We haven’t talked about… we’ll much recently, but the story dominating the news of late has been Joe Flacco’s impending big money deal.

Reports indicate agent Joe Linta is seeking top quarterback money, while the Ravens are hesitant to give him such a deal, particularly with cap concerns as they stand in  Baltimore.

The most recent development is the reported “taking one for the team” contract extension Tom Brady just signed. Let’s dispel those rumors right now. Brady took a significant cash bonus now to drop his cap number. Brady is still getting his money, just in a more cap friendly way. This allows the Patriots to be aggressive in free agency if they like a player out there *cough cough* Ed Reed *cough cough*.

Flacco meanwhile has been getting blasted in Baltimore for not “taking a discount” to help the team. This is a ridiculous notion. The man just won a Superbowl on an expiring contract. The proverbial gamble played by player and team now has to be paid by the Ravens. You don’t underpay a player for doing exactly what you ask him to do.

First things first. I will put the odds that the Ravens non-exclusively franchise Flacco at about 10%. Likewise, if they do that, I’ll put the odds that Flacco signs with another team at about 2%. He fits the scheme and system in Baltimore and going to Cleveland, Arizona, New York, where ever is not an ideal situation, but money can move mountains so to speak.

Secondly, the Ravens are already over 16 mil on their offer. This is because they came to Flacco with a top 5 contract just before the 2012 season and he turned it down. This means that the contract negotiations are somewhere between 16 and 21 mi. The potential cap hit there is huge. If we look to Drew Bree’s contract, which guaranteed 40 million as a base, Flacco is likely expecting guarantees in that ball park.

The rub here is the situation that the Saints currently find themselves in. Drew Brees’ contract has cap hits of 17.4, 18.4, 26.4, and 27.4 up until 2016.  Those are massive numbers to carry with a 123 mil salary cap. Teams have been building these massive contracts for quarterbacks with the assumption that the salary cap will continually jump, but the almost stagnant cap (it will increase by 2.4 mil this year reportedly), has resulted in a much higher percentage of the cap being occupied by one player than originally intended. The Ravens are aware of this situation and currently attempting to predict the cap 5-7 years down the road to create a team friendly contract that still pays Flacco market value.

Another situation is the likely restructuring that Flacco will undergo in any contract of this magnitude. The Steelers have been restructuring contracts for years, resulting in the loss of players like Mike Wallace, a player many teams covet for his talents. The Steelers desire to keep certain veterans continues to cost them promising younger talent, which is a situation the Ravens apparently wish to avoid. The Ravens prefer to sign long-term deals with players that “will finish out their contracts” as Ozzie Newsome stated.

With a major cap crushing contract that will likely need to be restructured repeatedly (like Ben Roethlisberger’s is and Drew Brees’ likely will be), the Ravens need to expect to do the same and plan other contracts accordingly.

This brings me to how I would approach this contract situation. I am not an NFL GM, but it’s always a fun exercise for me to approach situations as if I was.

Taking Drew Brees’ recent deal as a bench mark we have a 5 year contract with salaries of 3 mil, 9.75 mil, 10.75 mil, 18.75 mil, and 19.75 mil. He also received a 37 mil signing bonus which is spread out as a 7.4 mil over the 5 years.

His cap numbers then are 10.4, 17.4, 18.4, 26.4, and 27.4. In the world of the NFL, contracts only go higher, not lower. Which means we should expect at least a 40 mil signing bonus at least. This means we have at least an 8 mil cap hit each year from just the bonus.

If the Ravens want to minimize the damage this year, at the expense of future years, they’ll need to keep his salary low to start and increase it every year for the length of a 5 year deal.

According to Spotrac, a phenomenal website devoted to team salaries, the Ravens are projected to have a cap number of 106 before Flacco is brought on board, as well as any other free agents and UFAs. Add in the 8 mil to start, and we’re at 114 give or take. If we assume the cap number as 123 (still a large assumption), we have approximately 9 mil to work with.

Now to look at other situations connected to this, ie the top free agents for the Ravens – Dannell Ellerbe and Ed Reed. With Reed we have a stronger understanding of his value. He considers himself the best safety in the NFL, though will likely not seek a salary that high. Polamalu currently receives the highest salary at 7.5, while Weddle just signed a contract with a 6 mil salary. Weddle got 13 million as a signing bonus which is 2.6 spread out of over 5 years. I’ll make the assumption that Reed won’t play 5 more years, so he’ll be looking for a deal 3 years or less. The Ravens can pay Reed a base of 1 mil with a 9 mil signing bonus, which would be about 4 million against the cap, which is means we’re down to 5 million left in the cap for Ellerbe and Flacco’s salary.

Ellerbe is tough to determine his value. I’m going to utilize Jameel McClain, who just signed a contract with the Ravens a last year and looks comparable in talent and production, and Desmond Bishop of Green Bay who seems to have a similar role and skill set.

McClain signed a 3 year 10.5 mil contract with 3.6 guaranteed, while Bishop signed a 4 year 19.5 mil contract with 3.2 signing bonus. Both of these are doable with some room left for free agents. If the Ravens really trust Ellerbe (questionable as he is reportedly hot and cold with Harbaugh), they can lock him up for 5 years 20 mil and a 4 mil signing bonus which would be a hit of 800 k a year plus salary. If they don’t it can be a 3 year deal similar to McClain’s, perhaps at 12 mil at 3.6 which would be 1.2 over 3 years.

Looking at the bigger hit, we have 3.8 million for Flacco and Ellerbe’s salary. Now we’re working on how much each wants in salary. If Flacco is willing to take less than Brees and sit at 2.8 while Ellerbe takes 1, the situation works well. If Flacco demands 3 or higher, then Ellerbe may need to settle for less (600 – 800 k).

Still, this shows that the Ravens can handle this contract without destroying some of their defensive chemistry and lock up their hall of fame safety for his career. If Ed is willing to shoot for less than he’s worth, it will open up even more doors for them, unfortunately they won’t know that until Flacco is locked up most likely, but with preliminary figures for what Linta is seeking, they can approach Ellerbe and Reed’s (eventual) agent with some speculative figures to gauge interest.

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