Sports

How Big of a Contract Should Ravens Give Joe Flacco?

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Earlier this week, Joe Flacco’s agent was asked if his client deserved to be the highest paid quarterback (translation: player) in the NFL. He responded with a simple “yes.”

Flacco’s contract negotiation is going to impact the contracts of other quarterbacks looking to sign mammoth deals, but it is also going to influence how quarterbacks are valued and graded overall.

Flacco has proven himself to be among the NFL’s most solid and reliable quarterbacks, but despite his fantastic Super Bowl run, it is still very much in question whether he deserves the contract he ultimately seeks.

Football is a game that can mostly be measured in numbers, but looking at Flacco’s figures really puts the value of statistics to the test.

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The following chart reflects three seasons of Joe Flacco’s yards, touchdown to interception ratio, rating, completion percentage, and plays of 20 yards or more, along with the rankings for 4 of those categories.

If you were told to look at the statistics of an anonymous player and decide whether or not they deserved to be the league’s highest paid athlete, these numbers probably wouldn’t make a strong case for that. Flacco has kept his interceptions down but still ranks close to the middle of the pack in many important statistics.

But how much do those numbers matter? If they aren’t important, what statistics are?

In his first 5 seasons Joe Flacco has never missed a game, has won more games than any other quarterback, and his nine playoff victories tie him with Brady for most in a QB’s first 5 years. Now those are numbers that work in Flacco’s favor. Over the past three seasons, his playoff quarterback rating has steadily increased from 90.6, to 96.1, and shot up this postseason to a playoff-high 117.2.

So what does this all mean? There is no clear answer. On Tuesday’s Pardon the Interruption on ESPN, after discussing Joe Flacco’s impressive and consistent accomplishments, Tony Kornheiser made the remark that although Flacco has produced elite results, “the problem is. . . he doesn’t look like a great quarterback.” I think that statement perfectly summarizes Joe Flacco and his quest for a huge deal.

Joe Flacco doesn’t look like a great NFL quarterback because he is not the center of his team’s offense. While Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning are the indisputable focal points of their respective offenses, Flacco leads a run-first team. Quarterbacks are rewarded not just for playing the most important position in sports, but for how much their teams need them.  A quarterback can be given a $20 million/year salary despite the fact that it disproportionately allocates a lot of money to one player because the QB can be that important.

Flacco has had some not-so-pretty games, and his statistics are consistently unspectacular. Those are not traits that are commonly associated with top-3 NFL quarterbacks. However, he has won a playoff game in all of his 5 NFL seasons, and he just capped a spectacular postseason with the ultimate prize. Is Flacco a $20-million-a-year guy, though? Is that chunk of salary cap worth the production to the team that Joe Flacco will provide?

I don’t have a concrete answer to that question. The Joe Flacco situation is going to redefine how the NFL evaluates quarterbacks because he brings production without the statistics that are usually associated with a top-tier QB. Odds are he will get the money he is looking for, and his success or lack thereof will set a precedent for how greatness and value are measured at the quarterback position.