Let's be clear: Joe Flacco isn't playing for a new contract in 2015. He already has one.
I'm sure you remember when the Ravens' quarterback was in that situation, in 2012, the year the deal he signed as a rookie was set to expire. He turned down a lucrative offer before the season, gambling that he could play well enough to earn more, and he wound up leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl triumph, putting him in just about the most advantageous bargaining position in the history of sports. He signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract within months.
That was two years ago, so Flacco is just one-third of the way through the deal, as contractually set as any player in the NFL.
But when he signed in 2013, his agent, Joe Linta, told The Baltimore Sun they "really viewed this as sort of a three-year deal." The Ravens felt the same way.
As Linta explained to The Sun, he wanted "to make sure (in) the first three years Joe was paid accordingly with the top guys in the league," so a lot of guaranteed money – the heart of any deal – changed hands in that window. In exchange, Linta and Flacco agreed to keep his salary cap figure relatively reasonable for those three years.
But a team has to pay up eventually when it agrees to a big deal, and Flacco's contract called for his cap number to jump dramatically after the third year. There has never been much doubt that the Ravens would want to restructure the deal at that point: basically devise a new one.
"Depending on the salary cap, that's what will determine, when we get to the fourth year, what they're going to have to do," Linta told The Sun in 2013.
Well, we're almost there. With Flacco entering the third year of his deal in 2015, the clock is ticking on the scenario described above. After this season, his cap figure jumps to $28.5 million, which could be close to 20 percent of the entire salary allotment the Ravens are allowed under the cap. It's assumed the Ravens will want to find a way to bring Flacco's number down, freeing up room for them to sign other players.
So in fact, Flacco is sort of, kind of playing for a new deal. Let's call it a "mini contract year." How he performs in 2015 could have an impact on any new negotiations, offers and deals.
The situation doesn't nearly compare with 2012 in terms of urgency. Flacco could have ended up in free agency after that season if things didn't work out, forcing the Ravens to start from scratch under center. They certainly didn't want to do that. In the end, a best-case scenario for both sides unfolded, the Ravens winning a Super Bowl, Flacco earning a mega-deal.
This time, I don't think either side is especially worried about how things are going to go. Once he signed for so much, Flacco became, in essence, a business partner of the Ravens. Like any player, Flacco wants to make as much money as possible, but when your salary takes up such a sizable chunk of the cap, your fortunes and your team's fortunes are intertwined. You become integral to the team's effort to create more cap space for other players and field a complete team. You have to work together.
There's plenty of impetus for both sides to want to deal, find common ground, get something done. The Ravens, as noted, really need to lower Flacco's cap numbers for the years after 2015. And in Flacco's case, with the market for franchise quarterbacks always escalating, as evidenced by the huge deal Carolina's Cam Newton signed earlier this week, I'm sure he doesn't mind diving back into the market and seeing what it will bear.
The last time Flacco was in this situation, with contract negotiations potentially hanging on his performance, he delivered one of the greatest postseason runs in football history. The Ravens would love nothing more than to see the same thing happen again.