Saturday, February 2, 2013

Performance and price not matching for Joe Flacco

Peyton Manning. Tom Brady. Drew Brees. Joe Flac…Joe Flacco???

While the idea of mentioning Flacco in the same breath as that of Manning or Brady seems absurd to many, it apparently does NOT to Joe Flacco. In fact, according to a recent report by Ian Rapoport, Flacco believes it to be the other way around, that the Manning’s and Brees’ of the world don’t deserve to be mentioned with him. Quoting Rapoport, “I’m told his camp believes he is playing better than Peyton Manning.” Regarding Manning’s $19.2M per year salary, he states, “Expect them to shoot higher than that.” John Clayton, among others, has confirmed this, stating that Flacco will be aiming for a salary starting at $20M annually.

While the Ravens are in the fortunate position of being able to ignore this nonsense for at least a few more days, they are eventually going to have to enter Joe Flacco Fantasy Land. Given these reports, I imagine it’s a strange, strange place where rational thoughts go to die.

In short, this is going to be a huge problem for the Ravens organization going forward. Flacco has proven too solid to remorselessly kick to the curb, but far too inconsistent to be paid like a franchise QB. Jettison him in the offseason and the team risks a calamitous downgrade at the most important position on the field. On the other hand, pony up the cash and the team ensures a depletion of the depth and talent surrounding their decidedly average QB thanks to his massive cap number. It’s a lose/lose scenario for the Baltimore Ravens. Regardless, a decision must be made. What is the right course of action?

First of all, let’s go ahead and get one thing straight right here and now; Joe Flacco is NOT better than Peyton Manning. He’s not better, he’s not equal, he’s not slightly behind – he’s not even in the same stadium as Peyton Manning! Peyton Manning is a twelve time Pro Bowler, a six time First Team All-Pro, and a four time MVP – with a potential fifth MVP a distinct possibility. Joe Flacco is none of those things. He’s an average to slightly above average QB that functions reasonably well in a conservative run-oriented attack.

Even if you want to disregard all historical data up to the 2012 season, Flacco is still miles away from the cream of the QB crop. Here is how his 2012 season stacks up against Manning, as well as a few other QB’s Flacco might believe himself superior to:

QB Rating
Peyton Manning
Tom Brady
Aaron Rodgers
Drew Brees
Ben Roethlisberger
Joe Flacco

The sheer numbers should put to bed the notion that Flacco belongs in this group, as his closest comparison here is with an injury plagued Ben Roethlisberger who was forced to hobble around behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. Roethlisberger, by the way, was clearly superior to Flacco despite this. So no, Flacco is not one of the league’s ‘elite’ QB’s. Not even a million bottles of deer antler velvet spray could push him into that stratosphere.

Flacco’s rankings in the major passing categories pretty much tell the story of what he is. He ranks 12th in QB Rating, 14th in yards, 15th in TD’s, 19th in completion percentage, and 14th in Y/A. And if you’re one of those people who enjoy ESPN’s Total QBR…well, Flacco ranks a miserable 25th in that! Just in case you didn’t hear me or get the message before, Flacco is an AVERAGE quarterback.

The problem, though, isn’t that people don’t recognize his average performance, it’s that it’s viewed as increasingly irrelevant.  Meaningful information like a below average completion percentage or a lackluster Y/A average is begrudgingly acknowledged by fans and pundits, and then immediately dismissed due to Flacco being “a winner.” I imagine this is exactly what will happen during contract negotiations, where Flacco and his people will shrug their shoulders and repeatedly ask rhetorical questions like, “haven’t we made the playoffs every year I’ve been here?”

The question, then, is how will the Ravens respond? Do they look at his true in-game performance and see Flacco for exactly what he is, or do they view him as a “winner” that has just “led” his team to the Super Bowl. How they answer this question will be an interesting test case for how strongly the “QB Wins” viewpoint has taken hold. More importantly for the Ravens, how they answer this question will come to shape and define their franchise for the foreseeable future.

Don’t believe me? Ask the Jets, who faced this very same situation in evaluating what to do with Mark Sanchez. They chose to view him as a “winner,” as recently explained by former GM Mike Tannenbaum.

"Our thinking on that was Mark is only one of five quarterbacks in the history of pro football to win 30 or more games in his first three years.”

The fallout from that decision has been devastating to the Jets organization. Not only have they missed the postseason in each of the last two years, but they’re mired so deeply in salary cap hell that they’ll be lucky to sniff the postseason at any point in the next few years. And Mark Sanchez? Benched. Looking to replace him. Stuck with his massive salary.

Granted, Flacco is a much better QB than Sanchez, but both are limited players that have relied heavily on a strong running game and an even stronger defense. As such, the Jets current plight holds an immense amount of relevance for the Ravens and should act as a stern warning against paying big money based on QB Wins. The Jets chose to do so based on a few good games - games that happened to be in the playoffs and, in truth, are no more predictive of future success than a random Week 3 game - and a non-existent stat. Consequently, their franchise is in a state of disarray.

