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Today In Fun, Vaguely Possible Rumors: Joe Flacco To The Browns?

  • Matt Rudnitsky

Joe Flacco just won Super Bowl XLVII for the Baltimore Ravens. He is a free agent. Common sense dictates he will get a fat contract — from the Ravens, that is. But there’s a rumor that the Cleveland Browns could be interested, so interested that they could actually pull this off and enter the 2013 NFL season with Joe Flacco as their quarterback.

The rumor didn’t come from @BrownsRock62 or BrownsRDaBest Message Boards or even F***theRavens.org, either: it came from Peter King, highly respected NFL insider.

From his always informative MMQB column:

The Ravens have until March 4 to sign or put a franchise tag on Flacco, whose rookie contract expired after his heroic postseason run. If they don’t sign him to a contract by then, the Ravens have to decide whether to designate Flacco their franchise player or their exclusive-rights franchise player…

It has been presumed that if the Ravens can’t sign Flacco before the March 4 franchise-tagging deadline that they’d exercise the exclusive tag. That would mean committing a $20 million guaranteed salary — with another $24 million due Flacco in 2014 if Baltimore had to exercise a tag again next year. Two years, $44 million … significantly more than Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady make now. The regular franchise tag for quarterbacks, meanwhile, is $14.5 million.

(The exclusive tag would cost the Ravens $5.5 million because it’s based on an average of the current year’s QB salaries, rather than last year’s, which determine the regular franchise tag’s amount. Brees and Manning got fat contracts last year, making this a pretty steep jump.)

King points out that the Ravens are currently $5 million over the $121 million salary cap, completely excluding Flacco’s potential contract. To validate the rumor, King includes a quote from Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti:

“We’ve proven it two years in a row that we can kind of shock the world and disappoint our fans at the same time, by letting some of these guys go, but letting young guys fill in and then going out and getting good values on the free-agent market.”

Newsome: “We will not repeat what we did in 2001 [after winning the Super Bowl, when Baltimore restructured and overspent to make one more run at a title]. We’re trying to build where we can win Super Bowls more than just one more time. I think our team is structured differently this time also. We do have some veterans that will probably be retiring but we have a great nucleus of young players and players that are just heading into their prime that we’re going to build this team around.”

The quote obviously doesn’t mean that the Ravens would give up their franchise quarterback when they have the chance to guarantee his presence for another year, but it does mean they’ll think outside of the box. So, it means this is a fun, vague possibility.

King is just speculating, but he posits that if the Ravens opt to make Flacco their regular, not exclusive, franchise player, the Browns may have a shot. They’re $48 million under the cap, and King points out that it would be basically impossible for the Ravens to match an absurd, front-loaded contract like a 5-year, $110 million deal with $35 million in the first season. He also mentions Buffalo as a possible suitor.

But remember, the Ravens know this, and they can guarantee at least one more season of Flacco by giving him the exclusive rights franchise tag. They know everything that Peter King is pointing out, and they’ll only give another team a chance to get Flacco if they’re really that desperate to save $5 million, or they’re 100% sure nobody will be able to steal him (which seems like it isn’t the case).

One more thing about what Bisciotti and Newsome implied the other day. Committing a cap number of $20 million to Flacco this year would cut off the ability to franchise any other players in the next two years — like much-needed linebacker Dannell Ellerbe or pass-rusher Paul Kruger this year — and it hamstrings the ability of the team to make smart football decisions over the next two years. Exclusive-tagging Flacco would likely, but not certainly, mean the losses of Ellerbe and Kruger and the iconic Ed Reed, and maybe even Anquan Boldin if he won’t lower his $7.5 million salary for 2013. Reed’s understandable. Losing two of the others, or all three, would be major blows.

So, there’s an argument to be made here. If the Ravens think like the average fan, they’ll say, ZOMG FLACCO! SUPER BOWL! And they’ll give him the exclusive tag. If they think like the average contrarian, they’ll say FLUKE-O! MEDIOCRE REGULAR SEASON QUARTERBACK! RIP-OFF! ALEX SMITH! CHEAP! And they’ll give him the regular tag, and there’s a decent chance they’ll watch him play for a division rival. If they think like a smart football team (which I’m sure they do), they will either sign him to a long-term, cap-friendly deal, or, if they can’t, determine how valuable Flacco is and see if he’s worth hamstringing their finances for next year. Remember, this is just a $5 million commitment this year. Which is why this is probably all just wild speculation. But I’m not a Capologist (which is a thing, despite the red underline displayed in my browser).

It’s seems unlikely that the Ravens would risk going from Flacco to Alex Smith or Tyrod Taylor or Matt Flynn or whomever over $5 million, but the salary cap does strange things to people. I once traded Tom Brady for a Jets sixth-rounder to get under the salary cap in Madden 2012. Some say World War III will start if J.J. Watt is poached to a potential London franchise. A Flacco-to-Browns trade may start a civil war. And Flacco was just an above-average quarterback in the regular season, so they might be hesitant in giving him a top-tier deal, when they’re already in a bind, salary-cap-wise.

Will this happen? Probably not. But we’ll know soon. And wouldn’t it be great to watch the Browns cut their second-year, unproven first-round quarterback for a proven, Super-Bowl-winner who is actually younger than their old guy? Jesus, Brandon Weeden is old. He kind of looks like a modern-day Larry Bird, hugging Flacco up there.

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