Eisenberg: Shark Has Jumped Joe Flacco Elite Debate


So this is it. The last column I'll ever write about whether Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback.

I might shed a tear. It's kind of an emotional moment.

Flacco's elitism (eliteness? elitehood?) has been a go-to subject for years, always there to liven up any quiet interludes on the football writing calendar. Other local sportswriters certainly know what I'm talking about. If you ever needed a hot-button issue to gin up an argument, you could always "go Joe" and get something going.

But those days are over. The ship has sailed. The shark has jumped. Whatever. I sense a transformative shift in the Flacco/elite conversation.

For starters, it has gone on for so long that it has become a parody of itself, fodder mostly for online satirists such as the hilarious PFT Commenter. When he held up the Flacco/elite sign at the Republican presidential debate earlier this month, he was having some fun with our political discourse but also deriding the Flacco subject as classic sports blah-blah. Which it certainly is.

When people stop taking a subject seriously, it's time to move on. (Someone influential said that once, but I can't remember who. Maybe Jon Gruden?)

More importantly, it's time to stop debating Flacco's merits because he's obviously pretty good. Forget the blather about whether he rises to the amorphous e(lite) standard; he's a quarterback most NFL head coaches would gladly take and put under center.

It appeared he had quashed the debate with his brilliant postseason run and Super Bowl triumph in 2012, but when he regressed in 2013, he left his naysayers an opening to suggest he was, well, a one-hit wonder. But that's just not possible anymore. Flacco bounced back with his best statistical regular season in 2014 and then torched the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots for eight touchdown passes in the playoffs.

There just aren't many quarterbacks who can match his bona fides.

Let's talk about the head coaches who have seen enough to know his combination of durability, dependability and clutch playmaking puts him near the top of the heap. The Steelers' Mike Tomlin and the Patriots' Bill Belichick certainly can attest to it. So can the head coaches who have worked with Flacco, such as the Denver Broncos' Gary Kubiak and the Detroit Lions' Jim Caldwell, both former Ravens offensive coordinators.

Remember when Kubiak was asked about Flacco's elitism earlier this year, shortly after leaving Baltimore for Denver?

"Is Joe Flacco elite? You bet he is. He helped me. That's probably why I'm standing up here today (as a head coach)," Kubiak told reporters, smiling as he spoke.

The Buffalo Bills' Rex Ryan was on Baltimore's sideline during Flacco's rookie season, which ended one game shy of a Super Bowl appearance. The Philadelphia Eagles' Chip Kelly joined the admiration society earlier this week as his team and the Ravens practiced together in advance of tonight's preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field.

"I think he's one of the elite quarterbacks in this league," Kelly said, incredibly not using the infamous adjective with any irony.

When I heard Kelly, I suddenly decided it was time to pull the plug on writing about this. Quite simply, the debate is exhausted. All those coaches aren't blowing smoke. Flacco is 30, all grown up on and off the field – in his prime, confident, in command. It's pretty funny that the NFL Network put him at No. 97 on its list of top 100 players, which tells you all you need to know about such rankings. Ravens officials just shook their heads. When analysts nominate Baltimore as a Super Bowl contender in 2015, they're doing it largely because of Flacco, not in spite of him.

OK, one more time. No, he's never going to put up pinball numbers like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning because the Ravens want to run the ball as well as throw it. Yes, he's going to have the occasional rough game, as most quarterbacks do. But he's going to make a bunch of plays, win a bunch of games, get up when he's knocked down, and in the end, likely have the Ravens positioned for a January run, when he puts fear in the hearts of all opposing teams.

Does that make him "a elite quarterback?"

I think it's clear. And that's it for me on this subject.

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