Does that mean the Ravens will become the Jets if they fork over $20M to Flacco? Not necessarily. Again, Flacco isn't terrible like Sanchez. He's average. Also, the Ravens front office has a much stronger track record of scouting, drafting, and player development than the Jets mindless front office executives. But even with such a strong group of decision makers at the helm, there would still be consequences to committing such a high percentage of one's cap to an average QB like Flacco. The resulting cap related losses of key surrounding talent would make it necessary for Flacco to evolve into...well, the type of "winner" Joe Flacco currently thinks he is. He'd have to rely less on a strong defense and win with prolific and consistent offensive production. Unfortunately for the Ravens, his five year history suggests he's not capable of being that guy, poking all kinds of holes in his much ballyhooed win-loss record along the way.

- Baltimore has never finished higher than 9th in PPG, and finished in the top ten just twice.
- Baltimore has never finished higher than 15th in passing offense.
- Baltimore is a miserable 14-22 since 2008 when the defense has allowed 20 or more points. Comparatively, Tom Brady teams are 26-18*, Peyton Manning teams are 19-18*, Drew Brees teams are 28-30, and Aaron Rodgers teams are 22-25.

*Brady missed all of 2008
*Manning missed all of 2011

This last point, I feel, is especially relevant in that it points out how little responsibility Flacco has been tasked with to “win games” compared to true top rate QB’s. It also points out how unsuccessful the Ravens are when forced to rely on their Flacco-led offense. Comparatively, his QB rivals did fairly well. If we drill down even further and look at just games where the defense allowed between 20-29 points – probably a truer barometer since making up 30+ points isn’t fair to ask – the picture becomes even bleaker for Flacco. In those games, Brady is 24-10, Manning is 17-6, Brees is 22-13, and Rodgers is 18-9. Flacco…is 11-14.

To put it mildly, Flacco is not the engine that drives the Ravens success. He’s not a “winner,” so much as he’s an average QB fortunate to have a defense that rarely asks him to cover for their mistakes. This applies to his “impressive” postseason résumé as well. Here are some samples of Flacco being a “winner” and “leading” his team to glory:

27-9 W @Miami – 9-23, 135 YDS, 59.1 QB Rating
13-10 W @Tennessee – 11-22, 161 YDS, 1 TD, 89.4 QB Rating
33-14 W @New England – 4-10, 34 YDS, 1 INT, 10.0 QB Rating

Are we really giving him credit for those wins? Was he really responsible for them, or was he just along for the ride? All in all, Flacco’s postseason numbers aren’t nearly as impressive as the media makes them out to be (198.8 YPG, 16 TD, 8 INT, 54.4% Comp, 7.01 Y/A, 82.5 QB Rating). Paying him $20M/year would essentially reward Flacco for a grand total of three or four games, an unconscionably dumb decision that would involve pitching a much larger, more accurate sample size of 80 regular season starts.

By now, I think my point has been made, and I don’t think it could be any clearer. QB Wins is not a real thing, and even if it was, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest Joe Flacco isn’t earning them. As such, there is no reason to think he could actually earn $20M/year. Committing that large a number to a QB so reliant on a strong supporting cast would be crippling and would almost assuredly sabotage the long term prospects of the team, much as it has with the Jets.

But, as I said before, this is a very tough spot they’re in. The right decision is obviously to not pay Flacco $20M, but the reality of the situation is that the short term consequences to that decision could be severe. There are only so many solid QB's out there, and it certainly does not appear as if the Ravens have a strong contingency plan in place. Regardless, there is simply no justification for paying Flacco like the league’s best QB, regardless of how that affects their 2013 season. As shown by the Jets, the logic one must use to do so is beyond flawed; it’s irresponsible and borderline criminally insane, and the consequences of making that decision will most assuredly be severe.

Best case scenario for Baltimore would be Flacco playing for the one year franchise tender of just over $14M. This would buy them some time to find a long term solution while retaining the ability to be competitive in 2013. Will Flacco go for that? Eh...I'd guess he wouldn't be too happy about playing under the franchise tag.

Thus, there is only one reasonable solution for Baltimore to pursue. Tag him and trade him. There are plenty of QB needy teams out there (KC, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Cleveland, Arizona, etc.) and the market for a "winner" like Flacco would be strong, especially after a run to the Super Bowl. A deal could net them multiple high picks to help rebuild an aging defense and save them countless millions of dollars down the road. Besides, would Alex Smith be such a big downgrade? At more than $10M a year cheaper, I'm sure they could more than make up that minimal difference somehow.

Regardless of whether that ends up happening or not, there is really only one option that should not be on the board at this time. Giving Flacco $20M. He's not worth it and he's proven that every year of his career.


  1. If the Baltimore Ravens read your posts and trade him to Cleveland, I'm coming after you.

  2. I was gonna say, just grab Alex Smith and win another Super Bowl. If they can win a Super Bowl with Flacco, they can probably win one with Smith. Of course, I don't know how they're going to replicate the out-of-their-mind luck... but they'll do it somehow. I mean hey, at least next year Ray Lewis' corpse won't be lying between the numbers. That has to help next year, right?