Is Joe Flacco's Megadeal Just the Beginning of a QB Market Explosion?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 3, 2016

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) passes the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in Baltimore, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

It's good to be a quarterback in today's NFL.

Semi-competent signal-callers regularly receive contracts in excess of $18 million per season. Good ones can get upward of $20 million per campaign. And the great ones? The ones with rings on their fingers? They break the proverbial bank.

Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens may not be a great quarterback, but he does have a Super Bowl ring. And after inking a three-year extension Wednesday, two things are certain.

Flacco has plenty of money for razors and eyebrow wax, and his new megadeal may just be the opening salvo of the latest escalation of the arms race for arms in the NFL.

NFL Network tweeted terms of the extension, which keeps Flacco under contract through the 2021 season:

NFL Network @nflnetwork

3-yr extension. Worth $66.4M. $40M signing bonus. $44M guaranteed. Joe Flacco is a happy man. (via @RapSheet) https://t.co/Q2OcZBMwym

As that graphic indicates, the 2015 season was a massive disappointment, both for Flacco (whose season ended prematurely thanks to a torn ACL) and the Ravens. However, given Flacco's previous resume (which included a magical run to a win in Super Bowl XLVII), it's not a stunner that the Ravens pursued this deal.

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Joe Flacco's Career Numbers
*Super Bowl XLVII Champion

Especially when you consider the Ravens are in one of the poorest salary-cap situations in the NFL. Per Spotrac, the Ravens have the fifth-least cap space in the NFL. And that's after lowering Flacco's number from $28.55 million (the third-highest cap hit in the league, per Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun) to "only" about $22.5 million.

Can you feel the savings?

Per NFL Network, the new deal also vaults Flacco to the head of the class under center (albeit only slightly) where average annual salary is concerned:

NFL Network @nflnetwork

Notable QBs Avg Yearly Salary: Joe Flacco $22.1M Aaron Rodgers $22.0M Russell Wilson $21.9M Ben Roethlisberger $21.9M Eli Manning $21.0M

We can sit here and debate the merits of Flacco making more money than the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger all day. Lament that he's overpaid, just as we did after Flacco parlayed that Super Bowl win into a $120-plus million contract.

But it's a fact of life in the NFL. Just this week, we've seen Kirk Cousins franchise-tagged at almost $20 million for 2016 after one good year. Sam Bradford got $36 million ($26 million of which is guaranteed) from the Philadelphia Eagles, which will push his career earnings north of $100 million.

Still waiting on that one good season from Sammy.

Ryan Tannehill received an extension last year that pays the Dolphins quarterback $19 million and change per season.

All three of those quarterbacks have played in one postseason game combined. Flacco has won 10, including the biggest game in sports.

Besides, Flacco won't be on top of the mountain for long. Because his extension is a huge stroke of Luck for one young passer about to reap a windfall of his own.

As Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson told Mike Chappell of Fox 59 at last week's combine, the Colts are expected to soon begin talks on a contract extension with quarterback Andrew Luck:

"Both sides are motivated," Grigson said. "We obviously want Andrew here. I really don’t anticipate any issues with that. I can’t talk about any numbers or anything like that. We haven’t started any of those discussions, but that will probably happen soon."

It's not hard to understand why Grigson doesn't want to talk numbers. He's probably choking on one given the deal Flacco just got. It may well have set the floor for Luck's average annual salary.

Yes, much like Flacco, Luck's 2015 campaign was an injury-marred mess. However, assuming that his balky shoulder checks out, we're talking about a No. 1 overall pick who has led the Colts to the playoffs three times in four years. The player who forced Peyton Manning out the door in Indy. A franchise quarterback just entering his prime.

There are 32 NFL teams. And maybe 15 true franchise quarterbacks. To be one at 26? Luck can all but name his price. And as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweeted, that price all but certainly just went up:

Jason La Canfora @JasonLaCanfora

Would expect Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck to be doing cartwheels after seeing the Flacco re-do, plus Bradford and Cousins deals last 24hrs

And it isn't just Luck. As Rodgers moves deeper into the monster deal he signed back in 2013, his cap hit will climb—to the point the Packers may look to pull a Flacco and restructure. Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is no spring chicken, but he's also a future Hall of Famer entering a contract year.

If Brees can demonstrate he's still capable of playing at a high level in 2016, the Saints are going to bring him back. And it's going to cost them a truckload of money. Say, $45 million ... for two seasons.

Never mind youngsters like Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders and Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings. Both are halfway through minuscule rookie deals. Both have shown the potential to lead their respective teams for the next decade.

And both could be in for staggering paydays, as their teams will have that much more money to pay them.

When the new collective bargaining agreement was signed back in 2011 (after an uncapped year in 2010), the cap was stagnant until 2013. However, in just the past two years, the NFL's salary cap has jumped over $20 million, from $133 million to $155 million.

Cap Data Per NFL Communications
Cap Data Per NFL CommunicationsGary Davenport/Bleacher Report

Thank you, TV money.

With another double-digit increase likely to come next season (and every season for the foreseeable future, given that the NFL is all but printing money at this point), it isn't hard at all to imagine a cap of over $175 million by the time the new wave of young guns is ready for its turn at the trough.

And every quarterback gets one, assuming they can play even a little. It's a perfect storm. Demand at the position that far outweighs supply and an ever-growing pile of salary-cap coin to throw at them.

Given those conditions, the standard for what makes a franchise quarterback a franchise quarterback is a fungible one. Sure, fans may cringe at the notion of Bradford or Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears making $18 million a season, but their teams cringe even more at the thought of "starting over" under center.

As Larry Weisman of USA Today reported back in 2006, a decade ago, the salary cap reached the dizzying heights of $102.5 million. Even then, top quarterbacks made huge salaries. Brees made $22 million that season. Marc Bulger of the Rams got $17.5 million the season after.

Given the percentage of their cap those teams dedicated to the quarterback position, maybe the Ravens, Colts and the other clubs about to dish out $22-25 million a year should count themselves lucky. They're getting a bargain.

Yeah, that's it. A bargain.

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report, a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.


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