Joe Flacco won the Super Bowl. Well, not really. The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last night when they beat the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans by a scoreline of 34-31. Flacco did win the MVP award, although in a contentious manner considering the incredible performances of wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones, but the process of attributing team victories to individual players has always been a flawed one. In the regular season it’s incredible to even comprehend, but in the playoffs and the Super Bowl it’s downright insulting.
Now Flacco obviously deserves huge credit for his work in helping his team become the best in the league, he did throw 287 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the big game itself as well as finishing the post-season without throwing a turnover. However, he had nothing to do with Jones’ long kickoff return for a touchdown, the 49ers’ two turnovers and that goal-line stand that ultimately decided the game. Flacco still put 34 points on the board, but even that wasn’t an individual effort. Ray Rice had a fumble and struggled on the ground, but he did make plays in space as a receiver, while Bernard Pierce lit a fire from the backfield before being injured in the second half. Boldin was sensational all game long, while Flacco worked with excellent pass protection and creative play-calling on every snap.
That doesn’t take away from Flacco’s performance, but it does create context around his value to the team. His value to the team is how his contract will be created. Flacco may believe that he is elite because of his post-season performances, and he very well might be in spite of his regular season inconsistencies, but that isn’t actually relevant in his worth to the Ravens. Players always want to be paid in relation to their counterparts across the league, but well-run organizations pay their players based on how they fit with the rest of the team’s pieces. For the Ravens, Flacco isn’t as important as a Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. Manning allows the Broncos to invest less in their offensive line, while Brees makes his receivers better regardless of their reputations.
Truly elite players make those around them better. It’s clear that Brees and Manning do that, but it’s still hard to say if Flacco is benefiting from those around him more than he is helping them. It’s not like he was fitting the ball into tight windows during last night’s game, or at any other point during the playoffs. Too often he put the ball in a spot where his receiver could beat the defensive back to catch it, rather than put it in a spot where only his receiver touch it, while many of his deep throws were to wide open receivers when defenders failed to execute like you’d expect them to.
Defining elite is difficult, but putting quarterbacks on tiers is not so much. Manning, Brees, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers clearly elevate the offenses around them, but Flacco may instead be on the level of Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Jay Cutler who are all excellent individual talents, but also quarterbacks who can only get as much production as the talent afforded to them. While the Ravens need to invest in Flacco and lock him up for the long-term, they also need to consider their overall cap structure and how they can best put him in position to succeed moving forward.
As much as the Ravens would like to give Flacco the huge contract they feel his play has earned him, they also need to re-sign Bryant McKinnie, Cary Williams, Ed Reed and Dannelle Ellerbe despite already having a lot of money committed to their roster. Furthermore, a raft of other players on the roster will need to be re-signed over the coming seasons including important players such as Michael Oher and Torrey Smith.
The Ravens have one of the more talented rosters in the league, and while Ozzie Newsome will feel confident of replacing some of those players with his ability to unearth studs in the draft, the reality is that this is a team that won the Super Bowl, not just a quarterback.
Selling out to sign your quarterback is something only a few teams in the league can realistically do. The Ravens must separate from the emotion of the Super Bowl victory to decide if Flacco falls into that category. While the past few weeks may make it seem like a simple decision, the contract Flacco wants will affect the franchise for the next decade. You can’t make that decision solely based on four weeks of football.