After the Harbaugh Bowl and Ray Lewis' impending retirement, Joe Flacco's elite status will be the third-most-talked-about topic in the fortnight leading up to the Super Bowl. It's a fair question, particularly since Flacco, a 2008 first-round pick, is in the last year of his rookie contract. The Ravens will have to decide whether to franchise him, pay him like one of the league's best quarterbacks, or let him walk.
Given the importance of a top-flight quarterback in today's NFL, there's no way Baltimore settles for that last option. And slapping him with the $14.6 million franchise tag just delays the inevitable another year (adjusted for inflation). Which means, realistically, Flacco's in line for a huge pay bump. All that's left to be decided is how much.
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We'll leave it to Flacco's agent and the Ravens to sort out the details, but one thing that's not up for debate: Flacco's status as a legit passer.
One of the knocks against Flacco during his five-year career is that he has struggled with consistency. And, in general, it's a fair criticism. This postseason, he's completed just 54.8 percent of his throws, but he's thrown eight touchdown passes against no interceptions, has taken four sacks, and is averaging 9.2 yards per attempt (which is 2.1 yards above his career average).
“I'm so glad we're going to the Super Bowl right now so people can get off Joe's back,” Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said in the moments after the team beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. “He led us there.”
This assessment stands in stark contrast to something Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said back in June 2011.
During an appearance on NFL Network, Woodley was asked if Flacco could lead the Ravens to the big game.
"No, not at all, because they have to go through one team -- that's the Pittsburgh Steelers in that AFC championship," he said at the time. "So in order for them to get to the Super Bowl, they have to beat us, and we're not gonna let that happen once we get that close. So that's not gonna happen in this lifetime."
Flacco's response a few weeks later still holds today.
“[Woodley] obviously doesn't know what he's talking about," Flacco said. "At some level, I don't care [what Woodley says] because what does that really mean? But there is another level where it does kind of piss you off a little bit. …
“We just need to come up a little bigger than we have while playing those guys," Flacco continued. "I mean, come on. What does he think? That they're going to do it every year? I think we are going to have a lot more years in Baltimore where we're going to have a good chance [to win it all], but we realize we have a really good chance right now and we just want to go ahead and win it.”