon; and, I hear his neighbor used to run the best pick-up basketball game in town).
The 100 percent guaranteed money would be watershed, Joe; and, it would create the space needed to allow the team to retain other key guys. And, when you add in the combined value of deferred compensation, acting lessons, and the fringe benefits you may actually out-earn the artificially-inflated number that would otherwise be represented by the $18-20 mil your agent is angling for.
Good luck, Joe. Consider yourself forewarned if you opt for the organization-crippling big contract. Those Rt. 1 boo-birds will bounce right back off your Flacco the fan-favorite band-wagon quicker than you can mumble something about Flacco's Favorites.
*To be certain that we're all on the same page here, this was not an actual email from Joe Flacco. But Dear Coach is hear to advise actual emailers every other week. Send your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Laczkowski is a former high school and Division I athlete, a coach, and now a columnist writing from his home in Westminster.