Harris: Flacco's gamble about to pay off
Waiting on the tarmac at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport with the NFL's hottest property for the departure of their magical flight to Disney World, agent Joe Linta could afford to exhibit some patience.
“Just waiting,” said Linta of Freedom. “I've got my mouse ears. I'm just flattered to be a part of this whole thing.”
Linta and his client, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, waited all season for their prediction to come true: that Flacco would emerge as an elite quarterback and put himself in position to cash in at the negotiating table.
Monday's hectic itinerary featured Flacco — a former Pitt quarterback who went on to star at Delaware — riding in the celebratory Super Bowl parade down Main Street U.S.A., followed by an appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Some might consider Flacco's decision to turn down Baltimore's contract offer last summer a gamble, but Linta didn't see it that way.
Not when Flacco, Linta's most famous client, was named MVP after tossing three touchdown passes and leading Baltimore to a 34-31 win over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco tied Joe Montana and Kurt Warner for most touchdown passes in an NFL postseason with 11.
“The whole thing was premised upon Joe willing to bet on himself, and I agreed with him,” Linta said. “We were gambling that Joe was going to continue to rise. He's a proud kid. We felt very confident that he was going to get better and better and play better and better. We were right.
“It's nice when you can see something and it comes to fruition like this. I don't know if it makes it easier, but it makes it more fun for me.”
Weary from a Super Bowl celebration that carried deep into the previous night, Linta perked up when pressed about upcoming negotiations with Baltimore vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty.
Using Drew Brees' five-year, $100 million deal with New Orleans as a reference point — the most recent contract awarded a franchise quarterback — Flacco will earn considerably more than the $6.7 million he received in the final year of his rookie contract.
In an appearance on NFL Network immediately following the game, Flacco said owner Steve Bisciotti told him “that I can pound on his desk and really stick it to him (if the Ravens win the Super Bowl). And that's exactly what I'm gonna do.”
It isn't often when a star player and his agent have the opportunity to, in Flacco's words, “stick it” to ownership. A deal will get done; the public relations nightmare if the Ravens play hardball with Flacco during upcoming negotiations would be immense. However, the team's earlier slights of Flacco's contract value won't be forgotten, either.
“There was never any animosity. We agreed to disagree. We tried, they tried, and we'll keep going,” said Linta, whose client list includes Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, Steelers guard Willie Colon, Baltimore center Matt Birk and veteran NFL coach Romeo Crennel. “We'll talk soon and see what they think. It's kind of on them from a standpoint they have the ability to put a franchise tag on him.
“One of the things you look at when you do these contracts is, are you paying the guy for what he's already done or what he's about to do? In my opinion on both fronts, Joe is at the top of the line; he's in rarefied air.”
Linta said the Ravens have two options for next season: They can pay Flacco $14.6 million using a franchise tag or pay him as much as $20 million using an exclusive franchise tag. The goal is for the two sides to agree to a salary-cap friendly contract that would make Flacco one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.
Of course, that was Linta's plan all along.
“It's good to be right,” Linta said. “Joe's in the ballpark of the top quarterbacks, clearly, but I wouldn't put a number to it right now. Maybe you take a little less and you get a little more guaranteed.
“Joe's in the prime of his career. He's 28 years old, he's never missed a game in five years, and he's only getting better. They have to look at him that way, and we don't think that's unfair.”