Home > NFL > FNQB: How Optimistic can one be about Joe Flacco’s Future?

FNQB: How Optimistic can one be about Joe Flacco’s Future?

I have no issue going on record as saying that any time a team wins a super bowl with a quarterback on a rookie contract, there’s no way you can rule the selection poor in hindsight, regardless of the player’s actual performance.  Of course, hindsight arguments aren’t what this blog is about.  It’s about the analysis of contracts such as Joe Flacco’s.

Let’s say that the $19.5 million/year estimate is on point, as well as the $120.6 million total value estimate, with the difference being escalators.  You can ballpark the cap charge of Flacco over the life of the deal at $20 million/year.  That’s about 15% of the salary cap.  And unlike the inflated numbers you see at a lot of positions, quarterbacks are exponentially more likely to earn the full value of the contract than other positions because: 1) the rate of decline is less steep and more easily preventable, and 2) valuation is easier at the quarterback position.

When quarterback deals fail, it is often because the player is getting paid off of speculative value, such as in the Matt Cassel deal, as well as in the Ryan Fitzpatrick extension.  But speculative deals can have great benefits as well, considering the deals signed by Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Schaub.  Flacco is not getting paid off speculation here.  He’s still young, but he’s in the same boat that Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger were in when they got their largest contracts, and is in the same boat that Matt Ryan is when he will sign his in the next calendar year.  Matt Stafford’s extension isn’t going to be cheap, either.

Flacco’s performance to date trends to the low end of those comparable to him  but if we’ve learned anything at all from the NFL’s $100 million men, it is that past performance is a poor indicator of future performance.  As dependent as the quarterback position is on other factors, this makes sense.

Consider how I would have ranked the quarterbacks above at the time they signed their deals:

1) Philip Rivers
2) Carson Palmer
3) Ben Roethlisberger
4) Eli Manning

Since the extensions, Rivers and Palmer have had three or so really awful seasons (and Palmer has hit the triple crown: injured, retired, and traded…and is still going to get close to earning the whole contract he signed for).  Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger just had really mediocre seasons, but they’ve performed the best since the contract extensions.

A much better indicator of the success of the contract was the quarterback’s age at the time it was signed, and in that metric, Flacco does very well, having just turned 28.  Roethlisberger signed his the day after his 27th birthday.  Manning, like Flacco, was 28.  Rivers was 3 months from his 29th birthday when he signed a contract with total value in excess of $98 million.  Palmer signed the contract extension the day after he turned 26, and was immediately injured not two weeks later in the divisional playoffs.

Flacco’s durability, of course, is on par with Eli Manning’s, and while it’s subtle to be talking about the absence of injury, Flacco rarely even leaves the field for any reason.  Not only has Flacco not missed a start: he hasn’t been remotely threatened by the injury report.  It’s perhaps up there with arm strength as his greatest asset.  When you combine relatively young with absurdly healthy, you get a quarterback that projects as a top five passer over the next six years or so.  Which is exactly what the Ravens are paying for.

Having italicized the word passer, it’s going to be interesting to see how the changing NFL philosophy of the quarterback position affects Flacco.  Flacco’s improvement over the next three seasons figures to be pretty sharp, and he’ll be on the back two years of the contract when he starts to decline.

I don’t know if Flacco is a good bet to win an MVP (QB rushing yards are going to be a major award consideration heading forward), but I would rank him in my top six quarterbacks over the next five years, along with Robert Griffin, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Teddy Bridgewater.  I don’t necessarily know if he’s a better bet than Andrew Luck over the same timeframe, but I do know he has a significant head start on the 2012 1st overall pick.

All of those players will sign deals that exceed Flacco’s $120.6 million, and that’s how you have to look at this deal.  It’s the new benchmark: worth 20% more than when the quarterback class of 2004 signed it’s extensions.  Flacco isn’t even going to be the top paid QB in the NFL for 365 days.  But for right now: he’s worth it.

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