recorded 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the 2013 postseason. (John W. McDonough/SI)
Joe Flacco, once his new contract with the Baltimore Ravens is finalized, will be the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Let that sink in for a moment.
As recently as Week 15 of this past season, when the Ravens were clobbered by the Broncos right after changing offensive coordinators, there was an army of doubters unconvinced that Flacco ever could get Baltimore over the top. Then the playoffs started and Flacco turned in one of the greatest runs in league history, taking down the Colts, Broncos, Patriots and 49ers in succession.
That's postseason wins over Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick in succession, in case you're keeping score -- the No. 1 pick in 2012, two of the best QBs in league history and a talented youngster who helped usher in a new era of offense, respectively.
To the most incredible of extents, Flacco struck while the iron was hot. Had the Ravens lost, say, to the Colts in the wild-card round, Flacco, a pending free agent, might have been allowed to walk out of Baltimore. He certainly would not have been handed the reported six-year, $120.6 million contract he will receive, which bumps hm over top of Drew Brees' five-year, $100 million deal.
After Flacco delivered a Vince Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore (and won a Super Bowl MVP award in the process), though, the Ravens had to bring him back.
It looked, for awhile, like it might require the franchise tag to do so -- the non-exclusive tag, which would have prevented Flacco from negotiating with other teams, would have run Baltimore upwards of $19 million for 2013, with Flacco then potentially hitting free agency again in 2014.
Still to be revealed here is exactly how Flacco's contract breaks down. Until we see the bonuses and guaranteed money involved, pinpointing the Ravens' exact commitment is impossible.
Either way, an entirely new type of pressure awaits Flacco. No longer is he stuck proving that he can win the big game; instead, he'll spend the next several seasons under the financial microscope, his naysayers now turning their attention to how he performs in relation to Manning, Brady and Aaron Rodgers -- the latter may indeed soon sign an extension that surpasses Flacco's deal.
Those quarterbacks, however, are generally accepted to be the cream of the crop. Flacco, even after his magical postseason, is not there in a lot of minds.
Is that fair? Maybe not, given how this past season ended. Does it matter? Nope not one iota.
Flacco laid down an absolute career hammer in the playoffs, rendering any discussion about his "elite" status obsolete. Maybe he's not a Hall of Famer. Heck, maybe he's not even the best quarterback in his division. But he was arguably the top player throughout the NFL's postseason tournament, and he will be paid accordingly.
The turnaround for Flacco, from lightning rod of criticism to this moment, was swift and stunning. What happens from here will define the success of the Ravens' all-in move, as well as Flacco's lasting legacy.