Joe Flacco has never earned a Pro Bowl invitation or piled up big regular-season passing stats, but the Ravens still signed him to the largest deal in franchise history last offseason. Ask them why, and they volley back with a long list of reasons, starting with his durability, his big arm, his relentless mental approach, and his knack for performing well under pressure.
A Super Bowl win also argued the case fairly well, I would say.
But if you're looking for one simple explanation for why the Ravens did what they did with Flacco, just look at the other sideline Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Cleveland Browns are the ultimate example of what can and usually does happen when you aren't set under center.
Jason Campbell is starting for the Browns. He is a talented guy, a former first-round pick, but he has played for four teams over nine NFL seasons, posting a 31-41 record as a starter. At 32, he isn't the longterm answer the Browns are seeking, but he's their best alternative right now, so he's getting to play.
He happens to be the 20th quarterback to start for the Browns since they rejoined the NFL in 1999. To say they have operated a merry-go-round under center would be an understatement.
Three times since 1999, they have used first-round draft picks on guys (Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden) they hoped would bring longterm stability to the position. None did. They also hoped mid-round picks such as Colt McCoy, Derek Anderson, Luke McCown and Charlie Frye would be the answer at different times. None were.
In between those many failed experiments, an impressive list of backups, Plan Bs and longshots have gotten starts for the Browns, including such unknowns as Thaddeus Lewis, Doug Pederson, Kelly Holcomb and Spergon Wynn. No, I'm not making this stuff up.
The Ravens can look down their noses at the Browns since they drafted Flacco and made him their guy in 2008. He hasn't missed a start. Shoot, he's barely missed a snap. Over the same time frame, 11 guys have started at quarterback for the Browns.
But you know what? The Ravens were just like the Browns until they drafted Flacco. Both franchises were on the same merry-go-round in a sense, continually seeking an answer at quarterback through the draft or free agency. The Ravens actually bulldozed through more candidates than the Browns, starting a dozen guys between 1996 and 2007. Their list included Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl, but a lot more guys such as Kyle Boller, Scott Mitchell and Stoney Case, all of whom came and went.
Since Flacco arrived, though, the Ravens' merry-go-round has stopped … cold. Although he doesn't put up huge numbers, his knack for winning is undeniable. Since he became the starter, the Ravens have posted a 57-30 record, while the Browns are 26-62. The Ravens have made five playoff appearances, taken three trips to the AFC title game and won a Super Bowl. The Browns have watched the playoffs from their couches.
When his contract was up after last season, the Ravens had a choice. They could pay him the going rate for a top quarterback, or they could get back on the merry-go-round. It was no choice at all. In a league where teams either have a franchise quarterback or are looking for one, the merry-go-round is not where you want to be.
Because Flacco was coming off a record-setting playoff run that culminated with his being named the Super Bowl MVP, he had all the leverage and exercised it, as anyone should. A big contract resulted, and the Ravens will have to deal with its effects down the line. But they aren't complaining. Flacco's deal is in the same neighborhood as the deals of other quarterbacks who have won as much. It's the going rate. And as the Ravens know all too well, paying it beats the alternative any day.