Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Feb 2013

MMQB: Flacco Extension Talks

This week's MMQB focuses on Joe Flacco's contract (and quarterback contracts in general), wonders what the Bengals will do with their enviable cap situation, and looks at Rob Ryan's history.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 11 Feb 2013

54 comments, Last at 20 Feb 2013, 1:02pm by Noah Arkadia


by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 02/11/2013 - 7:57pm

How is Flacco worth a pair of firsts but Smith is only worth a mid round pick? They're both 28 and while I get that Flacco has just come off an incredible (but probably not sustainable at quite that level) postseason run, Smith had completed one and a half very good seasons before losing his job to Kaepernick. I would have thought that Smith is worth at least a second and possibly more as no starting quarterback has been traded for less than a first in the past 20 years.

N.B. This is more of a complaint about undervaluing Smith than a dig at Flacco.

by Noah Arkadia :: Mon, 02/11/2013 - 11:16pm

I'd say Flacco is worth a low first or a solid second (or would've if he hadn't "won" the SB). Smith, I'd say around a 4th. Back when he was a FA, Smith he got very little interest from around the league. The difference is that Flacco can make the big throw, while Smith is strictly game-manager stuff. As we learned this post-season, that can be the difference between winning the Super Bowl and doing nothing.

Remember, a month or two ago there was a debate about whether the Ravens would even keep Flacco, while Smith can no longer be considered a starter as he's, well, not starting.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 12:36am

But Smith was top ten in DVOA, top ten in QBR and top five in QB rating last year. He completed 25 of his last 27 passes, and that's worth a 4th? It must be more, he's clearly the number one available option for qb needy teams this year, especially if you look back to his improvement in the year before Harbaugh arrived (also cited in FOA).

If it's only getting a 4th then the niners may as well keep him.

by Insancipitory :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 3:16am

Alex Smith doesn't get to take the 9ers epicly loaded offensive line with him. Alex Smith is worth a nothing, since he's going to be released next month. And everyone knows it.

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 10:00am

you could say the same thing about a lot of top qbs though. we build these guys up in our culture like they're some kind of mythical heroes who can succeed on their own, but really every quarterback is hugely dependent on scheme and surrounding talent. even the greats (manning, favre, elway, montana, aikman, young, etc) were surrounded by a ton of talent during their most successful years.

we rarely get to see elite quarterbacks leave teams, so it's hard to see just how much environment matters. anectodally, drew brees was pretty good in san diego while surrounded by an incredible amount of talent, but he didn't go berserk until he went to new orleans and a new scheme, and even then he has risen and fallen with the shifts in surrounding talent (and, often, the health of that talent)

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 6:21pm

Well, we've seen both Manning and Brady with pretty questionable supporting talent, and both (especially Manning) were still highly productive (though of course less so than when surrounded by better talent.

by RickD :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 1:36pm

If I were a franchise badly in need of a QB (of which there are several), I might not wait for Smith to be released.

But then again, I might.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/11/2013 - 11:33pm

Flacco's 2012 post-season was almost as good as this year's. Would have been another SB appearance had Lee Evans been able to hold onto a pass which hit him in both hands.

He's had one bad game in the last three playoff years, and that was that brutal 2011 game against the Steelers where nobody looked good on offense.

by Cro-Mags :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 1:23am

He was crap in that game the Ravens shellacked the Pats in 2010 playoffs. 4/10, 34 yards, 1INT, QBR of 10.0. Not that it mattered.

by Gus (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 7:55pm

He was nursing a lingering hip injury in that game, and pretty clearly not able to do much while playing through it.

Don't get me wrong, Flacco puts up as many stinkers as any good QB, but that one was the result of trying to unsuccessfully play through injury.

by JimZipCode :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 12:06pm

Flacco was not good against Houston in the 2011 playoffs.

EDIT: Or that's the way I remember it. But I just looked at the box score, and he had a 97.1 passer rating in that game, against the #6 defense by DVOA. Not sure why I recall this as a poor performance by Joe. I remember the offense didn't seem to get anything going, and the Ravens needed Ed Reed to seal the game at the end.

