A statistically average NFL starter during the majority of his five regular seasons, Flacco has an extensive history of elevating his performance and winning games during the postseason. That paradox makes assigning Flacco a true value very troublesome.
Further complicating the exercise is the contract value that Flacco is likely to demand, whether he wins or loses Super Bowl XLVII.
According to ESPN's John Clayton (via Pro Football Talk), Flacco is expected to ask for money on par with the top quarterback contracts in the NFL:
He’s now made a case for $20 million a year. And I think he’s gonna try to hold to that. Last season what I was hearing was he was asking for about $17 million. … But he was saying ‘okay fine, let me play this out.’ Now he’s in a position to make big money. And we’ll see if he can get over Drew Brees’ contract. I think he can.
Last July, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees signed a deal for five years and $100 million, including $40 million in guaranteed money. Also last summer, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning received $96 million over five years, with $18 million in guarantees. He'll make $20 million in base salary next season.
Thanks to a scintillating postseason that vaulted Baltimore to its second-ever Super Bowl appearance, Flacco now appears ready to seek a deal in the ballpark of those two deals.
However, Flacco's regular-season numbers do not point to a quarterback worth a $20 million a year deal.
Over 80 career regular-season starts, Flacco has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 17,633 yards, 102 touchdowns and 56 interceptions. His career passer rating is 86.3, which ranks 19th among quarterbacks since 2008 with at least 300 passing attempts.
In five NFL seasons, Flacco has never had a passer rating over 95.0, completed 65 percent or more of his passes, thrown for 30 or more touchdowns or eclipsed 4,000 passing yards. While these seem like arbitrary numbers, they do represent those fitting an elite quarterback.
Manning (105.8/68.6/37/4,659) accomplished each of those landmarks in 2012, while Brees (96.3/63.0/43/5,177) only missed the completion mark. However, Brees is a 65.6 percent career passer.
Even Flacco's 2012 season was nothing more than statistically average.
In 16 games, Flacco threw for 3,817 yards (14th in the NFL), 22 touchdowns (15th) and 10 interceptions. His passer rating was 87.7, or the 12th best mark in the NFL. Flacco's QBR (ESPN's expansion of quarterback rating) was the 25th best in the NFL at 46.8.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required), a football analysis site that grades every player on every play of every game, graded Flacco as the 20th-best quarterback during the regular season. Flacco's PFF quarterback rating finished at No. 21.
In fact, only twice (2009, '10) has Flacco finished a season ranked in the top 20 of PFF's quarterback grading.
So, what happens when Flacco hits the postseason? The lightbulb suddenly flicks on, especially recently.
After winning three of his first five postseason starts without a passer rating over 90.0, Flacco has finished six of his last seven starts in the playoffs over 95.0. Over those seven games, Flacco has thrown 15 touchdowns against just two interceptions, as the Ravens went 5-2.
This postseason, Flacco has three games with a passer rating over 105.0, thrown eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions and beat Manning and Tom Brady, both on the road.
With four touchdowns and zero interceptions against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco would become the first quarterback in playoff history to throw for 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions in a single postseason.
Simply put: Flacco's run in 2013 has been nothing short of historic.
Flacco also wins in the postseason. Overall, he has now won eight postseason games in five seasons—one of just five quarterbacks to do so—and his six road playoff wins, the most by a quarterback in NFL history.
But if Flacco wins the Super Bowl, does he become worth a Brees- or Manning-like contract?
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has won two Super Bowls with runs such as the one Flacco is putting together now, signed a seven-year, $106.9 million deal ($35 million guaranteed) in August of 2009. Flacco's new deal probably should have a ceiling that looks something like Manning's, or in the neighborhood of $15 million a season.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who Flacco has beaten twice in the postseason (and probably should have beaten a third time), averages $15.7 million over his current five-year deal.
How much should Joe Flacco's next contract be worth, per year?
While Flacco has been very good in the postseason, and his current run puts him in a prime negotiating position, the Ravens would be foolish to give in to any long-term contract demand worth $20 million a year.
And remember, if Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome feels that Flacco's demands are too ridiculous this spring, Baltimore can franchise tag their quarterback for just over $14 million. Such a decision would not be the best case scenario for either side, but it would protect the Ravens from overreacting and giving Flacco a contract value he doesn't merit.
However, Flacco's historic postseason run is still likely to land him a deal that is slightly above what he is actually valued. If Flacco wanted $17 million last season, it's only natural to assume he wants more this coming offseason.
It's very easy to envision Flacco signing a deal in the range of six years and $108 million (an $18 million-a-season average). Flacco is probably only worth in the range of $13-$16 million, but neither side of the negotiation table wants to enter the 2013 season (possibly as reigning champions) with a quarterback under the franchise tag.
Flacco will be a Raven in 2013, but expect his value and upcoming contract to be a major talking point for the next several months.