In signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a three-year extension, the Ravens got away from some of the back-loaded deals that have caused problems in the past.
Joe Flacco's contract situation and huge salary cap number in 2016 threatened to loom over the Ravens' entire offseason. That is until the Ravens and the quarterback agreed to a three-year extension Wednesday that will contractually tie Flacco to the organization through the 2021 season.
Flacco's extension is worth $66.4 million and includes a $40 million signing bonus – the biggest in league history – and $44 million total in guaranteed money.
The deal leaves little doubt that the Ravens are Flacco's team not only in the present, but also in the pretty distant future. But it also spurs several questions, a handful of which I'll do my best to answer below:
Why did the Ravens structure the deal to open up only $6 million of cap space in 2016?
While the extra $6 million in cap savings will help the Ravens this offseason, the Ravens were clearly thinking more long term with this deal. Flacco's cap number is now pretty balanced throughout the duration of the contract, which should give the Ravens more flexibility in building a roster around him. Many of the Ravens' big deals in past years, including Flacco's last contract, and the extensions for Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs, were backloaded. That type of deal provided for some salary cap flexibility in the short term, but hurt the Ravens in several situations over the long run and forced them either to renegotiate contracts or get rid of players before the organization really wanted to. The way that Flacco's deal is currently structured – his cap hit falls between $22.55 million and $28.25 million over the next six years – should prevent the Ravens from having to go back to the bargaining table with their quarterback in the foreseeable future and makes it more likely that the quarterback spends his entire career with the organization.
Was it necessary to make Flacco the highest-paid player in the league in terms of average salary per year?
Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked last week that Flacco certainly wasn't giving the team any discounts, and he was right. For the second time in three years, the team has made the quarterback the highest-paid player in the sport. Ultimately, Flacco's deal will likely be left in the dust when quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Drew Brees get new contracts in the coming months. Still, the investment that the Ravens are making in Flacco, who tore up his left knee in November and has struggled in two of the three seasons since leading the team to the Super Bowl, stands on its own. Obviously, you have to give something to get something, and the Ravens did just that. They had no leverage at all in the negotiations. General manager Ozzie Newsome made reference several times yesterday to the number of teams who don't have a franchise quarterback. The Ravens are obviously terrified of that prospect, given how much they struggled at the position in the pre-Flacco days. They went above and beyond yesterday to secure the future of a guy who they believe is only getting better.
Do the less-than-expected cap savings on Flacco's deal mean that the Ravens will make several cuts?
Probably, but the Ravens were going to make a handful of roster cuts anyway before the March 9 start of free agency. Not only do they want to have a little more cap flexibility, but team officials believe in keeping a young and evolving roster. The Ravens don't have a ton of obvious salary cap casualties, but they do have decisions to make on veterans like Dennis Pitta, Eugene Monroe, Chris Canty, Daryl Smith and Kyle Arrington. Creating another $8 million to $10 million of cap space would be beneficial as they start the new league year.
What does this mean for the team's top unrestricted free agent, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele?
There are a lot of questions about whether the Ravens could put the cap space saved with the Flacco extension toward their "aggressive" offer to Osemele. You would think that the team will make one more run at Osemele to try and keep him off the free-agent market. If he hits the market, Osemele, arguably the top offensive lineman available, is probably as good as gone. But overreacting and panicking is not how the Ravens do business at this time of year. They'll make Osemele their best offer and if that's not enough, they'll move on to Plan B. They are not going to go out of their financial comfort zone too much just because they now have a little more cap flexibility.
Team officials have a lot on their plate over the next week. At some point, they figure to make a few roster cuts. They have to decide whether to tender restricted free agents Marlon Brown and Brynden Trawick, and whether to use a low or second-round tender on wide receiver Kamar Aiken. They have to extend contract offers to the team's 13 exclusive rights free agents. And they'll most likely take one more shot at re-signing a couple of their own unrestricted free agents before the market opens. Then, the focus will turn to free agency and making meaningful roster additions to a team that went 5-11 last season.