Joe Flacco’s impeccable timing earned him the richest contract for a quarterback in NFL history. That doesn’t mean he’s the game’s best QB.
Flacco agreed to a six-year, $120.6 million deal Friday after leading the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl title. He gambled by playing out his five-year rookie contract rather than renegotiate before last season. And it paid off, catapulting him to the top of the money list at the game’s glamor position.
A look at perhaps the league’s 10 best quarterbacks shows Flacco the equal of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers for championship rings with one each. At 28, his chances of adding to those titles seem better than those for Manning (37 this month), and Brees (34).
Even though Flacco has surpassed the future earnings of every NFL quarterback – for now – does he measure up as a player? And where in the top 10 does he belong?
Here’s a look at the résumés of those quarterbacks, in order of how much they will make in base salary for 2013:
• Joe Flacco, Baltimore: Flacco already has set records for road playoff victories (six) and is the only QB to win postseason games in his first five seasons. But this was the first time he could get the Ravens to the Super Bowl in five tries. Of course, they won, and he was superb in January and February.
His base salary is unknown until details of his new contract become available when he signs it, likely this week.
• Peyton Manning, Denver: His $20 million base is befitting the NFL’s only four-time MVP, all with Indianapolis. After missing 2011 because of neck operations, he moved to Denver and nearly won the award again. No one with the Broncos is complaining about Manning’s salary after he helped turn the team into a title favorite again.
• Eli Manning, New York Giants: Peyton’s younger brother has one more Super Bowl championship to his credit, and his postseason work in the 2007 and 2011 seasons more than offsets some inconsistent regular-season performances. He will make $13 million in base salary and his salary cap hit, including signing bonus, tops the league: $20.85 million.
• Philip Rivers, San Diego: No Super Bowls to go with the $12 million the Chargers owe him in salary this year. Then again, Rivers has seen the talent base around him diminished by trades, free agency, injuries and bad management decisions, even as he entered the prime of his career. A tough player – he once played an AFC championship game with torn knee ligaments – and aggressive leader who flourished with stars around him, but no more.
• Tony Romo, Dallas: Some would say Romo’s inability to produce in big games, regular season or playoffs, makes his $11.5 million payday (plus another $5.3 million against the salary cap) ludicrous. Others would argue the Cowboys never would contend without him. Regardless, he is making more this year than four Super Bowl winners.
• Matt Ryan, Atlanta: After finally winning a playoff game following three losses, maybe Ryan won’t be heavily criticized for how much he makes ($10 million). His improvement has been steady, though, and some rate him as more efficient than Flacco.
• Drew Brees, New Orleans: Brees had the biggest QB contract at $100 million over five years before Flacco one-upped him. The unquestionable leader of the Saints, and a record-setting passer, Brees is in the perfect place with the perfect offense for his skills. At a $9.75 million salary in 2013, he’s a Big Easy bargain.
• Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay: Probably the next quarterback to get a huge new deal, Rodgers has been so good the last three years, including one NFL title, that the folks in Titletown no longer miss Brett Favre. So his $9.25 million salary looks cheap.
• Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: At $2.6 million, the two-time Super Bowl winner is scheduled to make less in salary than Carson Palmer or Kevin Kolb this year. Again, this is a situation where the total compensation is wrapped up in bonuses – just under $11 million. It’s difficult to argue that Roethlisberger hasn’t lived up to those numbers with three Super Bowl trips in nine pro seasons.
• Tom Brady, New England: How in the world did Brady land this low? Well, the three-time Super Bowl champ and two-time MVP always has done cap-friendly deals with the Patriots. He renegotiated last week and upped his guaranteed money to $33 million over the next five years, but gets only $1 million in salary in 2013.
Brady plans to play until he is 40, desperately seeking another championship; the last one came in 2004. Who knows how much he might be earning then?