Flacco over his last 6 playoff games, which covers the last two postseasons: 15 TDs and 1 INT, 8.6 yds-per-attempt, passer rating of 110. The "bad game" against Pittsburgh in the 2010 postseason came on the road against the #1 DVOA defense; and his stats would look a lot different if Anquan Boldin had held onto a 4th Q TD pass that hit him in the tummy.

Those aren't advanced stats, but still, Joe has done a nice job of making a case for himself as a "winner" and "clutch performer" etc etc.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 7:30am

Brett Favre went for a conditional 4th rounder. Yeah slightly different situation, but there have been starting QB's that have gone for less than a first in the last 20 years.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 11:30am

O.k, how many healthy 28 year old quarterbacks have moved for less than a first.

by blackmallard (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 12:25am

One thing that drives up Flacco's price, if not his "worth" is simply that the Ravens will be much more reluctant to part with him since they don't have Colin Kapernick. Therefore, whether he's "worth" two first rounders or not thats the starting point of what it would take to get him in a trade since Baltimore needs him.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 12:28pm

I'm not saying Taylor is as good as Kaepernick, but they aren't as dissimilar as you might think.

by Monopoly Nerd (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 6:11am

Unsurprising to see Peter King has absolutely no understanding of Monopoly. With jail the most likely square for a player to be on, and Go pretty high up there (from which rolling a 1 is impossible and a three relatively unlikely), the purple squares are much lower in value than, say, the orange squares. Amateur.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 11:32am

That was pretty funny, then he goes all in for the stations too.

by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 11:50am

If you're playing with people of reasonably equal knowledge, the only viable strategy is to roll better than the other guy. All the people I play with know the values and probabilities, so unless you're the first person to land on all of them, you're not getting the oranges, yellows, or light blues with some butthurt.

Railroad Tycoon is ten times the game.

by JimZipCode :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 11:20am

Railroad Tycoon the board game, or the computer game?

I bought RR Tycoon the board game, have not tried to play. My family & friends are intimidated by the ruleset and the setup, it looks complicated. It it's awesome, I will push harder for us to try it.

by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 4:12pm

The board game. It's really not that complex, but I'm also someone that's played Star Fleet Battles, Battletech, etc. 180 page rulebook? Sounds like fun. Axis and Allies is more complex than Railroad Tycoon though.

The hardest concept to communicate to others is that each "delivery" is actually a contract and the delivery happens again in the background every turn, so it's ongoing revenue.

It was also amusing watching a buddy with a graduate degree in finance get himself in a hole where he had to sell more stock to pay dividends.

Anyway...really well done game, and bidding for the right to go first and no dice eliminates the chance aspect. The board setup and community cards are random, but no one can gain an advantage. Only the people cards randomly dealt out have an uncontrollable effect.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 02/14/2013 - 12:56pm

I don't know those games, but Settlers of Catan is a truly great board game, combining luck, strategy, and people skills.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by nat :: Thu, 02/14/2013 - 2:06pm

I've got two sheep, and I'm looking for a starting quarterback. Any takers? Anybody?

by Noah Arkadia :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 6:56pm

Two sheep and a clay and it's a deal.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by nat :: Wed, 02/20/2013 - 7:55am

Done. Unless.... you're not with the Jets, are you?

by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 02/20/2013 - 1:02pm

Jets? No, no, no, no, no...

Ok, you got me.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by Sifter :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 4:26pm

Just on the issue of what an appropriate trade price for Smith would be....

Drew Bledsoe got traded for a 1st in the next years draft to Buffalo (so equivalent of a 2nd using the trade chart), after Brady took his spot at QB1. Bledsoe was a 30 years old, with 3 pro bowls and 2 2nd team all-pro selections under his belt at that point. He also had the excuse of injury being the reason Brady was ahead of him. Yet only worth a 2nd.

