Baltimore Ravens: Flacco Contract Must Take Priority over Rice

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Baltimore Ravens: Flacco Contract Must Take Priority over Rice
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After LeSean McCoy and the Philadelphia Eagles agreed to a $45 million contract, Ravens fans and analysts began analyzing what it means for the Ravens and their negotiations with running back Ray Rice.

Unfortunately, this leaves Joe Flacco in the background, while he belongs in the headlines.

In fact, according to ESPN's Jon Clayton, Flacco's negotiations will take a backseat to Rice's negotiations, as Rice does not want to play under the franchise tag in 2012.

While salary cap is generally part of the discussion, analysts and especially fans are taking for granted the thought that the Ravens might not be able to sign both Rice and Flacco to major contracts.

The Ravens are already on the hook for several major contracts, including Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb and Marshal Yanda.

Also, in addition to Rice and Flacco, the Ravens will also need to take care of Ed Reed and many of the young players that are the nucleus of this roster, including Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta and Arthur Jones.

All this and the Ravens are already extremely close to the salary cap.

Certainly Ray Rice is worth re-signing. He is the heart of the offense, but the fact that Rice has that role, showcases part of the problem in Baltimore.

The Ravens have traditionally been slow to re-sign their players.

Terrell Suggs played through the franchise tag multiple times before finally signing a deal agreeable to both sides.

Ray Rice doesn't sound willing to do this, but the Ravens are too smart to sign him to a deal that will keep them from taking care of Flacco.

Drafting Bernard Pierce gives the Ravens some flexibility and leverage. If he impresses at OTAs and training camp, Rice will lose some leverage and might have to settle for a less pricey deal, which would be an ideal situation.

All in all, the McCoy deal means nothing for the Ravens. Rice may use it as a starting point, but the Ravens have a price in mind, and if Rice is to stay in Baltimore he will have to be the right player at the right price.

Rice enjoys a following in Baltimore that Flacco lacks, so Rice has been the topic of more discussion. Flacco, though, is the victim of the Ravens' smash-mouth culture, and that culture is the reason he is being overlooked, even though he should be the Ravens' first priority.

The Ravens have long put having a strong running game over having a strong passing game. Their conservative offensive schemes have continuously focused on the running game, and with Rice's help, the focus on running has helped lead to four straight playoff births.

Each of these four seasons, though, have ended in disappointment, as the running game simply can't carry the offense in crunch time.

That's why the Ravens' investments in the future need to be focused on the passing game, and that means focusing on re-signing the franchise quarterback—Joe Flacco.

Like it or not, Flacco is the franchise, and he has earned that role. He's been clutch throughout his career, being a drop away from a Super Bowl appearance in 2011.

He has also been the most productive passer in Ravens' history, even though he has never had an elite receiving corps and has been restrained by a run-focused offense.

Admittedly, Flacco struggled in 2011, especially with his consistency. When asked to carry the offense by passing 40 plus times, Flacco struggled mightily, so the running game is still important.

Flacco, like everyone else involved with the Ravens, wants Rice around for a long time. He's a dynamic talent who can take over a game at times.

Ultimately though, re-signing Rice can't take precedence over signing Flacco to a long-term deal. The Ravens have never had this level of stability at the quarterback position and risking that is a risk not worth taking.

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