Per game stats for Player A: 1.23 TDs, 220.4 passing yards, 0.7 interceptions, 60.5 completion %, 86.3 passer rating
Per game stats for Player B: 1.15 TDs, 194.2 passing yards, 0.72 interceptions, 66% completion percentage, 90.1 passer rating.
Keep in mind that Player B’s stats are slightly skewed. He left several games in the middle of the season due to injury, but were counted as full games in his average.
Anyway, these stats suggest that these two quarterbacks are fairly similar in effectiveness. Player A might have more big play potential with his higher TD and yardage averages, but Player B completes so many more passes that his passer rating still trumps Player A’s. Neither player is elite, but both are solid starting quarterbacks. Now before we reveal their identities, let’s add Player C to the mix:
Per game stats for Player C: 2.18 TDs, 273.5 passing yards, 0.57 interceptions, 65.7 completion percentage, 104.9 passer rating.
Player C obviously dwarfs both Player A and Player B statistically. Player C has a significant statistical advantage over Player A in every category, and Player B only barely tops him in completion percentage. We’ll hold off on Player C for a moment though; now it’s time to discuss Player’s A and B. Remember, they’re very similar statistically, and at the very least, they are far closer to each other than they are to Player C.
Player A is Joe Flacco. Player B? Chad Pennington. That’s right Baltimore Ravens aficionados: your prized quarterback is nearly statistically identical to everyone’s favorite game manager.
That is not to say Joe Flacco is a game manager. He obviously isn’t. He makes his living off of the deep ball. But in terms of effectiveness, Flacco has, for the most part, played at around the game manager level.
Despite their fairly similar levels of effectiveness, Joe Flacco is now the highest paid player in NFL history while Chad Pennington never played in a Pro Bowl (although, to be fair, Flacco hasn’t either). Why is that?
Because Flacco had the good fortune of playing for the Ravens, one of the NFL’s best franchises. He got to throw to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith while Pennington had the misfortune of teaming up with Anthony Becht and Laveranues Coles. Flacco was tutored by an elite coach in John Harbaugh; Pennington was stuck with the terrific trio of Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini and Tony Sparano (hint: it’s no coincidence that none of them still have head coaching jobs). Before the 2012 season, Flacco’s defense never fell outside of the top-10 and spent three years in the top-3.
Despite all of this good fortune, Flacco still managed to spend five years putting up mediocre numbers. It’s not a coincidence. After all, you know who puts up mediocre numbers? Mediocre quarterbacks!
An 80 game regular season sample size is significant. It’s certainly enough to make assumptions about a player. Yet for reasons I can’t quite grasp, fans, the media, and even Baltimore’s vaunted front office are completely ignoring it in favor of a nearly useless four-game sample.
I’m perfectly willing to admit that Flacco played excellent football during that four game stretch. However, I think it’s important that we consider the circumstances.
His first playoff game came against a rookie quarterback playing on the road only days after Ray Lewis announced his impending retirement. His second was won on a fluke Hail Mary that would not be successful 999 times out of 1000. His third came against a porous New England Patriots defense that was without cornerback Aqib Talib (who, besides Vince Wilfork, was their most important defensive player). The fourth came against a 49ers team with a quarterback making his 11th career start in the Super Bowl and gave up 30 points per game from Week 15 (when Justin Smith got hurt) on.
You know who deserves credit for the Ravens winning the Super Bowl? How about the defense that stopped the unstoppable Patriots. Or maybe you prefer Jacoby Jones, the guy who saved the season twice with big plays. The more cynical among you would mention Rahim Moore. That is not to say that Flacco doesn’t deserve credit, his efforts have just been completely overblown.
Here’s my point: Flacco is not an elite quarterback. He’s a quarterback who played like an elite QB for four weeks and, thanks to the combined efforts of him and his teammates, was able to win a Super Bowl. Once you’ve done that, the media rides you like Secretariat until they get a new golden boy. Remember a year ago when people were saying Eli Manning was the league’s best player? Exactly.
This completely artificially overplays that quarterback’s value. It allows someone like Flacco to make the type of money that should be reserved for truly elite players, the kind of players that play at that level every game rather than just for one four game stretch. Players like Player C!
Speaking of which, Player C is Aaron Rodgers. Like Flacco, Rodgers has a Super Bowl ring. Unlike Flacco, Rodgers has an MVP, several trips to the Pro Bowl, and the highest passer rating in NFL history for both a season (122.5 in 2011) and for a career (104.9). Yet Flacco is going to make more money than Rodgers next year. In fact, he’s going to make more money than Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji combined.
I won’t ask you to explain why that makes sense. It doesn’t. Flacco is simply the flavor of the month, and in another year, Merril Hoge will go on SportsCenter and hype whatever new quarterback manages to win the Super Bowl. In another year, we’ll regard him exactly as we did before his championship run: as a quarterback who’s pretty good but nowhere near great. Thing is, he’ll still be making far more money than he’ll deserve. Enjoy spending 20% of your salary cap on an above average quarterback, Baltimore. I’m sure that’ll work out great for you.