Joe Flacco was brilliant in the Super Bowl. 22 for 33, 287 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs, Super Bowl MVP -- in every way he looked and acted the part of an elite NFL QB. He has emerged in year 5 of his career. The offense is now squarely centered around him and his strengths. He has proven himself to be a superb big game performer, with a 9-4 post season record and a Super Bowl victory under his belt. He managed to knock off Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on the road in the same post season. Although his regular season statistics have not been quite at the elite level, he has been a bit like Eli Manning in this regard, doing his best work in the biggest situations. It is probably no longer unjustified to consider Flacco elite, somewhere around the level of Eli and Big Ben. All of which makes the Ravens curious decision to let him play out his contract and enter free agency a very interesting situation.
Elite QBs almost never are permitted to reach free agency. It just doesn't happen. The next move is now the Ravens'. Letting Flacco hit free agency has proven a very costly decision for Baltimore. Flacco's post season excellence, capped by his Super Bowl MVP performance, probably just added something in the neighborhood of $4-5 million per year to Flacco's next contract. No doubt the Ravens are kicking themselves right about now for failing to lock him up, particularly with a weak QB draft class, a weak QB free agent class, and nobody but Tyrod Taylor, a 2011 6th round pick out of Virginia Tech, on the roster to replace Flacco should he choose to leave.
It is highly likely Baltimore will now make every attempt to sign Flacco to a new, ultra-expensive multiyear deal. Flacco will probably haggle a while, but being that Baltimore is the only team he's known, and he just led them to a Super Bowl title, he'll probably want to end up going back to Baltimore. At the very least Flacco has just insured himself a very nice pay raise from the Ravens. But what if Flacco decides he wants to play the field? Is it possible Flacco actually signs with another team? And if so, should the Jets pursue him?
Flacco is now THE MAN in Baltimore. That in itself is difficult to give up. The team is now HIS team. But almost anybody can be swayed, for the right price. From the point of view of Flacco and his agents, why not play the field? After all, the Ravens sure were in no hurry to show their loyalty to him; why should he be ultra loyal to them? Most importantly, money talks. The only way for Flacco and his agents to ascertain just how much money he might be worth on the open market is to actually hit the open market. With at least 7 teams needing a new starting QB, and with only one free agent option remotely close to elite, and a notably weak draft class, Flacco's market price is likely never to be higher than right now. If I'm Flacco's agent, I'm encouraging him to explore all options and find out what the market will bear. If you don't like the options, you can always come back to the Ravens, but why foreclose all options before you ever have a chance to explore them?
If Flacco does decide to explore his options, might the Jets be a possible landing place for him? Let's put aside the obvious salary cap issues the Jets have for now and just explore for a moment if this could be the right place for Flacco. Consider him in NY. A confident, strong armed, bomb throwing QB fresh off a Super Bowl win. He could own this town, and the Jets could shake off the little brother image in NY. For a change there would be two franchise QBs in NY, and the Jets would have the better defense to back him. Flacco is already familiar with Rex -- perhaps he would find playing for Rex a positive.
There is no better place to win a Super Bowl than New York City. Right now Flacco plays on one of the smallest stages in the NFL in Baltimore. As a consequence, up to now he has flown mostly under the radar. All that would change if he came to NY and led this team deep into the playoffs, and if he won a Super Bowl here, the world would be his oyster. The fame and endorsement opportunities he could achieve here simply dwarf anything available to him in Baltimore. And considering the other teams likely to be in the running for his services include Cleveland, Buffalo, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Nashville, Oakland, and Phoenix, I think it's safe to say no other likely suitor can provide anything close to the experience Flacco would likely have in NY if he won here.
Given that NY might be a uniquely attractive opportunity for Flacco, there remains two overriding concerns. First, how the heck can the Jets afford to pay him under their current salary cap situation? And second, if the Jets can find a way to pay him, how can they do so and still field the kind of competitive roster Flacco would presumably require in order to feel comfortable moving from Baltimore to NY? I believe it can be done, and in part 2 of this article, coming soon to a GGN near you, I will outline the steps that realistically could clear enough space to afford both Flacco and enough surrounding talent to make the Jets legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2013 and beyond. Stay tuned, this is gonna get interesting...