Joe Flacco is now the highest paid player in the NFL. The Ravens did not have any good choices after Flacco led Baltimore to the Super Bowl after an average regular season. With no adequate backup, legitimate draft option who could start and succeed immediately, or outstanding free agent available, the Ravens were forced to overpay Flacco rather than taking a major step back with another option. The decision makes sense, but there are at least 10 quarterbacks in the NFL better than Flacco.
When Flacco joined the Ravens in 2008 his QB Rating finished as the 22nd best in the league. This year he ranked number 12 during the regular season, and he has averaged out to annually be about the 14th best starter in the league. There is no doubting his incredible run in this year's playoffs, and NFL record setting six playoff wins on the road, but becoming the richest player in league history seems like a bit much.
In no measure during this past regular season or any other is Flacco elite. In 2012 he ranked 19th in completion percentage, 14th in passing yards, 15th in touchdown passes, and 14th in yards per attempt. His 2011 numbers were similarly pedestrian. During 2010, his best statistical season in the league, he finished 11th in completion percentage, passing yardage, and yards per attempt, while ranking 10th in touchdown passes.
Of the 11 NFL starters who had better years in terms of quarterback rating than Flacco in 2012, there is an argument that you would prefer him over Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, and Phillip Rivers. Maybe you are not sold on Robert Griffin III, or Russell Wilson, though it is unclear why you would be unconvinced after brilliant rookie seasons. Matt Ryan has not won a Super Bowl, so place Flacco ahead of him if you want. Flacco beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and while anybody who watches football would prefer that duo, again go with Flacco if you insist. That still leaves Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees who have accomplished as much if not more than Flacco and simply have better overall resumes.
In addition to the 11 quarterbacks who rated higher than Flacco during the regular season, one could prefer Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, or Andrew Luck to Flacco. In total, that means a reasonable argument can be made for 16 players at the same position being just as good as the highest paid player in the league.
Allowing Flacco to leave, even if it meant receiving two first round draft picks from another team, would have saved Baltimore a huge amount of cash. However, the void at quarterback would have been difficult to overcome. Now Flacco is being compensated as an elite signal caller. If he doesn't perform like one, and he never has during five regular seasons, Baltimore will need to win despite average quarterback play and a roster that is handcuffed because of the large chunk of change Flacco's contract counts against the salary cap.