Even Joe Flacco admits he is having trouble getting his head around the fact that he is now the highest-paid player in NFL history.
"We were all just kind of sitting there* *chuckling about it," he said Monday, recounting the scene at his uncle's house in South Jersey last Friday when news of his new deal broke during family pizza night.
It's such a huge contract and huge moment in Ravens history that I think a primer of sorts is in order. What does this new deal mean for Flacco and the Ravens? What doesn't it mean? Here's a list:
It DOESN'T mean you should expect the Ravens to win the Super Bowl every year. Maybe this is obvious, but I know how these things work. A lot has to break a team's way for it to win, as the Ravens saw this year. More than a little luck is involved. If and when you fall short, some are bound to decry that the math doesn't add up, i.e., why pay a guy so much if he can't deliver the goods? It's ridiculous. Unrealistic. You pay a quarterback this much to give you the best possible chance of contending every year. That's all. No guarantees beyond that.
It DOESN'T mean Flacco should become more of a vocal leader. Fans and some teammates (including one linebacker who just retired) have been calling for it, but he has fended off the idea at every turn. "I'm going to be who I am," he said Monday. I'm with him all the way on this. He isn't a mute. He just isn't an outwardly rah-rah guy. That's not how he is wired. And he just won a Super Bowl with his wiring, so whatever he's doing is fine. Enough already with this meaningless talking point. Johnny Unitas didn't wave a pompom.
It DOES mean the Ravens are hoping for a little more consistency under center. The Ravens paid Flacco because he is just 28 and they're expecting him to reach his peak in the coming years. In 2012 he ranked 12th in the league in quarterback rating and had some subpar games. It's not fair to expect perfection, and the Ravens aren't looking for better numbers or stats from Flacco, but they'd like fewer (hopefully none) of the dead-in-the-water games they experienced at Jacksonville in 2011 and Kansas City in 2012. I think it's a fair expectation.
It DOESN'T mean the Ravens are going to become more of a passing team. They aren't concerned about Flacco earning his big contract by piling up passing yards, Pro Bowl invitations, etc. They're concerned only that he continue to provide what they want as the centerpiece of a balanced attack. While Flacco did take off like a rocket during the playoff run, he did so because the offense as a whole took off with the run setting up the pass, the pass opening up the run, etc. With Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in the backfield, I expect more of the same in 2013.
It DOES mean Flacco will get more criticism when things don't go well. Signing a big contract puts a target on your back. It's a tough world out there. Fans and the media love to rejoice in successes but also grumble about failures. They don't take it well when a player gets paid a ton and doesn't earn it (in their eyes). But Flacco is accustomed to scrutiny and seems to have a filter that blocks it out and enables him to bounce back.
IT DOES mean the Ravens are set at QB … for at least the next three years. Flacco's deal is cap friendly in the short run, but there are huge, forbidding numbers down the road – starting in 2016, to be exact. That'll be the moment when the sides renegotiate as long as they're still happy with each other. I fully expect them to be, but it's a wild sport and you never know what might unfold.
It DOESN'T mean the Ravens went overboard just because they won the Super Bowl with Flacco as MVP. They put an offer on the table last summer, a nice offer, reportedly for at least $17 million a year. Did you catch that? They were willing to do that for Flacco before he threw a pass in 2012. He gambled that he could do better because, as he said Monday, "I thought I was worth more." (You have to love that response.) But the bulk of the deal was already on the table. The Ravens believed before this season that they had their quarterback. Now they know.