As we get closer and closer to the start of training camp, it appears more and more likely that the Ravens will allow starting quarterback Joe Flacco to play out the final year of his rookie contract during the 2012 season.
While Joe Linta, Flacco's agent, and Pat Moriarty, the team's vice president of football administration, have met several times during the offseason to discuss an extension for Flacco, the negotiations with Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, on whom the Ravens have placed the franchise tag, appear to have taken precedence.
It isn't often that a young quarterback the caliber of Flacco, 27 and a four-year starter in the NFL, is allowed to become an unrestricted free agent (the Ravens still have the franchise tag as an ace in the hole next spring).
Top quarterbacks who are now around the age of 30 such as Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning received extensions before they hit their contract years. Other established starting quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel got lucrative deals after being acquired in a trade by another team. And if a top quarterback does play out his contract, he usually gets slapped with the franchise tag the following spring.
The New Orleans Saints placed the franchise tag on Drew Brees this offseason as they try to work out a deal. The Indianapolis Colts did it with Peyton Manning in 2010, as did the Philadelphia Eagles with Michael Vick.
In recent memory, Kurt Warner (2008), Alex Smith (2010 and 2011) and Brees (2005) are exceptions. Warner got overtures from teams before re-signing with the Arizona Cardinals. Smith signed a one-year deal in 2010 to stay in San Francisco and then he cashed in with a three-year, $24 million deal after his strong 2011 season.
And then there is the cautionary tale of Brees, who got injured while playing under the franchise tag as a member of the San Diego Chargers. But despite his serious shoulder injury, the Saints gave him a sizable deal.
Given that uncertainty and risk of injury, along with his already-strong roots in Baltimore, Flacco would like the security of a new contract from the Ravens -- and there still is a chance he will get one before training camp or during the 2012 season -- but he stands to benefit should he play better than ever in his contract year.
In his contract year in 2008, Warner helped his financial situation by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. In 2011, Smith had his best statistical season as the 49ers made it to the NFC championship game. And in 2005, Brees played in the Pro Bowl, in which he sustained the aforementioned shoulder injury.
The specific points of contention in the Flacco talks aren't known, but Linta made headlines earlier this spring when he said Flacco should be considered a top-five quarterback if you are basing it on wins and losses. If Flacco can back up that talk by leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012, he stands to cash in big time.
He could also increase his value by playing at a consistent level, enough to get serious Pro Bowl consideration. Flacco has thrown for at least 3,600 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons, and we all know his track record when it comes to wins and postseason appearances. If he can improve on those totals while cutting down on turnovers and incompletions, that will give him more leverage than he has at this point.
So clearly there is risk involved on both sides, but I'm sure the Ravens wouldn't mind digging a little deeper into the vault should Flacco have a huge season -- perhaps one that was capped off with a shower of confetti.