Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco has many people very confused.
It seems that everyone in sports media wants to talk about how Flacco has staked his claim among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and how he raises his game in the most important situations. These same folks tell us that he doesn’t deserve the biggest contract of any quarterback in the NFL. Somehow, the trophy that cemented his status as a great quarterback doesn’t merit compensation as the best-paid quarterback in the world.
These people either have not watched the Baltimore Ravens for any length of time or are caught up in the Super Bowl hype. I argue that Joe Flacco is not elite, is not clutch—and still deserves the highest-paying contract in the NFL.
Why Joe Flacco is Not Elite
This one is more a matter of what the term “elite” means. Typically we understand it to mean the best, or the most skilled.
There is debate aplenty about whether Flacco belongs in the elite category. If there is a debate, a guy isn’t elite. That’s just my take. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are generally regarded as the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and few would dispute their elite status. In fact, we would cheapen the meaning of the word “elite” if we included six or seven quarterbacks. That’s 20 percent of quarterbacks in the whole league, and that’s too high.
Joe Flacco isn’t even universally regarded as elite in Baltimore. He’s not quite at that level yet, although he is certainly gaining ground with his Super Bowl MVP performance. What he is is a winner, and there is zero debate about that.
Why Joe Flacco is Not Clutch
This is the one that gets me. The knock on Flacco among knowledgeable football fans is that he has traditionally shrunk from the pressure when the lights get hot. We’ll look at a few examples momentarily.
This takes absolutely nothing away from his performance this year, by the way. You can’t fake your way to a Super Bowl MVP award. Flacco played the best of any quarterback in this year's playoffs—and not just the Super Bowl. He deserved to win it.
However, this year was the anomaly, not the norm. Look back to Week 13 of 2010, when he threw an easy 4th-and-2 pass into the dirt behind a wide-open Ed Dickson to lose to the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.
Look more recently to this year, during the game against the San Diego Chargers, when the Ravens were fighting for their playoff position, if not their playoff lives. On a 4th-and-29 play, with his team trailing late, he checks down to Ray Rice.
He gave up. Don’t try to sell me that it was a smart play, because it wasn’t. Dumping the ball off to Rice fewer than five yards past the line of scrimmage can’t produce 29-yard first downs very often.
In a position in which truly clutch quarterbacks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger would have bought time and given their teams the best chance to succeed, Joe Flacco folded. The fact that it worked out in his favor doesn’t change this fact.
Flacco is a serial offender in these situations. Ravens fans can attest that Flacco will most likely throw short of the sticks on third down, which is the most common clutch situation that he faces.
Once again, Flacco made the biggest stage in the NFL into his personal playground this year, and it was an impressive display. However, he needs to overcome a bit more adversity before he earns the coveted “clutch” tag.
Don’t get me wrong, his 15 game-winning drives look good on the stat sheet—but the eye test matters as well.
You’re Just a Hater, Aren’t You?
Would a hater say that this guy deserves the biggest contract in the NFL among quarterbacks? That’s exactly what my opinion is regarding Joe Flacco. Do I think that he is on that elite level that Brady, Rogers, Manning and Brees inhabit? No, not exactly. Let’s look at the facts, though.
According to ESPN, Flacco has won more games than any other player since 2008, and he’s the only quarterback who has won a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. There’s simply no way that you can put him behind fellow ’08 draftee Matt Ryan when you look at these numbers.
At age 28, Flacco is a year younger than Rodgers. All of the other “elite” guys are on the wrong side of 30. He is entering the prime of his career, and his best days should be ahead of him.
Head to head, Flacco beat some of those quarterbacks in this year’s playoffs. He downed Brady and Manning and outplayed them both. Meanwhile, Brees was watching the playoffs at home and Rodgers fell to San Francisco in the divisional round.
Why should those guys make more than Flacco?
Finally, this year’s options for a quarterback-needy team are less than optimal. The draft class is generally regarded as weak, while there are few viable options in free agency. Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and even the Philadelphia Eagles should take long, hard looks at breaking the bank for Flacco. From where I’m sitting, Flacco can ask for however much money he wants, and Baltimore will be forced to pony up.
Joe Flacco rolled the dice by not accepting a contract offer from the Ravens this past offseason, and he is about to cash in on his smart gamble in a big way.