The Quarterback Conundrum

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    CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01: Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates a touchdown with teammate Breshad Periman #18 during their game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.The Bengals defeated the Ravens 27-10. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

    Rumors have been running wild about how much money the Oakland Raiders are going to pay quarterback Derek Carr. The most persistent of these rumors is that he’ll make $25 million dollars a season. That would make him the NFL’s highest paid player. Derek Carr still has a losing record in the NFL, and while he’s on the way up, he’s hardly the NFL’s best quarterback. Let’s break down the quarterback conundrum.

    The Quarterback Conundrum

    It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the quarterback market was destroyed, but if one had to guess, it would be March third, 2013. On that day, the Baltimore Ravens signed Joe Flacco to a six-year, $120.6 million contract. While that seems ridiculous now, you have to travel back a few years.

    Over the first four years of Joe Flacco’s contract, he was a perfectly adequate quarterback. His numbers were never outstanding, but they weren’t terrible either. He threw more touchdowns than interceptions, and the Ravens made the playoffs every year. During the regular season, 2012 was much of the same. Flacco failed to break 4,000 yards, and he only threw 22 touchdowns, but he only turned the ball over ten times.

    The real issue was that 2012 was a contract year. Flacco had been an interesting project for Baltimore. He wasn’t good enough to lead them to the promise land, but he wasn’t bad enough to replace either. Many assumed that Flacco would get a perfectly respectable, if unimpressive contract. Then the postseason happened.

    Baltimore Froze Over

    Flacco went on a legendary tear, throwing for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns as he helped lead the Ravens to their second Super Bowl victory. But as the confetti fell, the Ravens came face to face with an ugly truth.

    While Flacco’s career numbers were unimpressive, there was no denying that he put on a show in the playoffs. Ray Lewis‘ retirement inspired the troops, but there’s no question that the Ravens wouldn’t have beaten the San Francisco 49ers without Joe Flacco. Suddenly, their game manager was a bonafide Super Bowl winning quarterback. What could they do?

    At this point, Joe Flacco had all the leverage. He could ask for just about anything he wanted, and that’s exactly what he did. The Ravens had options, but they didn’t really have a choice. They couldn’t let him hit free agency, because there is always a quarterback-needy team that will overpay, just look at Mike Glennon and the Chicago Bears. They could’ve done what the Washington Redskins are doing with Kirk Cousins, giving him the franchise tag every year, but that doesn’t foster a healthy relationship.

    They believed they had their franchise quarterback, and so he was paid like one. He became the NFL’s highest paid player, and the Ravens fully expected that he would live up to the contract. As we know now, that wasn’t the case.

    2013

    In 2013, Joe Flacco had arguably the worst year of his career. Yet again, he failed to break 4,000 yards, and for the first time, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. He didn’t resemble the quarterback that played for the Ravens in the previous postseason at all, and thus, the market was broken.

    From that point on, every quarterback in a contract year had the ultimate trump card. After all, why should a franchise quarterback make less than Joe Flacco? Quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, and Jay Cutler were given huge contracts. That’s not where the real damage was done, however.

    Peyton Manning spent most of his career as the NFL’s highest paid player, but he absolutely deserved it. After all, he was arguably the NFL’s best quarterback for over a decade. But, after Flacco got paid, and the adequate quarterbacks started making money, the cream still had to rise to the top. Good quarterbacks were making great money, so great quarterbacks wanted Manning money.

    2017

    In 2017, the market value of a quarterback is slightly higher than whoever the highest paid quarterback is. Aaron Rodgers wants more than Andrew Luck, and Andrew Luck wants more than Drew Brees. Every time a payday comes around, the market is reset. And it’s easy to see why.

    Barring a freak defense, you need an elite quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Since the year 2000, there have been only four Super Bowls that didn’t star Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady. Only four out of the last 18. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. There aren’t many elite quarterbacks, and if you have one, you can’t afford to them go, even if you can’t afford to keep them.

    So yes, there’s a good chance that the Oakland Raiders will make Derek Carr the NFL’s highest paid player at some point this off-season. Whether or not he deserves to be the NFL’s highest paid player is irrelevant. It just happen’s to be Carr’s turn. Just watch what happens when they start batting Matthew Stafford‘s contract around.

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