Read that headline again. I mean really read it, and feel it.
That’s the question we’re essentially discussing as Joe Flacco begins his quest to rob all of the banks, just days after he was named the Super Bowl MVP.
Flacco is a pending free agent, and eventually he’ll be signed to a lucrative long-term contract by the Ravens. It may not happen until the middle of the Summer, and it may require the use of the franchise tag in the interim. But it’ll happen, as no competent franchise would allow the championship-game MVP to walk.
But as both the Ravens and by extension the rest of the NFL community (see: us) begin to scrutinize Flacco’s long-term value after his agent said that he deserves to be the highest paid quarterback (and therefore the highest paid player in the league), it’s difficult to abandon our recency bias. We primarily remember what happened yesterday, or this week, or this month, and not a player’s entire body of work. It’s hard to get past this tendency, because it’s such a fundamental human habit. Right now upon just hearing Joe Flacco’s name the image of him holding the Lombardi Trophy immediately flashes in your mental slideshow, followed by his key throws in Sunday’s game.
Try you must, though, because the evaluation of Flacco’s play and potential becomes much deeper than that, and the Aaron Rodgers question is a central one.
To be the game’s highest paid player at his position, Flacco will need to receive more annual cash than both Peyton Manning (who earns $19.2 million per year), and Drew Brees (who earns $20 million annually). When Brees signed his contract last summer, he set the benchmark for the elite (*cringes so hard*) quarterback paycheck. Right now we’re all focused on Flacco’s quest to meet that mark, but a year from now — or sooner — another somewhat talented quarterback will take the same spotlight as a deadline for him to reach an extension looms.
His name is Aaron Rodgers. You might know him.
Next fall, Rodgers will begin a season in which he’ll be payed just $9.5 million. Then after that at the age of 30 — meaning like Flacco, he’s very much in his prime (Flacco is currently 28) — Rodgers will be set to enter the final season of a six-year deal signed in 2008 that’s worth $65 million.
Let’s hypothetically assume Flacco gets his wish, and he gets Brees money. Not because he matches Brees’ talent (hahahahaha). No, because he’s much younger than Brees, and has had the good fortune of catering to the aforementioned recency bias, and peaking at the right time. Cool, that’s terrific for you, Joe.
So if Joe Flacco is worth $20 million annually, then what the hell will Rodgers be worth a year later during his extension negotiations? During the ongoing Flacco debate, you’ll hear discussion of Brees’ contract often, and Manning’s money, and to a lesser extent Tom Brady’s ($15.7 million annually). But although they’re all elite (*cringes harder*) talents, they provide poor comparisons due to their age. Rodgers, meanwhile, is only a year older than Flacco, and his résumé is, um, better.
Hey, nice Super Bowl MVP trophy, Joe. Rodgers has one of those too, and he’s also been named the NFL MVP. You know, the one for the whole season. The Packers quarterback has made three trips to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, while Flacco hasn’t been once. For his career, Flacco has a completion percentage of 60.5, while Rodgers is at 65.7. Rodgers is also significantly ahead in passer rating (104.9 to 86.7) and yards per attempt (8.1 to 7.1).
If he maintains that pace for one more year, Rodgers doesn’t deserve just Brees or Flacco money. He deserves more, and that could quickly become a problem, with Matt Ryan also set to look for a similar raise even sooner (he’s entering the final year of a contract this fall, and he’ll also target Brees cash in an extension).
We’re beginning a period when QB deals will explode and inflate rapidly. Rodgers has said that everybody will be watching to see the outcome of Flacco’s negotiations. He’ll be watching with one hand on the phone, and his agent on speed dial.
The core question remains Rodgers vs. Flacco, and which quarterback has more long-term value. To most, the answer is incredibly easy (the guy who plays his home games in Green Bay), but the bias of recent results will put Flacco on the same level as Rodgers.
That feels…odd, but it’s always been an NFL reality. A premium position gets a premium paycheck.