This may sound strange, but whatever doubts that may have lingered about Joe Flacco's future as the Ravens franchise quarterback should have been stripped away the moment New England Patriots rookie Sterling Moore stripped Lee Evans of what should have been an AFC-title-winning touchdown catch.
Sorry to have to remind you of that awful moment. It probably still stings to think about it. But Flacco outplayed Tom Brady and put the ball right where it was supposed to be with the Super Bowl on the line in a hostile stadium against a team that was a decided favorite going into the game. It doesn't get much more clutch than that, though that pass to Torrey Smith in Pittsburgh was pretty impressive, too.
If you want, we can go over his entire NFL resume, which includes a bunch of stuff that no other guy has done in his first four seasons, but we've been down that road already. Let's just agree to agree that Flacco already is the greatest quarterback in Ravens history and there's no reason for the team to question that as it enters serious negotiations on a long-term contract extension.
Sure, there's going to be internal debate over the right numbers. Flacco has accomplished much more than the group of next-level quarterbacks who have signed recently. That is beyond serious debate. We can also agree that he has not yet risen to the elite level of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, which makes him kind of a sandwich pick when it comes to determining how much he's worth.
That's always a complicated process in the NFL, with the salary cap implications and other variables that make valuation more difficult than in some other sports. The good news is that the Ravens are pretty good at that stuff and Flacco doesn't appear to be the kind of guy who is going to try and squeeze the last dollar out of them.
Maybe we'll find out more during Wednesday's "State of the Ravens" news conference, when owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh meet the media to review the 2011 season and talk about the pressing issues facing the team as it enters another important offseason.
Flacco figures to be a hot topic, as usual, but the Ravens have already made it clear that they intend to sign him. Bisciotti telegraphed that almost a year ago and – though Flacco's completion and quarterback rating sagged this season – nothing has happened since then to dramatically change anybody's opinion of him in the front office.
Quite the contrary. The Ravens just hired former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell as the new quarterbacks coach, no doubt hoping that the man who has been at Manning's side for most of the past decade can help Flacco take the final step up into that elite category.
The rest is just business, but it's always good to get the high-level contract situations solved quickly. Flacco doesn't seem like the holdout type, but it's hard to imagine either he or the team wants his contract to be a major issue when the Ravens open training camp in six months.
Really, the thing can only go a couple of ways. The Ravens can get Flacco locked up long-term or they can wait until after the 2012 season and put the franchise tag on him, which – if accepted -- would make him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league on a single-year basis. The Patriots franchised Matt Cassel in 2009 and he would have made $14.6 million if he had not been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs and signed to a long-term deal.
Flacco appears to be at peace with the process. He knows that he's going to get paid one way or the other. The Ravens, who are expected to put the franchise tag on running back Ray Rice this year, probably won't want to do the same with their franchise QB because of the impact such a huge base salary would have on their payroll flexibility in 2013. Everything points to a long-term deal getting done sooner rather than later.
The only way to justify a different course of action is if the front office truly believes it can develop a more effective quarterback than Flacco over the next four or five years.
Good luck with that.
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.