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Joe Flacco and Eli Manning: Buyer’s Remorse?

Does winning a Super Bowl equate to career greatness? Should franchises mortgage their futures on the backs of quarterbacks with rings?

Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco

Oct 13, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) looks on during the game against the Green Bay Packers at M&T Bank Stadium. Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

There have been 47 Super Bowl winners, and 30 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. Guys like Starr, Bradshaw, and Montana immediately come to mind, with Staubach, Aikman, and Brady shortly thereafter. But how about Rypien, Hostetler, and Williams? Plunkett, Johnson, and Dilfer? Flacco? Sure, you’ve heard of all the aforementioned, and a number of them either are or will be in the Hall Of Fame. But does winning a Super Bowl equate to career greatness, and should franchises mortgage their futures on the backs of quarterbacks with rings?

Joe Flacco isn’t Joe Montana, and I don’t think anyone outside of his mother, his agent, and possibly Baltimore’s most irrational Ravens fan would genuinely fight me on that. But following last year’s – albeit impressive – playoff run, culminating with a Super Bowl win over San Francisco, “not so Broadway Joe” and his agent wanted to be paid like he either was or would eventually be the Hall Of Fame, four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback thought by many to be the best of all-time.

And he was. Paid, that is.

Flacco signed an offseason deal totaling more than $120 million, $29 million of which was guaranteed. At the time it made him the highest paid player in NFL history, and parenthetically speaking, one of the league’s best. Since then, his contract’s been surpassed by quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, but Flacco isn’t playing like the third-highest paid player in the game, and maybe we should’ve seen it coming.

For every Montana, there’s a Hostetler. For every Aikman, there was a Rypien. And for every Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady, there’s been a Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer; quarterbacks who’ve done what was asked of them to win, but due to strengths elsewhere, were asked to do very little. Trent Dilfer wasn’t a bad quarterback, neither was Johnson, Rypien, or any of the other aforementioned signal-callers often left-out of Super Bowl lore, but they weren’t exceptional based on the standards of their peers and, as such, are remembered (or not) accordingly.

Point being: Joe Flacco isn’t bad, he just shouldn’t be paid like the best, based off of a postseason performance closer to the exception, rather than the rule.

Prior to last postseason, Flacco had been good but not great.  This year, he hasn’t even been good.  He’s 14th in the league in total passing yards, 25th in completion percentage, has thrown the fifth-most interceptions, and ranks 20th amongst quarterbacks in QBR, ESPN’s advanced statistic for overall performance. His numbers are down across the board, and his team currently sits with a 6-6 record, fighting an uphill battle for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Not the type of production you’d expect from an upper-echelon quarterback and certainly not the return you’d expect on a pretty darn hefty investment.

Certainly, he’s not the first quarterback to get “paid,” and certainly not the first to strike while the iron was hot. Matt Cassel – a career back-up, not only in the NFL but in college as well – parlayed an above average season filling in for Tom Brady, into a $63 million deal with Kansas City. Ryan Fitzpatrick used a hot stretch in 2010-2011 to earn a $59 million deal – including $24 million guaranteed – in Buffalo. And Matt Flynn, the modern day poster boy for “fool’s gold,” rode the backs of two meaningless games in Green Bay, to a $26 million deal in Seattle, where he was subsequently beaten-out for the starting job and later traded to, and then cut by the Oakland Raiders.

Then there’s Eli Manning.

In 2009, a year after winning his first Super Bowl, Manning signed what at the time was the richest contract in NFL history. He’d back it up four years later with a second Lombardi Trophy, and was considered by many to be a sure bet for the Hall Of Fame because of it. Yet, last season, his first since securing his second Super Bowl Championship, was subpar to say the least, and he’s followed it up this year with arguably his worst campaign since his early seasons in the league. He’s 13th in passing yards, 29th in completion percentage, and 31st in QBR, which ranks him a notch above Brandon Weeden and 2 notches above the average middle schooler.  Yet, this is a guy making an average of $16.25 million a year, and a guy who’ll be expecting something similar when his contract expires in two years.

Is he worth it?

Are four bad seasons of a five year contract worth one Super Bowl?

Maybe.

Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

In my mind, a great quarterback is one you can count on. Every day in practice, every game, and every year you can depend on what he’s going to bring to the table, both on and off the field.  He works hard, he’s consistent, and he’s there when it counts most … in the big games.

I see a difference between Joe Montana and Mark Rypien. I see a difference between Troy Aikman and Brad Johnson. And I see a difference between Tom Brady and Joe Flacco. Maybe I’ve got it wrong, maybe it’s not the hard work and consistency that matters.  Maybe it’s just the big games.

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