Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco celebrates AFC title victory… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
The Ravens are being smart and very cautious in their negotiations with star quarterback Joe Flacco.
So far, they haven't caved in to the demands of Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, who says Flacco should be paid as much as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who are averaging more than $20 million per season.
Linta is still caught up in the euphoria of Flacco's playoff performances and the former Delaware star's Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.
Flacco isn't a Manning or a Brees, or a Tom Brady, either. In those particular situations, you risk losing other big-name players and pay the quarterbacks astronomical salaries because they are that good.
He's good enough to earn money as one of the top five through 10 quarterbacks in the NFL, but Manning, Brees and Brady carry their respective teams. In Baltimore, Flacco is just a major part of one.
He is a very good quarterback, a big-game performer who was excellent in the postseason and through the Super Bowl, when he tied or set several records.
But let's look through the smoke created by Flacco-mania. He threw some great passes in the playoffs, but he also threw a lot of jump balls and back-shoulder passes that were great catches by Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Even the long touchdown pass in the Super Bowl was more of a great effort by Jacoby Jones than a pass by Flacco.
Jones fell down, came back to the ball, broke a tackle and then outran another defender to complete the 56-yard touchdown.
In all honesty, he should have won the Super Bowl MVP. Flacco was great. Jones was better.
Now, that's the rub.
Conditions have to be ideal for Flacco to succeed. He didn't put on his Superman cape until the Ravens put Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, moved Michael Oher to right tackle and inserted Kelechi Osemele at left guard. It wasn't a coincidence that his superhuman performances started late in the season, soon after Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator.
For all those great games we saw Flacco play in the postseason, there are others in his past, like the one against Denver in the regular season, that make you cringe.
For the five years he has played in Baltimore, we've seen him extremely hot and extremely cold, so dismal at times that running back Ray Rice had to carry the offense.
It's great that he won a Super Bowl title and won all these playoff games in the past, but there are just as many negative experiences as positive ones. The record certainly isn't impressive enough to force the Ravens to mortgage their future for one player.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh always talks about the team concept, how no one player is bigger than the team. Yet if the Ravens give in to Flacco's demands, they might not be able to re-sign McKinnie, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, and safety Ed Reed.
Or even worse, they might have to cut Boldin, who is expected to make $6 million next season but was a man against boys in the playoffs last season.
You make those sacrifices for a Brady or Brees, not a Flacco, not at this time.
I understand Linta's request. He is basically a no-name trying to make a big splash in the agent market by securing a big-money contract for Flacco.
His arguments are valid, especially about Flacco becoming the highest-paid quarterback, with the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers ready to negotiate new deals in the future.
We've all seen the improvements in Flacco. He is now more comfortable with his receivers than ever. He is moving around in the pocket, even stepping up to throw, and appears to have more pocket awareness. He even made that daring check-off to Boldin on a short pass late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
But he's not in the Manning or Brees class yet. For the most part since coming to Baltimore, Flacco has had a great defense that contributed to a lot of wins. He's also had a great front office and a good head coach, and combined with talent on the field, the Ravens are one of the better franchises in the NFL.
It's all about team.
Around town, there is a lot of sentiment to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. That's expected after a Super Bowl win. But there is no need for the Ravens to overreact.
I expect them to put the exclusive franchise tag on Flacco on Monday and then reach a new deal with him before March 12, when free agency begins.
Somehow, the Ravens have to find a way to pacify Flacco and his agent with a deal that publicly sounds as good as the ones signed by Manning and Brees but doesn't quite pay as much.
He hasn't proved that he is in that class, good enough to carry a franchise. Not yet, anyway.