For the longest time, whenever the subject of a new contract came up, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was consistent in saying he wanted it done before the 2012 season kicked off.
As far back as April 2011 – seventeen months ago – he expressed disappointment that the Ravens were dragging their feet, preferring to wait until one year remained on his original five-year deal to start negotiating a new one. That wasn't the timeframe he had in mind.
His rationale for wanting it done sooner rather than later wasn't entirely clear. One possibility is he's a low-key guy and didn't want any part of the drama and back-and-forth headlines that always stir when a deal-making deadline nears, as happened this summer with Ray Rice. Another possibility is, hey, we're all different about money, and he's just more of a bird-in-hand guy.
Maybe he was having nightmares about being whacked with the franchise tag, which, let's face it, sounds like something out of the Spanish Inquisition.
In any case, while his rationale was unclear, his preference was not. His view was "Let's get 'er done and get on with playing ball."
But it didn't happen. The Ravens kicked off 2012 Monday night and Flacco still does not have that second contract. He's playing out the final year of his first deal, which paid him $12 million over five years. He's not exactly struggling to make ends meet, but he doesn't have that new deal he seemingly wanted by now.
No one seems especially worried about whether he'll eventually get it. His agent and the Ravens' front office continually express admiration for each other and the belief that a deal will result. You can almost smell the cigar smoke and clubbish bonhomie, a good sign.
But until Flacco scrawls his name on a piece of paper, the negotiations remain fluid, vulnerable to changing circumstances. And indeed, a very interesting situation is developing.
It could be that the longer Flacco waits, the better his deal.
He might profit – substantially – by not getting what he originally wanted, a deal by now.
Although he accomplished plenty in his first four seasons, Flacco seemingly has taken a major step forward in his fifth. He has never looked this sure, this polished, this confident. Jim Caldwell, the team's new quarterbacks coaches, deserves some kudos, but the bulk of the credit goes to Flacco himself.
Not coincidentally, he is finally surrounded by an array of dangerous receiving targets possessing a variety of skills. And meanwhile, most importantly, the coaches have gone with a new, up-tempo approach that changes the offensive focus from the run to the pass. Flacco loves it.
In sum, the Ravens have set the stage for Flacco to pile up some big numbers this season – bigger than he has ever recorded, perhaps by quite a bit. He passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns in a little over three quarters in Monday's season-opening win over the Bengals. Had he remained in the game, throwing away, he could have approached 400 yards through the air.
It's wrong to expect things to go that swimmingly every week, but even with penciling in the inevitable tough weeks to come, 2012 shapes up as Flacco's biggest by far. And make no mistake, big stats translate into big dollars these days, regardless of what the scoreboard says. In the fantasy football era, those with big passing numbers are royalty. Just ask Philip Rivers or Ryan Fitzpatrick, who can't match Flacco's playoff record but translated big numbers into big contracts.
Flacco already had the track record of team accomplishments to command big dollars; two trips to the AFC title game by age 27 is good stuff. Gaudy passing stats were the only thing missing from his case for big dollars. Now it looks like they're on the way.
I believe Flacco when he says he isn't concerned with that stuff; he cares about winning games and making playoff runs, especially now that the season is here. But he also wants to get paid what he believes he is due, and as his numbers rise, that future payday grows.