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Flacco carried the team to the Super Bowl, but may also be the biggest reason the Ravens won't return next season.
Despite the incredible popularity and postseason run, let me be one of the first since the Super Bowl to say this: Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback. Yet.
Right now, Flacco is a winner. He is a strong-armed and clutch player who can win games for a team, especially in the playoffs.
Based on this postseason, Flacco clearly has more than enough potential to be one of the best in football.
But the numbers don’t lie, and Flacco still has a lot to prove before he can be on the same pedestal as players like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
Firstly, Flacco has yet to even come close to surpassing 4,000 passing yards in a season in his career. Eleven quarterbacks have done that this year alone. Also, in only five more pass attempts than Flacco, Eli Manning came 52 yards away from that mark despite a somewhat poor season for his standards.
But Manning and other top quarterbacks have not had the privilege of playing on a Ravens team that has ranked third in total defense from 2008-2011.
Flacco has also yet to throw for 25 touchdowns in a season. By comparison, Mark Sanchez threw for 26 touchdowns in the 2011 season.
When comparing Flacco to the rest of the league, you can see Flacco is certainly well above average, but he is not a top quarterback.
Flacco ranked 19th in the league in completion percentage, 14th in passing yards, tied-for-15th in touchdowns, 12th in quarterback rating, and 14th in yards per pass attempt.
Before people claim that this is because Flacco is in a run-first offense, let me also state that Flacco ranked 14th in the league in pass attempts, That is not close to the top of the league, but it is also a very significant number of pass attempts.
To Flacco’s credit, he has also not thrown more than 12 interceptions in a season. This could also be affected by the fact that Flacco has not thrown as many passes as the top quarterbacks. But in the end, Flacco still has almost twice as many touchdowns than interceptions in his career, and that is a stat very much in Flacco’s favor.
The most glaring stat, though, is from the newest and perhaps most revealing quarterback statistic: QBR.
In 2012, Flacco had a QBR of 46.8 out of a maximum of 100. This is good enough for 25th in the league, behind supposed middling quarterbacks such as Jake Locker and Sam Bradford.
Again, Flacco’s postseason was nothing short of brilliant. It would not surprise me if Flacco kept up this form through next season and beyond.
However, it is clear that Flacco needs to complete at least one full regular season of this consistent and dominant form before he is crowned as one of the “elite” quarterbacks. Having seven games of fewer than 200 passing yards is not very elite.
More importantly, whether or not Flacco maintains this form, he is more than likely going to get paid like an elite quarterback.
Flacco and his agent are supposedly demanding roughly $20 million per year for Flacco’s new contract.
Although Flacco has not given enough consistent play during the regular season to deserve anywhere near that kind of money, he may very well get it.
And that is precisely why this Super Bowl run is the best and worst thing to happen to the Ravens.
With the previously mentioned salary cap problems the Ravens are experiencing, Flacco’s giant contract could ultimately cost the Ravens a number of other key free agents this offseason.
Flacco may very well live up to that $20 million salary by next season, but paying him that much right now is an enormous gamble. The gamble becomes even riskier when the team loses numerous players with the cap space Flacco's contract eats up.
When you combine the repercussions of Flacco’s potentially massive contract with the many other problems this team must face this offseason, there is no way that the Ravens can repeat next season as Super Bowl champions.