GREEN BAY, Wis. - While the football world debates how deserving Joe Flacco really is of the six-year, $120.6 million new contract he just received from the Baltimore Ravens, there's one thing everyone seemingly can agree on: Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback – and thus is going to cost the Green Bay Packers even more.
How much he'll cost them, and when it'll happen, are both unclear.
Both the 28-year-old Flacco and the 29-year-old Rodgers have led their teams to a Super Bowl title – Rodgers the Super Bowl XLV championship in February 2011, and Flacco the Super Bowl XLVII title last month – and each won a Super Bowl MVP award in the process.
But in five years as a starter – Flacco took over from Day 1 after the Ravens took him in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Delaware – Flacco has completed 60.5 percent of his regular-season passes, thrown 102 touchdown passes against 56 interceptions and has an 86.3 career passer rating. He's played all 80 games but never thrown for more than the 3,817 yards he threw for in 2012 and never thrown more than 25 touchdown passes in a season.
Rodgers, who took over as the Packers' starter in 2008 after three years behind Brett Favre, has completed 65.7 percent of his career regular-season passes, thrown 172 TD passes against 46 interceptions and has a career rating of 104.9, the best in NFL history. He's played in 78 games (missing one with a concussion in 2010 and sitting out the meaningless 2011 regular-season finale) and the fewest yards he's thrown for as a starter were in 2010 (3,922) and he's never thrown for fewer than 28 TDs in a season. He won the NFL MVP award in 2011.
In 2012, Rodgers completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,295 yards with 39 touchdowns and eight interceptions (108.0 rating). Flacco completed 59.7 percent of his attempts for 3,817 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (87.7 rating). Flacco completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 1,140 yards, no interceptions and a 114.0 quarterback rating during the Ravens' playoff run, including Super Bowl XLVII.
Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating last season while Flacco ranked 12th, but in terms of won-lost record, Flacco does have a better record as a starter (54-26) than Rodgers (52-26) in regular-season play.
According to a story in The Baltimore Sun by Aaron Wilson, Flacco will get more than $61 million in the first three years of his deal, bettering the three-year payoff New Orleans' Drew Brees is to receive in the five-year, $100 million deal he signed before last season. (Per Wilson, the structure of Flacco's deal has been agreed upon but has yet to be finalized and signed.)
Brees received $40 million in guaranteed money (a $37 million signing bonus and $3 million first-year base salary) in July 2012, with base salaries going forward of $9.75 million in 2013, $10.75 million in 2014, $18.75 million in 2015 and $19.75 million in 2016. Brees turned 34 on Jan. 15. It's unclear at this point how much guaranteed money Flacco received, but his salary-cap number for the 2013 season is only $7 million, giving the Ravens some much-needed cap maneuverability.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who has superior regular-season numbers to Flacco but has one career playoff victory, is also entering a contract year and could wind up topping Flacco's deal, but it's Rodgers, who's signed through the 2014 season, that figures to be the NFL's highest-paid player whenever his deal gets done.
Rodgers is under contract with the Packers through the 2014 season, having signed a six-year, $65 million contract in October 2008 – after just seven NFL starts – that contained $20 million in guaranteed money. His base salary for 2013 is $9.25 million; his 2014 base salary is $10.5 million.
It's hard to imagine the Packers letting Rodgers play the entire 2013 season at his current bargain rate – more than half of the NFL's starting quarterbacks are set to make more than he will next season – and unfathomable to think they'd let him enter 2014 without a new deal.
But the Packers' – and Rodgers' – timetable for a new deal are unclear.
With the new league year set to begin March 12, the Packers are currently about $21 million below the projected salary cap of $123.9 million after releasing veteran defensive back Charles Woodson, bidding farewell to retiring veterans Donald Driver and Jeff Saturday and rolling over roughly $7 million in cap room from last season.
Star outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive tackle B.J. Raji, both of whom came to Green Bay as 2009 first-round draft picks, are entering the final years of their rookie contracts and are viewed as core players by management.
Rodgers has said in the past that he believes the team intends to get a deal done with Matthews before anyone else, and it stands to reason that he'd know: His agent, David Dunn, also represents Matthews and Raji.
Theoretically, the Packers could get an extension with Matthews done, then shift their focus to Rodgers while taking a wait-and-see approach with Raji, knowing the franchise tag would be an option for retaining him. That Dunn represents all three players could help the process, but no one knows for sure.
In November 2011, Rodgers said he wasn't worrying about a new deal and acknowledged that while he might be underpaid by current NFL quarterback standards, he was overpaid when he initially signed his extension in 2008.
"It's not something I think about," Rodgers said at that time. "We were so blessed to be able to have that contract done in 2008. We knew at the time that was more money than I ever could have imagined signing for, and it was a no-brainer for me. But we knew if I performed the way I felt I was capable of performing, that by league standards that by the time I got into my third or fourth or fifth season, that I'd be underpaid by league standards.
"But I don't look at it that way. I look at it as I'm fortunate to make the kind of money I make and be in the situation I'm in and be with the Packers' organization. I want to retire as a Packer. They know that, the fans know that, my teammates know that, and this is where I want to be. I'm not worried about (a new contract). We're still a few years away from me completing this deal, and whenever it comes time to make a new deal, I'm looking forward to maybe signing my last deal, playing it out, and retiring."
Rodgers also said at the time that he didn't anticipate playing another decade in the NFL.
"I like to focus on the here and now. I think that's important to stay in the present," Rodgers said. "You've also got to think about your end-of-your career and post career goals. I don't really see myself 10 years from now still playing ball. I don't. I'm in my seventh season. When you come in the league you want to get to five, and feel like that will be an accomplishment. When you get to five, you kind of want to get to eight. You get to eight, you get to 10, you think, ‘Man, that's a decade of playing football.' And anything after that is an added bonus.
"I just don't see myself being 37 and still playing. Not that I wouldn't enjoy it if I'm still healthy and playing the way I want to play, but I just see 12, 15 years, something in there, and it being quite an accomplishment, and something that I can be proud of."
Last month, Rodgers acknowledged that he – and many others around the NFL – would be watching how Flacco's negotiations with the Ravens played out.
"I think everybody is going to see what Joe (Flacco) ends up signing for," Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com on Feb. 5. "I'm sure they want to lock him up. He's a great player – had an incredible run in the playoffs – and I'm sure they want to keep him around. A guy like that, with the post-season success he's had, you want to keep a guy like that around for a while."
Asked if it was more important to be the NFL's highest-paid quarterback or sign a deal that pays him what he deserves while also leaving the team cap maneuverability to sign other players, Rodgers replied, "It kind of is what it is, as far as that goes. The team, when they're ready to talk contract, we'll get there when we get there.
"Obviously you've got to be able to have guys around you to compete and win every year, and we'll see what happens with some of the free agents that we have. When that time comes, we'll get a deal done. I'm not worried about that. I think the Packers want to keep me around for a little while longer, and I'd love to be a Packer for life."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on "Green & Gold Today" on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
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