Since they hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans on February 3, 2013, the Ravens have a 23-25 regular-season record. If not for some help they received on the final Sunday of the 2014 season, when Kansas City defeated San Diego to open up a playoff spot, they would be on a run of back-to-back-to-back non-playoff seasons.
Many factors have contributed to what can only be described as a slide from the pinnacle. The careers of several iconic players wound down. A tight salary-cap situation forced the departures of key contributors on both sides of the ball. Several draft picks and big contracts haven't produced as desired. A prodigious run of injuries didn't help in 2015.
Another factor that often gets cited is quarterback Joe Flacco's $120.6 million contract, which he signed shortly after leading the Ravens to their Super Bowl triumph. It's the largest contract in franchise history, and a slice of Ravenstown – a significant slice, I feel like – believes it takes up so much salary-cap space that the front office can't build out the rest of the lineup at a winning level.
I can see why the idea gathers traction; Flacco's paycheck is a whopper. But there's a difference between real dollars and cap dollars, and while a lot of real dollars have gone to Flacco in the past three years, from a cap perspective, his deal was backloaded to minimize its impact on the rest of the roster.
That impact has been vastly overrated until now.
Flacco's cap hit wasn't even the Ravens' highest in the deal's first year; Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Marshall Yanda all had higher cap hits in 2013. Flacco's hit was still only slightly higher than Ngata's in 2014.
Flacco finally became the Ravens' clear-cut cap-hit leader in 2015, taking up 10.15 percent of the team's allotment. That sounds like a lot, but numerous players around the league actually gobbled up more of their teams' cap space. Peyton Manning took up 12.06 percent in Denver. Defensive end Charles Johnson took up 13.8 percent in Carolina. Those contracts didn't keep their teams from reaching the Super Bowl. (All figures are from Sportrac.)
In 2015, Flacco's contract took up less cap space than the contracts of numerous other franchise quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning and more. In the AFC North, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green both had higher cap hits than Flacco in 2015.
In other words, yes, he makes a lot, but he has generated a typical cap hit for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback – the kind of hit almost every winning team deals with.
That could change going forward, as you probably know. With Flacco's contract due to accelerate into its backloaded portion in 2016, his cap hit is scheduled to almost double, reportedly to $28.55 million. His percentage of the Ravens' cap allotment also would almost double, to 18.34 percent.
Almost one-fifth of the Ravens' cap allotment … now THAT sounds like a hit that could hinder the front office's ability to build the rest of the roster.
That possibility has led to widespread speculation that the Ravens and Flacco are going to renegotiate. But GM Ozzie Newsome gave a surprising response when asked about that last month, saying the team would "not necessarily have to re-do Joe's contract" if the front office was "strategic enough."
My reaction to that was, well, yes, I suppose it's literally true the Ravens could field a team, perhaps even a decent team, without re-doing Flacco's deal. But their life sure would be better, and they would have a lot more options and possibilities … and potential … if they do manage to lower his cap hit, perhaps by as much as $9 million.
That's a lot of money that could be used to fill some of the holes that produced a 5-11 season in Baltimore in 2015.
Flacco himself seems to grasp the math, telling WBAL last month that his scheduled cap hit for 2016 was a "huge number" and "not really realistic."
"Come on, I want to win," he said, seemingly acknowledging the importance of a new deal.
I would go so far as to say it's a necessity.
Overrated until now as a factor in the Ravens' fortunes, his contract would officially become a significant issue if it's left to stand as is.