Ravens, Flacco agree on deal that makes him highest-paid player in NFL history


BALTIMORE — In a little more than a two-month span, Joe Flacco went from a much-maligned quarterback to the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XLVII to the highest paid player in the history of the NFL.

The Ravens agreed to terms with Flacco on a six-year deal worth $120.6 million on Friday night, according to team and league sources. There are still some issues to be worked out, but the 28-year-old quarterback is expected to be at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills on Monday to finalize the deal.

“We have the parameters of a deal completed with Joe,” said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome in a statement released by the team. “We still have some language and details that need to be worked out.”

Once the deal is complete, the contract would make Flacco the highest paid player in league history, surpassing New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Seven months ago, Brees signed a five-year, $100 million deal that included $61 million guaranteed over the first three years of the pact. Flacco is due to make more than Brees in the first three years of the contract, according to sources.

For Flacco, arguably the city’s most accomplished pro quarterback since Johnny Unitas, the new deal validates his belief that he is one of the game’s elite quarterbacks and his decision prior to the 2012 season to play out the final year of his rookie contract despite an offer from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to pay him a salary in line with a top-five quarterback.

For the Ravens, it accomplishes their top offseason priority and once and for all, solidifies Flacco’s status as the franchise quarterback, as if there were any lingering doubt.

Flacco erased all doubt by playing one of the best postseasons every by an NFL quarterback, throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions as the Ravens won four playoff games, the last being a 34-31 victory over the favored San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

En route to taking home game MVP honors, Flacco threw three first-half touchdowns and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to repel the 49ers’ comeback attempt.

Flacco was technically eligible to hit free agency on March 12, but the Ravens were determined not to let him get to the open market, where a number of quarterback-needy teams would almost certainly have pounced.

They had until Monday to reach an agreement or franchise Flacco, which would have cost the Ravens either $14.9 million for the non-exclusive tag or just under $20 million for the exclusive one. The exclusive tag would have been the only way to make sure other teams couldn’t talk with Flacco and his agent, Joe Linta.

But now it’s a moot point and now the Ravens are expected to have a little more room under the salary cap to try to reach an agreement with a group of key free agents that includes linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Ed Reed.

The news was celebrated by several of Flacco’s teammates via their Twitter accounts, including running back Ray Rice who signed a five-year, $40 million deal last July.

“Dinner and a few nights on Joe Flacco when we get back,” joked Rice who like wide receiver Torrey Smith, called the new deal, “well deserved.”

All along, Newsome expressed confidence that the two sides would get a deal done and Flacco said repeatedly that he wanted and expected to be a Raven for a long time. However, reaching an agreement wasn’t easy as the Ravens found out while trying to hammer out a deal before this past season. Bisciotti said that the organization made an offer that would have made Flacco one of the game’s top-five highest paid quarterbacks but Linta’s asking price wasn’t met so the two sides agreed to put off the talks.

For much of the 2012-13 regular season, it appeared that Flacco would regret that decision. He started all 16 regular-season games, which he has done every year of his five-year career, and set career highs in passing yards (3,817) and completions (317). However, consistency remained an issue through the regular season, so much so that Ravens coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with just three games remaining in the regular season.

For Flacco, the low point of the regular season came late in the first half of the Ravens’ 34-17 home loss to the Denver Broncos. Flacco threw an interception that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Chris Harris. After his last-ditched attempt at tackling Harris came up short, Flacco laid face down in the turf.

He was then booed by the home crowd as he took the field for the next possession. However, that was the last interception that he’d throw as he finished the season with 15 touchdowns since his last interception, flourishing under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

“I saw a guy just maturing the way we would expect him to mature,” Bisciotti said in February. “I didn’t expect him to change and he is who he is. And his demeanor, we’re very comfortable with. I said that I believe that the fans will be rewarded because of Joe’s demeanor and Joe will be appreciated for it if he wins and we believe he’s going to continue to win. Now he gets to say, ‘I told you so.’”

Even before the Super Bowl run, which raised Flacco’s profile and silenced most of the remaining critics, the quarterback out of Delaware had already rewritten the Ravens’ record book and set numerous NFL marks. The 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft is the Ravens’ all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and attempts. He’s the only starting quarterback since the 1970 league merger to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons and he is 9-4 in the playoffs, six of those wins coming on the road.

Overall, his 63 wins, including the playoffs, are the most by a starter since 2008 when he entered the league and his 93 starts are the most to begin a career by any quarterback in NFL history.

“I’m really excited for Joe,” Ravens center Gino Gradkowski said earlier this week, anticipating the deal. “Joe really earned this. He’s a hard working guy, a great leader. He had a great year. I think he silenced a lot of critics.”