Mark Brunell puts Joe Flacco in second tier of QBs

There are certain traditions that mark every NFL offseason: the start of free agency, the draft and the debate over whether Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is elite.

Mark Brunell, an ESPN analyst who spent 17 years as an NFL quarterback, indirectly started this year's discussion on where Flacco ranks among NFL quarterbacks Tuesday when he placed him in the second tier.

It's easy to understand why Brunell ranks Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees ahead of Flacco, and many can see why he has Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers in that top group, too.

The head-scratcher is why Tony Romo would be in the first tier when Flacco isn't. Romo had an MVP-type season last year, and his reputation of falling short in big games is starting to change. But Flacco has the much stronger track record in games that matter the most. Let's also not forget that Romo has led the Cowboys to the playoffs only once since 2009, and he is two years removed from throwing 19 interceptions.

Brunell's biggest mistake is not separating his second tier into two levels. It's hard to argue that Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer and Colin Kaepernick should be included in the same group as Flacco, Russell Wilson and Eli Manning. That devalues the championships won and playoff success by those quarterbacks.

The debate about whether Flacco is elite is a long-running one, and it often becomes heated because of Flacco's inconsistency. He has never thrown for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns in his seven NFL seasons. But since 2008, when Flacco was drafted in the first round by the Ravens, he leads the NFL in playoff victories with 10, which is three more than any other quarterback during that span.

As I've written previously, Flacco is elite in the postseason and simply solid in the regular season. An argument can be made that Flacco should have his own special category: first tier when it counts the most.