Mark Brunell is another guy who came to mind. Solid starter, got overtaken by a rookie (Leftwich), and got traded away afterwards. Google tells me he was worth a 3rd rounder in trade (and a whopping contract) to the Redskins. Differences being: Brunell was in his early 30s, not late 20s like Smith; Brunell had 3 career Pro Bowls; and he went to the Redskins, who presumably overpaid for him like they did for everything else back then.

So 4th rounder doesn't seem too far fetched to me for a lesser guy that everyone knows is useless to the 49ers. If/when Smith is cut, THEN we might see teams value him more, but in the meantime it will only be teams desperate for help that would be willing to reward the 49ers for their dead weight. Similar story for Matt Flynn.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 5:33pm

Matt Schaub: two 2nd round draft picks, and a swap of first round picks, Atlanta moving up two spots.

Matt Cassel: 2nd round draft pick.

Charlie Whitehurst: 3rd round draft pick and a swap of 2nd round draft picks, San Diego moving up 20 spots.

Kevin Kolb: 27 years old when traded to Arizona for CB Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round draft pick.

Trent Green: 29 years old traded for a 1st and a fifth.

Bledsoe, Cutler and Carson Palmer went for more but given that Smith completed over 70% of his passes last year and has thrown 44 Tds for 20 ints over his last three years, I find it hard to see how he's only worth a 4th. He has to be worth more than Whitehurst and has a much more solid track record than Kolb. (I thought Brunell was washed up at the time, I don't think he's a very good comparison)

The only way to make that case is if you assume that he will be released but I think that is less likely if there are at least two teams after him as they then have an incentive to avoid losing out. I'm not sure that there is as much of a clock on the niners as people have suggested, it depends on whether they think losing $1 million of cap room is worth a decent pick. The 'doing the right thing by Smith' concept has been pretty comprehensively dismissed by Harbaugh.

(One minor quibble, the trade chart doesn't discount picks in future years, it's more of a unofficial convention and frankly any GM stupid enough to agree to discounting their own picks should be fired on the spot. Just look at how it's screwed up the Panthers recently and look to how the Pats were able to shaft half the league for so long and repeatedly get great draft value.)

by Dean :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 5:36pm

In all 5 of your examples, the team who acquired the QB believed that they were acquiring a starter who at minimum would play at a high level, and possibly have the potential to be a franchise QB. Simply put, the 31 other NFL GMs don't believe that about Alex Smith. If SF holds out for a 2nd round pick, most likely they'll end up with nothing.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 6:25pm

This. No one, rightly or wrongly, takes seriously the idea that there is any real chance of Smith ever being better than a league average starter. There's no upside to overpay for.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 6:49pm

So what value would you put on a league average quarterback (assuming that is what Smith is)?

by Gus (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 7:58pm

I'd guess a high third rounder, low second rounder. Certainly not a fourth, or a first.

by Dean :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 9:03am

We're looking at a servicable stopgap. Yes, he's young, but that can be factored out because regardless of your age, if Alex Smith is your starting QB, you're looking for an upgrade. So whether he's 25 or 35, you're planning on him holding down the fort for a year or two until you can get something better. If I'm a QB needy team, I can get guys like that off the free agency heap every year, so why would I give up a draft choice at all? Granted, there is a happy medium, and there's probably a team out there who likes Smith more than the free agents - enough to part with something of value for his services. From that perspective, the BEST I'd hope for would be a 4th. If they get more than a 4th for him, it'll be a real tip of the hat to the 49ers management.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 10:26am

That covers most of my thoughts on it. The other trades that involved higher picks were gambles that you are getting your starter for the next 5+ years in that trade. Since the average career of a player that makes an opening day roster is 6 years, and pretty much every first round draft pick makes the opening day roster, that is one of the valuations that needs to come into play.

If you think that Alex Smith will be your best option for at least 4 years you might consider giving up a 1st or 2nd. With the impact of young quarterbacks, even with this being a poor draft class, I don't see why you would think that. There could be a high school senior this year that you might want to start over him in 3 years. If your starting QB is Alex Smith, and Aaron Rodgers falls to you at the 25th pick he doesn't sit on the bench for 3 years behind Smith, like he did behind Favre. He was replaced by a guy who sat for a year and a half, he would have been replaced by Luck, Griffin, Wilson, and Tannehill too I'm sure. No one believes his upside is any better than what we saw this year. So if you have one of the best offensive lines in the league, and one of the best defenses in the league, a very physically gifted tight end (or a WR if you don't have the TE), and some serviceable wide receivers you can put Alex Smith on that team and feel confident that you will be a Super Bowl contender. So most of the teams that have established QB's already.

