In a little more than two months, Joe Flacco went from a much-maligned quarterback to Super Bowl Most Valuable Player to the highest-paid player in the history of the NFL.
The Ravens agreed to terms with Flacco on a six-year deal worth $120.6 million Friday night, according to team and league sources. There are still some issues to be worked out, but the 28-year-old quarterback is expected to finalize the deal Monday at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills.
“We have the parameters of a deal completed with Joe,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement released by the team. “We still have some language and details that need to be worked out.”
Added Flacco's agent Joe Linta: "We did have a conversation. The Ravens seem to have agreed to the terms we put forth. However, we haven't seen it. Until we do, the deal isn't complete."
Once complete, the deal would make Flacco the highest-paid player in league history, surpassing New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Seven months ago, Brees signed a five-year, $100 million deal that included $61 million guaranteed over the first three years of the contract. Flacco is due to make more than Brees in the first three years of the contract, according to sources.
For Flacco, arguably the city's most accomplished pro quarterback since Johnny Unitas, the deal validates not only his belief that he is one of the game's elite quarterbacks but also his decision prior to last season to decline an offer from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti that would have paid him a salary in line with that of a top-five quarterback.
For the Ravens, the signing takes care of their top offseason priority and, if there were any lingering doubt, solidifies Flacco's status as the franchise quarterback.
Flacco erased all doubt with one of the best postseasons ever by an NFL quarterback. He threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions as he led the Ravens to the team's second Super Bowl title in 12 years..
In a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco threw three first-half touchdowns and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to repel the 49ers' comeback attempt.
Flacco was technically eligible to hit free agency on March 12, but the Ravens were determined not to let him get to the open market, where a number of quarterback-needy teams almost certainly would have pounced.
They had until Monday to reach an agreement or franchise Flacco, which would have cost the Ravens either $14.9 million for the non-exclusive tag or just less than $20 million for the exclusive one. Only the exclusive tag would have kept other teams from talking with Flacco and his agent, Joe Linta.
But with Flacco now signed, the Ravens are expected to have a little more room under the salary cap to try to reach an agreement with a group of key free agents that includes linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Ed Reed.
The news of Flacco's deal was met with celebration from several of his teammates Friday night, including running back Ray Rice.
“Dinner and a few nights on Joe Flacco when we get back,” Rice joked on his Twitter account, adding that the new deal was “well deserved.”
All along, Newsome was confident that the two sides would get a deal done. Flacco repeatedly said that he wanted and expected to be a Raven for a long time. As the Ravens found out, however, reaching an agreement wasn't easy. Bisciotti has said that the organization made an offer before the start of last season that would have made Flacco among the game's highest-paid quarterbacks, but when Linta's asking price wasn't met, the two sides agreed to put off talks until after the season.
For much of the 2012-13 regular season, it appeared Flacco would regret that decision. He started all 16 regular-season games, which he has done every year of his five-year career, and set career highs in passing yards (3,817) and completions (317). However, consistency remained an issue, so much so that Ravens coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with just three games remaining in the regular season.
For Flacco, the low point of the regular season came late in the first half of the Ravens' 34-17 home loss to the Denver Broncos in mid-December. Flacco threw an interception that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Chris Harris. After his last-ditch attempt at tackling Harris came up short, Flacco lay face down on the turf.
He was booed by the home crowd as he took the field for the next possession, but that was the last interception he would throw in that season. Flourishing under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, he threw 15 touchdowns to finish the season.
“I saw a guy just maturing the way we would expect him to mature,” Bisciotti said after the Super Bowl victory in February. “I didn't expect him to change, and he is who he is. And his demeanor, we're very comfortable with. I said that I believe that the fans will be rewarded because of Joe's demeanor and Joe will be appreciated for it if he wins, and we believe he's going to continue to win. Now he gets to say, ‘I told you so.'”
Even before the Super Bowl run, which raised Flacco's profile and silenced his most vocal critics, the quarterback out of Delaware already had rewritten the Ravens' record book and set numerous NFL marks. The 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft is the Ravens' all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and attempts. He's the only starting quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, and he is 9-4 in the playoffs, with six of those wins coming on the road.
His 63 total wins are the most by a starter since 2008, when he entered the league, and his 93 starts are the most to begin a career by any quarterback in NFL history.
“I'm really excited for Joe,” Ravens center Gino Gradkowski said earlier this week, anticipating the deal. “Joe really earned this. He's a hardworking guy, a great leader. He had a great year. I think he silenced a lot of critics.”
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