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How Joe Flacco paved the way for Derek Carr to become the NFL’s highest-paid player

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Why Derek Carr owes Joe Flacco royalties.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Larry French/Getty Images

Joe Flacco’s 2012 postseason is quite possibly the best postseason run in history. 9.0 yards per attempt, 11 TDs, 0 INTs. The Ravens knocked off the 1 and 2 seeds on their way to a Super Bowl victory over the 49ers. For all the crap Flacco gets about being ‘elite’, the 2012 postseason run was as elite as it gets. But Flacco’s contribution to the modern NFL was not just a sterling postseason run. Rather, it was what came afterwards.

Every QB that has gotten a contract since the 2012 postseason owes Joe Flacco a debt of gratitude. He signed a 6-year, 120 million dollar contract with 29 million dollars guaranteed. While the early cap hits were low at 6.8, 14.8, and 14.55 million dollars, the cap hit in year four would have been 28.55 million dollars. Before the 2016 season, the Ravens extended his deal by three years which reduced his 2016 cap hit by 6 million dollars. To convince Flacco to give up some immediate money (his base salary dropped from 18 million to 6 million dollars in 2016) and allow some much needed cap flexibility, they guaranteed him 44 million dollars. And while the 2013 contract may have had some massive cap hits, it would have ended after the 2018 season or after 2017 with just $4.175 million dollars of dead money on the 2018 cap. Furthermore, the new contract only reduces the cap hit in the first two seasons. His 2018 cap number is the exact same, only with more dead money. His new contract ties him to the Ravens through 2020 (his age 35 season), unless they want to eat 8 million dollars in dead money. All contract numbers from spotrac.com.

The reason I bring this up now, in the middle of June, is that another mediocre QB has just swindled his owner out of millions and millions of dollars. We don’t know all the details yet, but Ian Rapoport is rapoporting that Derek Carr has received a 5-year, 125 million dollar deal with $70 million in guarantees. For reference, Russell Wilson signed a 4-year extension worth 87.6 million dollars with $61.5 million in guarantees before the 2015 season. We can account for the different salary caps by comparing the relative cap hits of the two contracts, Wilson’s average per year was 15.3% of the 2015 salary cap. Carr’s (assuming an average of 25 million per year) is 16.1% of the 2017 salary cap. The decision doesn’t look any rosier when you compare the performance of Wilson and Carr.

Carr vs. Wilson (Seasons 1-3)

Player G Win% Playoff Rec Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Int TD% INT% Sk Yds Y/A AY/A NY/A ANY/A Rush Att Rush Yds Rush TD Rush Y/A
Player G Win% Playoff Rec Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Int TD% INT% Sk Yds Y/A AY/A NY/A ANY/A Rush Att Rush Yds Rush TD Rush Y/A
Derek Carr 47 46.81% 0-0 1732 60.9 11194 81 87.9 31 4.68% 1.79% 71 458 6.5 6.59 5.95 6.08 101 300 0 3
Russell Wilson 48 75.00% 8-2 1252 63.4 9950 72 98.6 26 5.75% 2.08% 119 717 7.9 8.16 6.73 6.93 308 1877 11 6.1

[Author’s Note: I mistakenly over counted Wilson’s playoff wins, he was 6-2 through three seasons, but 8-2 if you count the first round bye as a victory... which I definitely meant to do]

Is Wilson underpaid or is Carr overpaid? The answer is yes. Wilson has exceeded Carr in virtually every possible way. And yet Carr is getting paid more in absolute terms and in relative terms. The Raiders are hoping Carr can overcome his mediocre start to turn into a franchise QB, but we can look at the Ravens to see how paying franchise-QB money to non-franchise QBs works out.

In the years since giving Flacco his contract, he has led the Ravens to records of 8-8, 10-6 (Wild Card), 5-11 (Flacco was 3-7 before injury ended his season), and 8-8. Since his contract, his numbers have been worse across the board and the Baltimore offense has averaged 30 fewer points a season than the pre-contract versions. While Baltimore has averted catastrophe, they also have not been contenders by any stretch of the imagination. Last year, they had to let their best offensive lineman leave in free agency to accommodate Flacco’s massive contract. Not coincidentally, Flacco was sacked 33 times, just 2 fewer times than he was sacked in 2014 and 2015 combined. (Yes he only played 10 games in 2015, but I’m the writer here, I’m allowed to cherry pick).

Ultimately, I am happy that Flacco, Carr, Osweiler, and the next mediocre QB are getting paid. Football is a brutal sport and even with the rules increasingly protecting the QB position, they still take plenty of punishment. However, all bubbles burst, and I predict that as the NFL realizes that teams like Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Oakland are muddling through mediocrity due to overpaying their QBs, we will eventually see teams let mediocre QBs walk and avoid the headache of paying 20+ million dollars for league average play. Until then, mediocre QBs throughout the NFL ought to give Flacco royalties as they sign their next mega deal.

One last little tidbit from our own Ben (@guga31bb) to highlight the absurdity of Carr’s contract.