Oddly if I were Andy Reid in KC, I might give up a 2nd for him. I think that team could ride Smith for 4 years or so and use the other picks to fill in the holes they have. That team looks to me like one that has talent that just hasn't been coached as well as it should have been. Yes Smith is a better than starters for at least 10 other teams, and he'll play for one for a couple of years, but they will be looking to replace him. I don't see a lot of fits that would be willing to make him the guy for a moderate amount of time. He may end up doing that, but not by choice.

by mathesond :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 1:22pm

"If I'm a QB needy team, I can get guys like that off the free agency heap every year"

Such as?

by Dean :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 3:26pm

This year? Ryan FitzPatrick. In previous years? Guys like, say, early-career Jason Campbell. There's always a guy you can start if you have to but you don't want to build a team around.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 3:38pm

FItzpatrick isn't a free agent.

by Dean :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 4:32pm


by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 1:49pm

We should also avoid confusing theoretical value with real value. As others have pointed out, Smith's real value is closer to a 6th, as he's not likely to remain a 49er for long and can probably be had for free.

As for what a league average QB is worth, I'm skeptical that exists as a practical concept. I see either QBs that a specific team can win the Super Bowl with (or have done so) or placeholders (when it becomes clear a team would have to be much better than it's practical to expect to win the Super Bowl with a certain QB, he becomes a placeholder). A guy that gets benched in the middle of the season for a an unproven 2nd round draft pick is surely a placeholder. Teams don't play around with that kind of stuff. They're very stubborn about sticking with the guy they feel they can win the big game with, no matter how awful he's playing at the moment.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 6:13pm

Flacco isn't an 'elite' QB. He's not worth top of the league money - he isn't Manning, he isn't Brady, he isn't Rodgers ... but he's somewhere in the top 10 or if nothing else the possibility of ditching him and not being able to find a decent replacement means he's worth top 10 money.

To me the question is will Flacco accept a decent amount of money that is near the top of the heap but that possibly offends his ego because it shows him he's not quite the best there is.

I suspect there's some form of backloaded contract that could be done to appease any ego by having him sign the richest QB contract ever, but that will never actually pay out the final year salary that boosted it to that level. (Think Steve McNair's $50million in the final year at the Titans).

by iron_greg :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 6:37pm

When you have a postseason matched only by one other person ever, and that person is Joe Montana, you have earned the right to call yourself elite and top of league money.

The real truth is that the group of Flacco detractors out there don't want to admit that they were wrong so they have arguments like "well he was MVP once, but he's not elite until twice" or "well sure he had the best postseason in NFL history, but

by stinky (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 7:21pm

Since you seem to be a Flacco fan, would you give up 2 first round picks as well as a top contract for Flacco's services? I like Flacco fine, but I find that if I treat the potential draft picks he could net as if they were already in my hands, rather than just a possibility, I become much more comfortable with him departing. So, basically, treat those draft picks as an additional expense, beyond just the contract he is asking for.

As for the "elite" or "MVP" factors,I don't know or care. People who say he needs to produce more to earn the elite label are just as silly as people who feel that there is no price too great to pay for him.

In the end, I think the bigger question is going to be who the Ravens provide for him to throw to, since drafting wideouts has never been their strength. Anquan will be gone soon enough, leaving only Torrey who hasn't quite become a complete receiver (though he is good). If they resign Flacco they wouldn't have the money to trade for or sign a top veteran wideout as they have done in the past, which could again make Joe a very ineffective $20 million man.

by Gus (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 7:59pm

As another Flacco fan, I have to say that a team would be insane to give up two first rounders for him.

by stinky (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 8:35pm

I would tend to agree that 2 firsts would be insane. That raises the question of why people seem to think the team should pay him in the $17-20 million dollar range. If he is worth that much in salary, but we agree he isn't worth 2 firsts, how does that make any sense? I can't imagine such a discrepancy existing if a 28 year old Peyton, Brady, Brees or Rodgers were on the market. The Ravens should probably just dangle him and see if anyone is insane enough to bite.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 8:34pm

Depends where in the round they come.

