Normative Narratives


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Monday Morning QB: The Joe Flacco Contract Edition

First and foremost, congratulations to The New Rochelle Huguenots basketball team on their section 1 class AA New York State championship win yesterday. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the Huguenots won on a 60 foot shoot with 0.1 seconds left in the game by Khalil Edney (who is also led New Rochelle to a state title in football as the QB last November). After the initial inbounds pass was stolen by Mt. Vernon, Edney rushed into action, picking up the loose ball and chucking a beautiful arching 60 foot shot all in one motion. This highlight has been on ESPN and news outlets nationwide, and I would not be surprised if it ultimately wins a 2013 ESPY. (Edney is currently undeclared as far as college goes, it will be interesting to see how this recent success affects how heavily he is recruited).

Ray Rice was happy for Edney and the city of New Rochelle for continuing its championship ways, as evidenced by his tweet following the game: “CITY OF CHAMPIONS NEW RO STAND UP WE RULE WESTCHESTER #914”

Rice is also presumably happy that his Quarterback, Joe Flacco, just signed a record-setting 6 year $120.9 million contract. Rice’s foreseeable future is with the Ravens, having signed a 5 year $40 million contract last summer. Certainly neither man will ever have to worry about personal finances again.

But is Flacco’s deal, which is the largest in NFL history, the right move for the Ravens? Certainly after coming off a dominant playoff run, capped off by a Super Bowl victory, everyone knew Flacco was in for a huge pay day. But did the Ravens give him too much money? For comparison’s sake, here’s how Flacco’s deal compares to other big deals for star QBs:

Tom Brady: 5 years $33 million

Ben Roethlesberger: $11 million next season (base $2.6 million + bonuses)

Aaron Rodgers: $9.25 million next season

Drew Brees: 5 years $100 million (2013 salary, $9.75 million)

Matt Ryan: $10 million next season

Tony Romo: $11.5 million (plus another $5.3 million against the cap)

Phillip Rivers: $12 million next season

Eli Manning: “He will make $13 million in base salary and his salary cap hit, including signing bonus tops the league: $20.85 million”

Peyton Manning: $20 million base salary next season

Joe Flacco: 6 years $120.9 million, base salary next season unknown as details of the deal remain uncertain.

There are a number of things a team can do to soften the salary-cap blow of signing such a large deal. The team could provide a large signing bonus, or make the contract “front or back loaded” (and then restructure the deal if the team needs salary cap flexibility in the future, assuming the player is willing to play ball). As I am not an expert on NFL contracts and what does and doesn’t count against the salary cap, we’ll just assume for now that Flacco will allow the Raven’s to be flexible with his contracts salary cap impact.

The issue with such a large contract is amplified in a sport with a salary cap. No one will fault Joe Flacco for cashing in on this opportunity; he is a young star QB coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance, whose value will never be higher. The issue here is are the Ravens putting too many eggs in this basket—will they be able to afford to keep the talent around Flacco needed for the Ravens to continue to be perennial Super Bowl contenders?

The best way I can think to pose this question is as a hypothetical. Had Flacco not resigned with the Ravens, would you have wanted your team to sign him to this contract? Is the contract too large, or did Flacco play up to it? When you look at that list of QBs, Flacco is set to make a lot more than some guys who have had considerably more success in the NFL than he has. Flacco’s career Passer Rating of 86.3 is impressive, but only 10th best among active QBs. On the other hand, he does have the record for road playoff wins (6), and is only now entering the prime of his NFL career.

(The road playoff record is a fickle stat; if you’ve had Super Bowl success, it becomes a defining number for “road-warriors” such as Flacco (6-4) and Eli Manning (5-1). If on the other hand you’ve struggled and never won a SB, it will become a forgotten stat, as it has been for Mark Sanchez (4-2).)

In salary cap sports we sometimes see guys take less money so there is more available to sign other guys (think of the Miami Heat’s big 3 or Tom Brady’s recent contract extension). With Ray Lewis retiring, and Ed Reed possibly following him, the Raven’s will have big holes to fill in their defense, which has historically been their strong point. Will the Ravens be able to afford All-Pro caliber replacements on defense after giving the big bucks to their offensive play-makers (Rice and Flacco)?

At the end of the day, Joe Flacco worked hard and earned this record-setting contract. How he continues to mature into an elite QB going forward, and the flexibility he allows the Ravens in restructuring his contract down the road, will go a long way in determining his NFL legacy. The Raven’s did the right thing by signing Flacco to a big deal. It is now up to him to live up this contract not only on the field but off the field as well.

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Monday Morning: QB The Harbaugh Bowl

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MLB lost two historic figures this weekend, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver. Musial was one of the greatest hitters of all time, a fan favorite in St. Louis during and after his playing career, and by all accounts a gentleman who played the game the right way. Weaver was a greatly successful manager for the Baltimore Orioles. He won close to 1500 games, 4 pennants, and 1 WS title in his 17 years managing the Orioles. Both men will be greatly missed in the MLB community.

The NHL season kicked off this weekend. The New York Rangers looked rusty, losing their first 2 games. Their rivals, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, both looked very good; it will be a difficult road to the Stanley Cup this year.

On to the NFL; the playoffs have eliminated all but two teams, who will now face off in two weeks in the Super Bowl. Those teams are the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. I was 7/10 in predicting playoff winners, not too shabby! Considering the Broncos gave their game away, and the Seahawks probably should’ve beaten the Falcons, I feel I only really got one game “wrong”—49ers vs. Packers. Even still, 70% is pretty good.

This Super Bowl matchup should be very interesting. We have two brothers, Jim and John Harbaugh, who will be head coaching against each other; without checking I can safely say this is the first time brothers have head coached against each other in the Super Bowl. Both teams boast shutdown defenses and high powered offenses. These two teams, well coached and well balanced, should give us a very competitive Super Bowl. I know I am looking forward to more than the commercials this year.

So who will win the Lombardi trophy this year? Surely, a strong argument can be made for each team. The Ravens bring playoff experience to the table, Joe Flacco appears to be on top of his game, as does Anquan Boldin. Ray Rice and Torrey Smith are All-Pro caliber players, and Jacoby Jones is an X factor as both a slot receiver and a return man. On the defensive side of the ball, there is no question that Ray Lewis and the gang will come ready to play.

The 49ers are equally dangerous. Colin Kaepernick showed poise last weekend, running a balanced offense after falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter of the NFC championship game. Frank Gore is an elite running back, and Vernon Davis creates match-up nightmares. Michael Crabtree has emerged as a true number 1 WR, and Randy Moss seems to be getting on the same page as Kaepernick. The 49ers can beat you in so many ways on offense; it is hard to believe Kaepernick will be starting only his 10th game when he takes the field in New Orleans on February 3rd. On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are as good as anybody.

Ultimately, it will come down to 3rd down efficiency and who wins the turnover battle. I know this is a bit of a cop-out; almost every NFL game comes down to these two statistics. However, with two teams as balanced as these on both sides of the ball, with head coaches who know each other so well, I can’t think of anything else that could swing this game. Perhaps the deep ball, as both QBs have the ability to make big strikes through the air (although both teams secondaries have the ability to shut down the deep game as well).

I’m calling this one for the 49ers. I don’t think any team, even the Raven’s, can stop all the weapons the 49ers have. That option play, where either Kaepernick or Gore/James keeps the ball, is so hard to stop, just ask the Falcons defense.

Either way, it should be a game for the ages. There will be tons of speculation over the next two weeks (as well as memorable sound bites from media week), at this point all we can do is tune in and see what actually happens when the two teams take the field.