Maybe they're not going to Disney World, but I know six guys who have plenty to gain at Super Bowl XLVII -- and I'm talking more than just money or flights to Orlando. Nope, they have Super Bowl rings ... and legacies ... and promising futures ... and, yes, megabucks to go with a Super Bowl victory. They are the few, the proud, the anxious, and here are their stories:
1. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: His contract expires in March, and he's on the books for a long-term deal ... but the price keeps going up. To what? It really doesn't matter. The Ravens must keep him. So expect them to protect Flacco by designating him their franchise player, then work on what is expected to be a multiyear package -- probably a five-year contract -- that pays him anywhere from $15 million to $17 million per. Flacco is 8-4 in the playoffs and 6-4 on the road, and that's good for him and better for his leverage. But if I'm Flacco, I don't do the deal until I know what, say, Matt Ryan gains from the Falcons in his renegotiation. Ryan was the first quarterback taken in the 2008 draft; Flacco was the second. Ryan is 1-4 in the playoffs; Flacco's record speaks for itself. Ryan's contract should establish a ground floor for Flacco, but Flacco is in a different neighborhood now. A Super Bowl victory only strengthens his bargaining position.
2. Randy Moss, WR, 49ers: So he's a bit player who makes occasional catches. Big deal. He's looking for his first Super Bowl ring, and that's why he signed with these guys. Yes, he's a mentor to young teammates, but he didn't return after a one-year absence to serve as Michael Crabtree's history teacher. Nope, he wants what every player in this league wants, and he was close with New England in 2007. He's close again. And if he succeeds in getting that ring this time, I wouldn't be surprised if he pulled a Ray Lewis and called it a career.
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3. Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens: Take your choice. You can look at Super Bowl XLVII as the last pregame "Squirrel," the last postgame sermon or the last chapter in a storied career of one of the game's most decorated linebackers. Lewis will be the most popular interview next week because this is it, folks. After Super Bowl XLVII he's gone. So count on him using this stage to his advantage -- which means another Reverend Ike routine about how everything is possible if you believe. Well, you know something? I do. I mean, I do believe. I believe in fourth-and-29, and I believe in Rahim Moore. Strange and unpredictable things happen to these guys, and Lewis' Victory Tour seems to be the catalyst. He carefully timed his retirement announcement just before the Ravens' first playoff game, and look what happened. The club refuses to lose. Brilliant. The fans got caught up in it. The media got caught up in it. And the Ravens got caught up in it. Now Lewis has one last dance, and cue Donna Summer. Some guys get gold watches when they leave their jobs; Lewis can walk away with a gold ring.
4. Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers: He doesn't need a Super Bowl victory to cement his reputation or validate his head coach's decision to start him and not Alex Smith. That has already been accomplished. Now it's all about setting the table for the rest of his career. Tom Brady did it in 2001 when, in his first year as a starter, he took the Patriots to a Super Bowl upset of St. Louis. Like Brady, Kaepernick stepped in for an injured quarterback. Like Brady, he had zero starts. Like Brady, he was in his second season. And, like Brady, he energized his team. Every quarterback who has led the 49ers to a Super Bowl has led them to a Super Bowl victory, with Joe Montana and Steve Young solidifying their Hall of Fame credentials there. I'm not saying Kaepernick is here ready to start polishing a bust for Canton, and I'm not saying he's the next Tom Brady. What I am saying is he can establish himself as something other than the young hot-shot Jim Harbaugh gambled on ... only this time in front of a gazillion fans.
5. Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Ravens: When you talk about linebackers in Baltimore, you start with Lewis and work your way down the roster. Except Lewis is not the Ravens' best player there. Not anymore. This guy is. Ellerbe is a tackling machine who has been all over the field in the playoffs and who stands to make a lot of money after this game -- mostly because he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Of course, so does linebacker Paul Kruger, another unrestricted free-agent-to-be who could cash in on the playoffs, but Kruger isn't in Ellerbe's zip code. Plus, one guy plays outside, the other inside. The Ravens could protect Ellerbe by franchising him, but that's the most likely route the club takes with Flacco. Baltimore wants to keep Ellerbe, and you can see why. He's a star in the making. But he won't come cheap, so the question is: How do the Ravens do it and at what price? Stay tuned.
6. Matt Birk, C, Ravens: He was supposed to retire a year ago, but he didn't. Instead, he dragged his battered body back for a 15th season with one goal in mind -- getting to the Super Bowl. It didn't matter that he suffered through neck, elbow and knee injuries his previous three seasons with the Ravens. He wanted one more crack at an NFL championship. "I wouldn't have come back," he said, "if I didn't think there was a legitimate chance to help the team." Now there's a legitimate chance to help Birk, with the 36-year-old on the verge of his first Super Bowl victory. Birk was taken in the same draft as Moss by the same team -- the Minnesota Vikings -- and while both took circuitous trips to get to Super Bowl XLVII, only one leaves satisfied. "It's great," Birk said of making it to New Orleans. "That's the goal. That's the dream. It's why you play."