Based on career AV, he's almost exactly been worth a low first and a high second. His career to date has been the average career for a #2 pick. He's already the 6th best #18 pick ever.

Over the course of his career, he's probably a two-firsts guy, with about a first round equivalent left in the tank.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 02/14/2013 - 1:03pm

What exactly is that record? Is it not throwing a pick because Jim McMahon didn't throw a pick in the '85 postseason and either threw for or ran in two TDs per game. Does that not count or is it less fun inferring that Flacco will go on to have a career like McMahon's and not Montana's?

by iron_greg :: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 6:34pm

Peter King might put together the most boring and absurd article in the NFL mainstream media. No one who watched that press conf would conclude that Flacco could possibly leave BAL. His notion speaks either of deliberately being crazy to garner attention (wouldn't surprise me given SI's deteriorating relevance) or more likely him just being so hilariously out of touch. Half his article is about the crazy idea of FLacco being let walk and the other half is about checking into hotels and airports. BORING

by Anonymous2 (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 4:50pm


by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 7:26am

Bill Belichick is my measuring stick for how to run an organisation ... what I wonder is whether he'd be willing to pay Flacco the money to keep him, or whether he'd just slot Mallet in and refine the system to his strengths. I wonder if Harbaugh has that mental self-belief also?

by dryheat :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 10:06am

With the alternative being two draft picks and the 20 million to spend elsewhere on the roster, I don't think Belichick would spend more than 10 minutes considering it and would welcome an offer sheet.

by JimZipCode :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 12:10pm

20 mil is not on the table for Flacco. Ravens will franchise him because they have to, which I think means a contract in the ~14 or 15 mil range (is that right?).

by dryheat :: Wed, 02/13/2013 - 4:01pm

The non-exclusive tag number is 14.6 million. The exclusive tag will be somewhere between 19 and 20.5, depending on any contract re-works by the highest-paid QBs. Either way I don't think Flacco would be signing it -- he just came off a "prove it" year, he's probably not keen on another one. However, if he did sign it, there would be some serious cap ramifications.

Baltimore could go for the non-exclusive number, but it would allow any team to make an offer. A team like Cleveland could sign Flacco to an offer sheet that Baltimore couldn't match without gutting their team.

Flacco's really in an enviable position. Either Baltimore N-E's him and decides that 2 first-rounders and cap room are an acceptable price for losing him, or they E-him, which Flacco doesn't need to sign. So they can try to work out a long-range deal, but Flacco / Linta would probably shoot for an average of the ~44 million that he would make being franchised in 2013 and 2014, so ~22 million a season. They would likely take a little bit less for a longer term deal, say an average of 20 million a year on a four-year deal, all guaranteed -- at least against injury. The question then becomes do Ozzie and company do that deal.

My feeling is that unless Flacco is willing to give a steep hometown discount (which the NFLPA would likely strongly discourage) or Ozzie views him as a rough equal as Brees and Rodgers, come August he'll either be with another team, or embroiled in a long holdout.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 02/14/2013 - 5:54pm

It's a no-brainer. N-E, and if someone's crazy enough to sign him to an offer sheet, laugh all the way to the bank.

by JimZipCode :: Fri, 02/15/2013 - 4:44am

Teams tend to overvalue first round picks. So Ozzie may gamble that no one will want to spend 2 #1s. He made a similar gamble when Ray Lewis was a free-agent a couple years ago.

Ozzie might also think that Joe would give him a chance to match an offer.

by fmtemike :: Fri, 02/15/2013 - 5:17am

May I just point out that the Monopoly iron is heavy, flat, and produces lots of hot air.