A few minutes after Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a 44-13 romp over the Bengals in the regular- season opener, coach John Harbaugh weighed in on the speculation surrounding Flacco's uncertain contract situation.
With Flacco standing right next to him in the press room and team owner Steve Bisciotti not far away at the Ravens' home stadium, Harbaugh quipped: "Pay him whatever he asks for. Pay the man. Hear that, Steve?"
It was Harbaugh's clever way of letting Bisciotti know just how much he values his quarterback.
Well, after a superior postseason performance in which Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in four wins, it is time for Bisciotti to do just that.
Pay the man.
Flacco doesn't seem worried about the outcome. Through sleep-deprived eyes Monday morning after his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII, he said he thinks things will work out. But he wasn't making any guarantees.
"I'm pretty optimistic, but who knows?" he said. "There's all kinds of crazy things that can happen with these contracts that we've all seen before. This is a great organization, I love being here, great city. I don't anticipate a problem."
Flacco played this one perfectly, choosing to roll the dice on a new contract despite any potential temptation to redo a deal that had only one season left.
The conservative approach would have been to extend the deal for a handsome sum on top of the lucrative contract he signed as a 2008 first-round pick. But Flacco, confident he could significantly increase his value with a strong 2012 season, decided to wait it out. And play it out.
In other words, he decided to go for it. And after what he did throughout the postseason, he maximized his value in spectacular fashion. He is about to earn a colossal payday, one that will make him one of the richest players in NFL history.
The only question is when. The Ravens could apply the franchise tag to Flacco, which would guarantee he remains in Baltimore for at least the 2013 season. But that could cost upward of $20 million, a deal that would take up about one-sixth of the team's entire salary cap for just one player. Faced with a number of pressing contract issues with several other players, Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome would prefer to see Flacco signed long-term. That would give them greater resources to sign impending free agents and extend the contracts of other key players.
Either way, Flacco is about to make a pile of money by winning the bet he placed on himself. And for all those quarterback-starved teams hoping that Flacco somehow might be available, forget it. Newsome has said all along that he intends to keep him, and he took it one step further last week by saying that as long as he is the GM, Flacco will be his quarterback.
(By the way, Newsome has no plans to leave the organization anytime soon.)
At 28, Flacco is entering the prime of his career, and the Ravens will continue to be a competitive team, although they know they can't keep all their complementary players because of salary-cap pressures. But keeping Flacco means they will have their most essential player.
Flacco's ascent has been steady, with his game improving each year. It has been a much less dramatic rise than, say, Tom Brady, who won his first Super Bowl in his first season as a starter. Flacco's improvement has come much more gradually but no less effectively.
Flacco beat some of the best quarterbacks the NFL has to offer during this postseason: No. 1 draft choice Andrew Luck of the Colts, four-time MVP Peyton Manning of the Broncos, three-time Super Bowl champion Brady in the AFC title game and rising star Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl.
Flacco performed remarkably, regardless of the circumstances. His 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones to send the divisional playoff game against the Broncos into overtime was his signature play. But there were so many more throughout the course of the playoffs.
The Super Bowl forever will be remembered for the blackout and San Francisco's remarkable comeback to make it a down-to-the-wire game. But it also will be remembered for Flacco's three first-half touchdown passes, and his calm in the face of chaos.
Of all the passes Flacco threw, he called the one to Anquan Boldin on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter the most important of the game. The Ravens were clinging to a two-point lead and desperately needed a score. Flacco delivered a perfect pass to Boldin for a 15-yard gain, and the Ravens eventually kicked the field goal that gave them a five-point cushion.
Another in a string of brilliant passes from the Ravens' elite quarterback.
All that's left to do is what Harbaugh said from the start.
Pay. The. Man.