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Super Bowl: Is Joe Flacco An Elite Quarterback?

Will Robinson |
January 30, 2013 | 9:14 a.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

Is the giant paycheck coming Flacco's way deserved? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Is the giant paycheck coming Flacco's way deserved? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Stop me when you’ve heard this one before: The quarterback is the most important position in team sports. Oh, you tried to stop me after “important?” My bad. In this postseason, the convention we hold dear has flipped a little bit, hasn’t it? Not too much – on face value, who would you rather have: Aaron Rodgers or Colin Kaepernick? If the former isn’t immediately chosen, you may be accused of being a San Francisco fan or picking up the partying in NOLA early. Slow down, bud.

Of course, Kaepernick put on a comprehensive clinic against the Packers’ defense, making Dom Capers wish he could click his defensive coordinate heels and go back in time to watch David Carr get sacked a million times like the halcyon days of 2002. But really, in a vacuum, who would ANYONE take in a big-time game? The reigning MVP or a guy who had seven starts to his name?

Similarly, in the AFC, Joe Flacco vanquished Peyton Manning (with that miraculous bomb to Jacoby Jones to force overtime), Tom Brady and the monkey on his back about coming up “big” after a rocky season. But this was hardly Flacco’s first playoff rodeo, having won at least one playoff game in each of his five seasons to date, including three trips to the AFC Championship game with one victory coming a week and a half ago in Foxboro, leading Baltimore’s charge to its second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. No quarterback has more road playoff wins than No. 5.

RELATED: Flacco, Kaepernick First Pair Of Super Bowl QBs Never To Make Pro Bowl

Naturally, Flacco wants a big paycheck. The Ravens didn’t offer him an extension before the year, and all signs point to general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti applying the franchise tag to the Delaware alum, likely resulting in a long-term contract with big dollars.

Thus, the ultimate question raised is: does Flacco deserve an elite contract, thereby escalating him into the elite quarterback stratosphere?

Firstly, the word “elite” when referring to quarterbacks is inherently ridiculous. Everyone has their own definition. Does it mean jaw-dropping, Madden-esque regular season statistics? Postseason success? A flare for fourth-quarter dramatics? Are all three required for being dubbed “elite?”

It has to be the last option. In rating Flacco, let’s look at all three for the sake of argument. 

Regular season stats

This is undoubtedly the weakest portion of Flacco’s resume. He has never, and may never, accrue the gaudy numbers of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Brady or Rodgers. But they certainly aren’t horrific by any stretch, save his accuracy (but there’s a reason for that. Hold that thought). His career bests in each category are as follows: 3,817 yards (2012), 25 touchdowns (2010), 10 interceptions (2010), 7.41 yards per attempt (2010) and 63.1 completion percentage (2009). Combining those stats into a Flacco all-star season, here’s the frequency which his contemporaries achieved those marks: P. Manning (3), Rodgers (3), Brady (2), Tony Romo (1) and Philip Rivers (1).

Though the touchdowns are a bit low, what differentiates Flacco from the rest is his comparatively low completion percentage. In 2012, it was 59.7 percent. Yikes. Just watching him, his short-to-midrange throws can be worrisome at times. But so much of his game relies on deep passing, finding Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith down the field. Riskier passes aren’t completed nearly as much. But he’s amazing throwing those passes. No one right now can toss it deep better than Flacco. Those are just straight facts, homie. 

Postseason success

This is Flacco’s biggest strength of any of the three supposedly “elite” categories. With one Super Bowl bid, three Conference Championship bids and an 8-4 record in just five seasons, Flacco has done well enough to not bomb his team’s chances in some cases (i.e. his 9-for-23 stinker against Miami for his first playoff win ever) to even being the reason for joyous victory (21-for-36, 240 yards, three touchdowns against the Patriots), more so the latter-most category. In the Billy Cundiff/Lee Evans game last season, Flacco was on fire, only losing his first trip to the Super Bowl after his teammates let him down.

Fourth-quarter dramatics

The man has 10 fourth-quarter comebacks in five years, a very respectable number. Of active quarterbacks, he’s tied for 13th. Matt Ryan sits at seventh with 16 comebacks. But outside of Ryan and Jay Cutler, no one else of Flacco’s quarterback generation has done better. Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and Matt Stafford all have fewer. While it’s certainly not the end all be all stat for a quarterback (I mean, John Skelton has more than Aaron Rodgers), it serves as a good indicator of one’s performance along with the other statistic (Important to note: four of Flacco’s comebacks have occurred this season).

So, with all three together, what do you get? A compelling case that Flacco belongs in the upper echelon of QBs.

Flacco’s 2012 salary is $6.76 million, the last year of his rookie deal. His camp believes he outgunned Manning and deserves comparable money, which would be the upwards of at least $18 million. His numbers aren’t the prettiest, no. But it’s hard to argue with the results he’s had a hand in. Imagine if this Ravens team had the legendary Kyle Boller trying to hit Smith or Boldin running past a corner. Wait, don’t do that to your brain. You probably don’t deserve it. So, do right by the guy that brought you to the big dance and put out for him, Ravens brass. I mean, what’s the alternative? Tyrod Taylor or Mysterious Player A? Pay top dollar for a top-flight signal caller, Baltimore. You got to.

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