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This is a pivotal season for Joe Flacco

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No doubt about it

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Franchise quarterback Joe Flacco signed a three-year contract extension worth $66.4 million with $44 million guaranteed in March. With this level of financial commitment, Flacco is not in any danger of being replaced as the signal caller and marquee player of the Baltimore Ravens in the foreseeable future. However, his performance will determine the direction of the franchise in 2016 and beyond.

In all honesty, Joe Flacco did not have a good season last year. Through ten games, Flacco threw 14 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions while posting the worst QBR of his career and leading the team to a 3-7 record. Flacco’s ironman streak of consecutive games played was ended in November after suffering a torn ACL and MCL to his knee. In fairness, Flacco had multiple factors working against him last season.

The injury to Breshad Perriman combined with the free agent departure of Torrey Smith took away the vertical threat last season. The Ravens have corrected this issue by signing speedy Mike Wallace and drafting Chris Moore who could give the team three bonafide deep threats if Perriman finally finds the field. The addition of steady tight end Ben Watson and the expected return of Dennis Pitta should provide Flacco with consistent underneath options.

Protection from the offensive line was the biggest issue for Flacco and the Ravens offense in 2015. The team attempted to fix this problem by replacing unreliable left tackle Eugene Monroe with rookie top ten pick Ronnie Stanley. Ricky Wagner should also be better on the right side more than a year removed from his foot injury. Flacco will also be working under the same offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman, in consecutive season for the first time in recent memory.  The front office has put Flacco in position for success, they have eliminated all potential excuses.

Since his magnificent playoff run in 2012, Flacco has not lived up to his lucrative contract. He has routinely struggled to find rhythm early in games and his deep ball accuracy has been inconsistent. His decision making has also been questionable with 46 interceptions over this period. No doubt, protection was embarrassingly poor in 2013 and 2015.  The loss of many of his most trusted receivers certainly did not help the situation either.

After a few seasons of using creative contract prorations to keep Flacco’s cap number depressed, the bill has come due, and the quarterback will be consuming more than $20 million in cap space in each of the next six seasons.  In some small part, Flacco's mega contract has contributed to the Ravens inability to retain some of their best homegrown talent. When a single player is earning more than 10% of the total salary cap, that player must help compensate for other deficiencies on the roster, in order to win a championship.

The issue with a quarterback who thrives in the postseason, yet is often underwhelming in the regular season, is that regular season success is a prerequisite for the playoffs. In conclusion, the time has come for Flacco to earn his keep.