February 29, 2024

BEREA, Ohio – No one is going to feel sorry Joe Flacco. He won a Super Bowl MVP and earned more than $175 million in his career. He wins in life.

And yet…

There’s just something about Flacco’s 16 years in the NFL which has been gnawing at me as I watch this incredible last chapter renaissance. He was always good, always consistent in his prime, but never quite elite.

He never received a single MVP vote, but Carson Wentz, Derek Carr and Tony Romo did.

He never even appeared in a Pro Bowl. He was invited once, but passed because his wife had to go with their third child.

He was loved — still is — by much of the fan base in Baltimore, but he was always overshadowed by Hall of Famers like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. That Crows defense usually still gets the bulk of the credit for his Super Bowl ring.

That’s why what’s happening here is so absurd, no screenwriter in the NFL or Hollywood could have made it sound plausible. A quarterback who hasn’t been good with this type of heater in a decade? Throwed for over 300 yards in three straight games for the first time in his career, leading the league in passing yards since the brownies’ starter in Week 13 and tied for the league lead in touchdown passes during that time as well?

Drug tests for everyone.

Flacco is getting all the credit now just weeks shy of his 39th birthday. He quickly caught the attention and admiration of a city that was once dominated by the Deshaun Watson trade.

He’s surrounded by an excellent defense again, but no one outside of Myles Garrett is on a gold jacket trajectory at this point. Here, Flacco is the same as he has always been. He is the adult, the professional who just quietly goes about his business. There is no drama, no cloud of controversy. He just shows up, does his job and fulfills his obligations every day.

Now in the twilight of his career, in a town that loathes all things related to the Baltimore Ravens, Flacco has stolen the heart of a city desperate for someone to love. It’s Rocky being cheered in Russia or Jeter receiving a standing ovation in Boston.

“The city was amazing. I can’t say enough about how friendly everyone has been,” Flacco said Tuesday. “I’ve just come from Baltimore for most of my career … It’s definitely been a little surreal in terms of how people have treated me here.”

If this is his career victory lap, Flacco should take his time getting around the court. Embrace it all. Regardless of how it ends, he’s already done enough to always be a Cleveland folk hero. He will be welcomed back here and cheered as the crowd roars for Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson at Cavs games and for Rajai Davis at Guardians games. Without even playing in a postseason game, he exceeded expectations in part because there were none when he arrived. His three wins in four games here matches the total of his last four years as an NFL starter.

Since leaving Baltimore, Flacco has gone 3-14 in 17 NFL starts in Denver and New York. He is 3-1 in Cleveland.

Make it make sense.

With the Jets came to town on Thursday night, playing with as well as Flacco in Cleveland, of course New York managers will probably want a mulligan on how they handled this season after Aaron Rodgers’ torn Achilles. The Jets and Browns started the year with similar rosters and expectations. Both were playoff contenders in a crowded AFC and both lost their quarterbacks early. The Jets collapsed, and the Browns flourished.

When they signed Flacco, I thought rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson must remain the starter. Based on his record and numbers since leaving Baltimore, and the fact that no team called him for the first 12 weeks of the season, Flacco looked like nothing more than the emergency option for a team that was pretty much on the phone with 911 not. season.

Then Thompson-Robinson suffered a concussion at Denver and Flacco immediately began exceeding everyone’s expectations to the point of doing too good a job. It’s hard to see how the Browns can bring him back next year. Do they really want to dedicate three spots on the 53-man roster to quarterbacks? Do they want to give Flacco a few million in salary when every dollar on their cap counts?

This is Watson’s team. His iron-clad contract makes it so, and luckily, after some bumpy stretches, the last memory we have of him going 14-for-14 in the second half (with a broken shoulder) to beat a Ravens team to beat what looks to be the best in the league today. Watson remains the last quarterback to beat Baltimore and he did it on the road.

Thompson-Robinson was drafted to be the long-term backup behind Watson. None of that has changed. Flacco’s presence here next year could only risk dividing a locker room the first time Watson struggles. For a quarterback this close to 40, it’s just not worth it. The sequel is never better than the original. Whether or not Flacco wants to play again next year is up to him, but it can’t be in Cleveland.

So enjoy it for what it is: A remarkable story, the best in the NFL right now. And a highly respected veteran who receives his future.

The Browns caught a hurricane in a hand basket. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride wherever the wind blows.

When it’s over, it’s really over.

(Photo: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)


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