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The Joe Flacco paradox

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Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron

Baltimore Ravens franchise quarterback Joe Flacco is the third highest paid signal caller in the NFL. His $22.1 million average annual salary slots in behind Andrew Luck and Drew Brees. He is payed more on average than Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.

Flacco’s salary will account for less than 15 percent of the Ravens total salary cap space next season. Judging against his postseason performance since 2011, he is appropriately compensated. 2011 should be included since his individual playoff success was the impetus for his refusal to sign an early contract extension.

In the eight postseason contests beginning with a divisional round victory over the Texans after the 2011 season through the Super Bowl XLVII championship to the playoff loss against the Patriots in early 2015, Flacco played at an elite level. His recent postseason statistics are as follows:

  • 6 wins, 2 losses
  • 21 touchdowns vs 3 interceptions
  • 108.85 quarterback rating

However, Flacco’s postseason prowess could be considered an outlier when compared to his regular season body of work. Since Joe signed the lucrative contract following his Super Bowl MVP performance, his regular season play has been quite unimpressive:

  • 29 wins, 29 losses
  • 80 touchdowns vs 61 interceptions
  • 82.68 quarterback rating

Looking forward, the Ravens are married to Flacco for better or worse through 2019. Last offseason with Flacco coming off a torn ACL and a below average season, the Ravens made the ill advised decision to extend his contract for three additional years at more than $22 million per season. They were boxed in by their ‘contend every season’ philosophy and short sighted practice of heavily backloading the structure of their largest contracts.

His contract is what it is at this point. The question becomes how to best build the roster around Flacco in order to win more Super Bowls. Herein lies the paradox...

Flacco has proven throughout his career that he needs help, maybe more help than a true franchise quarterback should, to consistently produce at a high level. Last offseason, the Ravens kept continuity at offensive coordinator with Marc Trestman, added Mike Wallace to a receiving corps with two 900-yard plus receivers and an exciting first round wideout, and drafted an excellent blindside protector with their top-ten overall draft pick.

The offensive line’s pass protection was underrated, the receivers made more plays than they are given credit for and the defense was stout, but it still was not enough for Flacco to lead the Ravens to playoffs.

Still, many Ravens fans are calling for more investment in the offense to give Flacco the tools he needs to succeed. But his contract combined with the Ravens overall salary cap situation means they would have to neglect the defense in order to supply Flacco with a offensive that has no weaknesses.

Why would the Ravens return to a run first offense when they are paying a franchise quarterback handsomely? Can Flacco play at a consistently high level without an elite offensive coordinator? Would drafting another high upside receiver guarantee Flacco quarterbacks a top rated passing offense?

The entire purpose of retaining core foundational players, and paying them top dollar is that their talent can overcome other roster deficiencies. Jon Ogden’s ability to silence the best pass rushers in the NFL allowed the Ravens to win despite average blockers elsewhere. Ray Lewis turned undrafted linebackers into stars and positively impacted the entire defense. Ed Reed patrolling the secondary allowed the Ravens to get by with lesser defensive backs. Terrell Suggs’ individual ability fostered an environment where other pass rushers could thrive against single blocking. Marshal Yanda’s elite blocking has elevated the play of the lineman beside him.

This rings true with other teams as well. Matt Ryan’s prolific connection with Julio Jones helped the Falcons make it to the conference championship despite a below average defense. Russell Wilson’s pocket presence enabled Seattle to make the divisional round with a cheap, inexperienced offensive line. Andrew Luck carried Indy to eight wins despite a porous offensive line and under talented defense. Patrick Peterson’s coverage allowed the Cardinals to finish with a top-3 defense while journeymen corners manned the other side. Von Miller led the Broncos to 42 sacks after they experienced heavy free agent losses and injuries on defense.

Flacco must play better if the Ravens hope to return to the playoffs in the near future. He has to cut down on the mistakes and improve his accuracy. His footwork has been atrocious and his intelligence has been rightfully questioned. The onus for improvement rests squarely on his shoulders, Flacco is accountable for his production.

If the Ravens decide to bolster their offensive line, upgrade their receiving corps and/or add a homerun threat running back, Flacco better produce a top offense in 2017. If the Ravens choose to focus on their pass defense this offseason, Flacco should still produce a middle of the pack offense. His large contract means he must play above replacement level no matter his supporting cast, or he is not earning his money.

Flacco has proven he can provide decent offense without great weapons, and win on the strength of a top defense. Flacco has never proven he can carry a team, it would be risky to assume that he can, even with more talent surrounding him. Baltimore’s decision makers should think long and hard on Flacco’s true ability this offseason. Putting more eggs in the offensive basket may actually have adverse effects on the Ravens trajectory.