NEW ORLEANS -- John Harbaugh said it after the season opener: Pay the man. Pay Joe Flacco. Pay him whatever he wants. Pay him more than Drew Brees. Pay him more than Peyton Manning. Pay him more than Tom Brady.
What's the difference between $18 million and $19 million and $20 million per year now? Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl champion. He is the game's most valuable player. He is the reason why the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 on Sunday night and why owner Steve Bisciotti hoisted his first Lombardi Trophy as majority owner.
The Ravens were Super Bowl champions in 2000 because of a dominating defense that carried an average quarterback who was asked to manage a game. The Ravens are Super Bowl champions now because Flacco took ownership of the offense and insisted it carry a team that had an aging, if still relatively effective, defense.
Flacco's arm, his guts, his touch, his poise and his unwillingness to fear failure are why the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. Joe Flacco. Joe Cool. Joe MVP.
Now pay the man.
"He fears nothing," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said after the confetti fell inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Flacco raised a trophy and validated an already stellar career.
"That's the thing about him," Caldwell said. "He really has no fear of anything. He's as tough as he can be. He's fearless in terms of taking chances. And he's going to squeeze that ball, but yet he's very, very smart."
Very smart, indeed.
Flacco had a sizable contract extension on the table before training camp began, and he turned it down in part, his father said, because it was an extension, not a new deal. There was no new money for 2012 included in the deal, Steve Flacco said, so Joe opted to "put himself at risk."
"He would've made the same amount of money no matter what, so that made it easy to leave that on the table," Steve Flacco said. "He didn't want to sell himself short, you know? He couldn't live with that. He couldn't live with making less money next year if it came to that."
Asked what exactly his son wanted, Steve Flacco said: "I think he wanted something consistent with what other players were getting, and you have to realize the money keeps going up. The bigger guys in the game, their contracts are a couple of years old. Drew [Brees] set the market, I guess you would say. Before, you could say Joe didn't win the Super Bowl. You can't say that now."
No, you can't.
Before the 2012 season, Brees signed a five-year, $100 million deal with New Orleans that set the bar for what the top quarterbacks in the NFL should make. Before the 2012 season, Manning signed a five-year, $96 million deal with Denver. In 2010, Brady signed a four-year, $72 million deal with New England, and in 2009, Eli Manning signed a six-year, $97.5 million deal with the Giants.
So there are parameters. Brees and Peyton Manning have won one Super Bowl apiece. Brady has won three. Eli has won two.
After the game, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn't want to discuss Flacco's contract situation. "You know," Newsome said, "he'll be our quarterback next year. Like I said on Tuesday, he was a dropped pass from doing it last year. And he backed it up. He came back this year, and that's all I'm going to say about it."
Since the start of the 2008 season, no quarterback has won as many regular-season and postseason games as Flacco (63). Flacco is the first quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, and his nine postseason victories are tied with Brady for the most by a quarterback in his first five seasons.
And Flacco was money during these playoffs, throwing for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Joe Montana is the only other quarterback with those kinds of numbers, and he did it in 1989 en route to winning Super Bowl MVP for San Francisco.
Flacco was terrific early against the 49ers, withstood the 34-minute power outage in the third quarter and the 49ers' furious comeback and held on with a clutch fourth-quarter drive that stymied San Francisco's momentum. On third-and-1 from Baltimore's 45-yard line with less than eight minutes to play, Flacco called an audible for a pass play to Anquan Boldin that was beyond risky. Boldin made the catch, as he had throughout the game.
The Ravens got a field goal out of the drive to turn a two-point game into a 34-29 lead with a little more than four minutes to play. A late Baltimore defensive stand, appropriately enough, won the game.
Flacco finished 22-of-33 for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 124.2.
Throughout the season, Flacco has maintained that his contract situation was not an issue for him. He believed in himself and never became preoccupied with proving himself or concerned about his contractual status. He just worked and played and let the rest roll off his back.
But after the game, Flacco was more animated than he normally is. His entire family was there: his mother and father, two sets of grandparents, his four brothers, one sister and his wife. There was more family awaiting him at Huck Finn's, a bar in the French Quarter.
Flacco said Bisciotti had told him "if the day came, I could go beat on his desk and really put it to him.
"So that's exactly what I'm going to do," Flacco said.
And he should.
After all the interviews and the postgame commitments, Flacco finally found his wife. He hugged her, then hugged his mother, and then promised he would join his biological family, not his football family, for a postgame party that would stretch well into the morning.
Flacco hugged his agent, Joe Linta, and slapped hands with his brothers and walked ever so slowly out of the Superdome.
He was, finally, the Super Bowl MVP, just as he always expected he would be.