As one of the few true workhorse backs remaining in the NFL, Ray Rice received a new contract from the Ravens reflecting his elite status in the league. In 2011, he gained 2,068 yards from scrimmage, rushed for 12 scores and averaged 4.7 yards per carry with highlights reminiscent of Barry Sanders. The statistic that best illustrates Rice’s versatility was his 76 receptions, the most by a Ravens player last season.

Now that the ink has dried on Rice’s new contract, how does this affect the man behind those 76 receptions, quarterback Joe Flacco? Flacco has proclaimed himself to be the best quarterback in the league and, according to ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, has the best arm in the NFL. His play has been wildly inconsistent over his career, but he has enjoyed great success in the win column and is always a threat to spark a splash play.

With Flacco repeatedly stating that he wants a new contract, will Rice’s new deal affect the apparent stalemate in negotiations for Flacco’s new deal? What quarterbacks serve as a comparison for the sake of negotiations, and does Flacco deserve elite quarterback money? Will Rice’s five season commitment enhance the chances of the Ravens locking up Flacco for the long term as he enters into the final season of his contract, or will they let Flacco earn his new deal with his play in 2012? How are you seeing this play out, Dave?

Dave’s Response

Shawn hit the nail right on the head when he said Rice is one of the true workhorse backs left in football. No one in the league carries an offense like Ray Rice does and wins week in and week out.

Baltimore has been known for their smash mouth mentality that is popular among all the AFC North teams. Even in today’s “National Passing League,” Baltimore runs often and plays great defense. But to be a Super Bowl team, one has to be a complete team.

Therefore, quarterback play might not mean as much to Baltimore as it does to say Indianapolis, but no team wins without stellar quarterback play. Just take a look back in history: even teams in the sixties and seventies that won had great quarterbacks. That means QB Joe Flacco is going to have to pull his weight.

I do not, however, think it is fair to moan about what a poor quarterback Flacco is. He has shown lots of promise and improvement in his four seasons. Come on, who else has started as a rookie and made the playoffs each of their first four seasons and the AFC Championship twice? The guy knows how to win and deserves a new contract.

That being said, based on the talent around him, many believe Flacco is still underachieving even with a 49-24 record including 5-4 in the playoffs. Big name QB’s like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady just don’t fit the Baltimore style, but if the Ravens had a quarterback more like Ben Roethlisberger, would head coach John Harbaugh already have a Super Bowl trophy? Until he can win the Super Bowl, the media will likely continue to criticize Flacco which was something he did not take too lightly in January of last year.

My point in all this in relating back to Shawn’s questions about Rice’s new contract, is Flacco is a decent quarterback, probably not top ten in the league, but good enough to win a Super Bowl someday.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh mirror each other in many ways, but they differ in one big aspect of football: Pittsburgh does not let their pride for dominant defense get in the way for their love for Big Ben and company. In Baltimore, the offense and defense act like rival siblings, and no matter what the offense does, it’s just not quite as good as the defense. If Baltimore loses, it’s never the defenses fault; the offense will shoulder the blame even when a kicker misses a chip shot field goal to tie in the final seconds.

And that’s why this Ray Rice contract means more than just Rice being in a Ravens uniform. It was another way for Baltimore to tell Joe Flacco, “You’re not quite as important as someone else.”

Shawn’s conclusion

That sounds like the answer to me, Dave. Flacco is at the point where his career could begin to resemble Donovan McNabb’s if he can’t take full advantage of the talent around him. Flacco doesn’t have to be the best quarterback in the league, but rather a quarterback with enough talent to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory.

With Flacco’s high-ceiling talent and ability to lead a team to wins, he should be spending more time refining his leadership abilities. Like Big Ben, the Manning brothers and Brady in clutch moments, he needs to start playing his best ball when it matters the most.

Flacco has set the bar so high with his successes that now he must perform up to those lofty standards. In his defense, the Ravens were possibly a dropped touchdown pass by Lee Evans and a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff away from beating the Patriots in the AFC championship game. It is essential that he continues building upon that success sooner rather than later, because Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are deep into the twilights of their careers.

If a franchise allows their starting quarterback to enter into the last year of his contract, it speaks louder than words about the front office’s opinion of the quarterbacks play. Next week Dave and I travel from Baltimore to Houston, where Matt Schaub is entering into the final year of the six year deal he signed upon being traded from Atlanta. What does his future with the Texans hold? Check out next Wednesday’s Bump and Run Coverage to find out.

Previous Bump and Run Articles

- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints
- Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals