Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco just signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract that featured a $29 million signing bonus, $52 million in guaranteed money and turned the Super Bowl MVP into the highest-paid NFL player ever.
Not too long after Flacco got paid, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo inked a seven-year, $119.5 million deal that shocked Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, who thought Romo’s deal would “max out and he would get $90 million dollars.”
Quarterbacks in the NFL are in absolute total control when it comes to contract negotiations with their respective teams. They hold all the cards.
But only the elite quarterbacks are afforded this luxury.
While Flacco and Romo are setting the standard for the way quarterbacks at the top of their craft are treated financially, passers who aren’t a team’s “golden boy” get no love at all.
Take Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman as an example.
Freeman was one of 11 quarterbacks last season that threw for over 4,000 yards (4,065 to be exact) and is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract with the Buccaneers. Instead of signing a new, lengthy deal with the team's quarterback, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik is in “no rush” to put pen to paper, according to an interview on 620 WDAE in Tampa.
Finding himself in the same situation Flacco was in entering the 2012 season, Freeman is going to have to play, and play extremely well, for his new contract. And the Buccaneers seem to be willing to roll the dice by letting Freeman hit the free-agent market, even though that move backfired on Baltimore.
Before Flacco became one of the most successful playoff passers and before he captured an MVP trophy for leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl win, he was a sub-60-percent passer (57.6-percent completion rate in 2011) and ranked No. 12 in the league with 3,610 passing yards.
The Ravens thought they held negotiating power over Flacco and played hardball in contract negotiations. Flacco won the game of contract chicken, won the Super Bowl and made an estimated $5 million more per year because of it, sources told Robert Klemko of USA Today:
According to the person, the season-long negotiating hiatus made the difference between Flacco playing for $20.1 million per season instead of $15 million annually, suggesting last year's proposal maxed out at approximately $90 million, though the sides couldn't agree on a final number.
Had Flacco not led the Ravens to a championship, he’d likely not be carrying around the NFL’s largest checkbook. But success breeds power at the negotiating table. Flacco gambled with his 2012 season and gained considerable leverage along the way.
Before you shudder at the notion of Romo being elite, remember that in each of his last three healthy seasons (in 2010 Romo only played six games) he threw for well over 4,000 yards and was a top-seven quarterback or better in regard to passing yards. Romo doesn’t have the playoff resume that Flacco has, and that’s reflected in the difference in the two contracts. But both agents were able to persuade the Ravens and Cowboys to fork over an amount of cash worthy of the signal-calling elite.
Freeman’s agent won’t be able to pull out the elite card.
Even though Freeman finished ninth in passing yards in 2012, he was wildly erratic throughout the season. While most young passers who put up the numbers he did last season are considered franchise quarterbacks, head coach Greg Schiano is reportedly not sold on Freeman’s ability.
Schiano told the Tampa Bay Times that Freeman could win a Super Bowl, but then went and made it a point to tell the world the Buccaneers were bringing in competition for him. Coaches who are absolutely sold on their quarterback being the future of the franchise don’t make that move.
There’s a trend that elite quarterbacks can basically fill out a blank check in contract negotiations. Peyton Manning had no trouble signing a five-year, $96 million deal with the Denver Broncos after missing the previous season. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees slapped the franchise’s front office around en route to negotiating his five-year, $100 million deal.
Put up the numbers and bring in lots of meaningful wins, and teams will bend over backwards (even to the detriment of the franchise’s future financial freedom) to sign an elite quarterback. When you’re at the top of the food chain (as just a handful of quarterbacks are), you hold all the cards in contract negotiations.
When you’re not yet an elite option at quarterback, you’re going to have to fight for table scraps. But as Flacco showed, if you fight hard enough and win, teams will break the bank for your services.