Still no decision on how to "tag" Flacco

Three weeks after winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens are deep into the planning stages for next years team.  Owner, Steve Bisciotti, the Ravens front office, and all of the fans, want Joe Flacco to return, but at what cost?  In the age of the salary cap, paying any player $20 million dollars per year (or roughly 1/6 of you salary cap) is tough to do, but that is exactly what Joe Flacco and his agent, Joe Linta want the Ravens to pay the Super Bowl MVP.

Going into last season, it was hard to imagine a scenario where Joe Flacco would get $16 million, let alone $20 million dollars per season, but that’s what winning a Super Bowl will do for your career.  Now Flacco wants the same kind of money that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees are making.  Is he in the class of those elite quarterbacks?  All of those guys have been in the league much longer than Flacco and each of them have been very productive players for 10+ seasons.  They have paid their dues and “deserve” the gaudy salaries they have earned….but has Flacco?  He just completed his fifth season in the league.

Paying Joe Flacco $20 million dollars per year will severely hamper the Ravens’ ability to sign and keep future talent over the next 5 or so years.  Baltimore has already locked up LB-Terrell Suggs, DT-Haloti Ngata, CB-Ladarius Webb, and RB-Ray Rice to long term deals.  Those four players will account for nearly $34 million dollars towards next season’s salary cap.  If the Ravens tag Flacco with the “exclusive franchise tag”, they will be forced to spend another $20.6 million, all of which will count against next years salary cap.

Even if you sign Flacco for the “bargain price” of $17 million, having 5 players accounting for $50 million dollars in salary cap space is rough (and dangerous).  If the Ravens choose to tag Flacco with the “non exclusive franchise tag” they will have to pay him $14 million towards the cap, but run the risk that another team will offer him a deal.  Baltimore will have the option to match any offer sheet, but they risk losing their Super Bowl MVP to a quarterback-hungry team.  That team will have to compensate the Baltimore Ravens, by giving them TWO first round draft picks though.

So, assuming they can’t get a deal done, which franchise tag will the Ravens use on Flacco?  That’s a tough decision.  With Ray Lewis retiring, the Ravens will be about $14 million under the salary cap for 2013.  If they use the exclusive franchise tag, they will have to cut several players to get Flacco and his $20.6 million contract under the team’s $120 million dollar salary cap.  If they do this, Flacco and his agent gain a lot of power as the team will have too many holes and not enough players.  As they enter the draft, they will be tight against the cap, and it will force the Ravens to give Flacco what he wants to clear up cap space to sign drafted players and other free agents.  If Baltimore decides to use the “non-exclusive franchise tag,” they will be in better cap shape, but could lose Flacco.

Personally, I believe the team needs to do what is best for the long term health of the franchise.  Assuming you can’t sign him to a long-term deal, I would use the non exclusive tag on him.  If you can’t match another teams offer, take the two first round picks and get two studs to help rebuild the defensive side of the ball.  Then trade a 3rd or 4th round pick for a guy like San Francisco’s Alex Smith.  The guy doesn’t have Flacco’s arm strength, but he had a 70% completion rate before losing his job to Colin Kaepernick last season.  Smith would give you a very good quarterback at a fraction of the cost and allow the team to keep the likes of S-Ed Reed and LB-Paul Kruger for a few more seasons.

Either way, the Ravens are between a rock and a hard place.  They have a tough decision to make.  Signing Joe Flacco to a long-term deal would be the best option for all parties involved, but that isn’t the only option.  In a salary cap era, GM-Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens have been very good for a long time.  Newsome places a dollar value on every player on the team.  If/when the dollar amount exceeds the players perceived value, Newsome says “no thanks” and goes to plan B.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Baltimore Ravens will be a good team next season.  Which of these guys will still be Ravens?  Now that’s the $20 million dollar question…keep your fingers crossed Ravens fans.

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