Ravens need Flacco to be generous
The Baltimore Ravens better hope quarterback Joe Flacco is in a generous mood this offseason.
Flacco will be in the fourth year of a six-year contract that calls for him to earn $18 million in base salary in 2016 with $28.5 million going against the salary cap. Ideally, the Ravens would like to restructure Flacco's deal and make it more cap friendly so they can sign several prominent free agents.
They will need a lot of luck, because they don't have any leverage.
"Over time, and frankly beginning next year, Flacco's contract will create some challenges for them that they're going to have to figure out," said ESPN analyst Joe Banner, a former top executive with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.
"The cap numbers so far have been reasonable enough that it hasn't been a challenge that they've faced so far. It's more of a challenge going forward."
It's a challenge for a number of reasons, but mainly because Flacco, 30, is at the peak of his playing career. Maybe 20 to 30 years ago, Flacco might have been rated somewhere between No. 11 and No. 25 as far as quarterbacks.
In the quarterback-deprived NFL, Flacco is considered one of the top 10. On a team that lacks star power, he is the only player with name recognition playing in his prime.
The best days for outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and receiver Steve Smith Sr., both eventual Hall of Fame candidates, are behind them. So in essence, Flacco is the Ravens' best player.
So, the Ravens will have to show him the money.
There will be little wiggle room in these negotiations for Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. He can point out that Flacco's recent knee surgery, which will force him to miss the final six games this season, has caused concern about his availability for 2016.
He can argue that since Flacco signed his last deal for $120 million after the Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens have been to the playoffs only once in the past three years and will have a losing record this season for the first time since Flacco arrived.
Before being injured on Nov. 22, Flacco was having a subpar season. He completed 64.4 percent of his pass attempts for 14 touchdowns, but also had 12 interceptions. His mechanics were poor and he had a tendency of throwing without planting his back foot, an old problem.
All of these arguments are legitimate and so are concerns about Flacco's leadership. He gets paid like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but seldom exhibits the same leadership on the field. He can't carry a team.
But until this season, Flacco did win games, especially in the playoffs. No one can blame him for the 3-7 record he posted this season because he didn't have a vertical threat at receiver or a big-play running back.
But these negotiations will get ugly. Newsome and Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, do not like each other. Once Flacco's last deal was done, Linta went to several major news organizations and bragged about how he had beaten Newsome because the Ravens could have gotten Flacco cheaper if an agreement had been reached sooner.
Plus, Flacco is Linta's only big name client. Linta likes to talk; he wants and needs to make another big splash.
Somehow, the Ravens will have to work around him. They have to get into Flacco's brain and tell him he can make a lot of money next season, but he could end up with a similar cast of receivers if there isn't enough money to sign some good ones.
They need to show him the video of backup left tackle James Hurst being tossed into his knee against the St. Louis Rams. That could happen again if the Ravens can't sign a quality left tackle. They need to point out that both Brady and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have restructured their contracts to free up cap space.
Maybe those arguments will work. Maybe the Ravens can tug at Flacco's heart strings, and tell him to win for "old Baltimore."
But that's all the Ravens have right now. This is still a quarterback-driven league and either the good teams have a stud like Rodgers or Brady, or they surround average quarterbacks like the New York Jets' Ryan Fitzpatick with receivers like Brandon Marshall.
The Ravens are in limbo. They don't have a great, young speedy talent at wide receiver and Flacco is no Rodgers. But if the Ravens had no Flacco, they would be like the Dallas Cowboys without Tony Romo.
The Ravens have wandered the wastelands without a quarterback before. Until Flacco arrived in 2008, they went through quarterbacks as easily as tight ends run through the Ravens defense.
The guess here is that both sides will reach a five-year agreement that is really for four seasons. By then, Flacco will be 34 and at that point will have no leverage for another contract.
Meanwhile, the Ravens will draft a quarterback in the next year or two to start grooming him to replace Flacco. But negotiations this offseason won't be easy. Top 10 quarterbacks are hard to find.
And they command a lot of money.