The Elite Question

photo by flickr user Keith Allison

By Kyle Grozen

Now that Joe Flacco has won football’s greatest prize, can he be considered with the likes of Brady and Manning?

"I assume everybody thinks they’re a top-five quarterback. I mean, I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m top five, I think I’m the best.” –Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens QB, April 3, 2012.

Remember when critics laughed at Joe Flacco for proclaiming his status as the top quarterback in the league while having a grand total of zero Super Bowls, MVP’s, and Pro Bowls? Well, these critics have been silenced following the Baltimore Ravens’ 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night at the Superdome, in which Flacco threw for three touchdowns and was named MVP. Flacco’s recent triumph allows us to revisit his April 2012 claim of being among the NFL’s elite and decide if one title and Super Bowl MVP put him at the top of the NFL quarterback ranks. Is the $120 million contract he’s certain to receive deserved?

In a word: NO! Given, Flacco had one of the greatest postseasons of all time, throwing 11 touchdowns without a single interception and receiving a passer rating of 117.6, identical to that of legendary 49ers QB Steve Young’s in the 1994 postseason. Given, he has the most playoff road wins in NFL history after just five years in the league. But do these accomplishments merit Peyton Manning or Tom Brady money? Not when you consider the facts.

Throughout his entire career, a core of young, talented receivers and an elite running back on offense and arguably the greatest linebacker of all time on defense have surrounded Flacco. This Ravens team has had success in recent postseasons in spite of Flacco, not because of him; this year was the first in which he didn’t hinder the team, and he is yet to give us a nearly large enough sample size to warrant $20 million annually. When Drew Brees led the New Orleans Saints to the 2009 Super Bowl title, he did it with the league’s 25th-ranked defense, making him deserving of the big money contract he soon received. To the contrary, Baltimore’s defense has always been its core, and until this postseason Flacco’s offense had lagged behind it. Baltimore won this Super Bowl because they were a team of destiny, playing their hearts out to help retiring linebacker Ray Lewis go out on top. Though Flacco was a crucial part in this victory, he has not yet proved that he is worthy of joining the ranks of the NFL elite.