Eisenberg: Will Joe Flacco Help His Partner When Time Comes?


In a recent Baltimore Sun interview, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb affirmed what many believed, that he restructured his contract to give the team more salary-cap flexibility.

"I wanted to put the team first," Webb told the newspaper.

It's a decision most players eventually face when they sign a contract as hefty as the five-year, $50 million deal Webb negotiated in 2011. At that salary level, a player essentially becomes a business partner with his team as a major stakeholder in its salary-cap allotment. With the cap determining so much about how rosters are constructed, either he's going to help his partner out when the time comes or, well, he's not.

A lot of guys do if given the chance. Webb restructured. Terrell Suggs has reworked his contract twice in the past two years to give the Ravens more cap room. Marshal Yanda restructured his deal in 2012.

Elsewhere, New England's Tom Brady has reworked his big deal several times to help out the Patriots, and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger just signed a major extension giving him more dollars and years in exchange for giving the Steelers short-term cap relief. 

Front offices appreciate it. So do teammates who want to win and get the big picture. Fans find it admirable.

But remember, players aren't obligated to do it. Both they and their team agreed to the original contract terms. Everyone signed it. If the player wants to hold the team to the terms it agreed to, he certainly has that right.

When the Ravens signed Haloti Ngata to a heavily-backloaded, five-year, $61 million deal in 2011, they knew they likely would want him to restructure it when he reached the final, big-money years. But he couldn't find new terms that satisfied him a year ago, and when the sides couldn't agree again this year, the Ravens traded him. It was an unfortunate ending and the Ravens surely wish Ngata had been more amenable, but can you fault him for wanting to adhere to the terms of a contract he and his team signed?

It's an interesting question because the Ravens are now a year away from having to face the biggest fish in their financial pond – the six-year, $120.1 million deal quarterback Joe Flacco signed after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in January 2013.

Despite what many think, the contract has been fairly cap-friendly so far, certainly in keeping with the going rate for franchise-caliber quarterbacks. But that changes after this season. Flacco's cap hit for 2016 reportedly escalates to $28 million, easily the largest figure in Ravens history. It would constitute close to 20 percent of the team's cap room for this year. I'm pretty sure the Ravens are going to want to restructure.

Will Flacco?

It's a huge question that has no bearing on the team's prospects for 2015 but looms over everything after that.

When Flacco signed the deal, both sides knew the Ravens would probably want to re-work it after three years. Flacco negotiated in the most advantageous position imaginable, having just led a team to a Super Bowl victory. To get a deal done at the level he sought, the Ravens stacked some prohibitively huge numbers on the back end.

Flacco, like Ngata, has every right to demand what was agreed to, but he surely understands that the Ravens need flexibility to give him targets and put a winning team together, and he also surely sees that they're willing to part ways with players who won't take their hand and partner in the restructure dance. They traded Ngata. They traded Anquan Boldin. They cut veterans every year.

It's unthinkable that they would want to part ways with Flacco, their most important player, the one around whom everything revolves. Franchise quarterbacks are the game's most valuable puzzle piece and the Ravens are beyond grateful that they have one. The alternative is ugly. (See: the 50 percent of the league that doesn't have one.)

But when the salary cap rules all, weird things can happen.

The issue becomes moot if Flacco, like Webb and Suggs and Yanda, is willing to restructure and able to find a new pay package that satisfies him. He has been the loyalist of soldiers so far, wholly committed to the greater good. Does he want to follow the lead of Brady and Roethlisberger and spend his whole career with one team, the one where he has already cast a winning legacy? As much as it's a question for another day, that day is coming.

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