AKRON, Ohio - In his most recent Monday Morning Quarterback column, Sports Illustrated's Peter King explored whether the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens would actually give the Browns and other quarterback-hungry teams a chance to steal Joe Flacco.
It seems unlikely the Ravens would let Flacco walk. But King doesn't believe it's a foregone conclusion that Flacco will be back in Baltimore next season.
"It has been presumed that if the Ravens can't sign Flacco before the March 4 franchise-tagging deadline that they'd exercise the exclusive tag," King wrote. "That would mean committing a $20 million guaranteed salary - with another $24 million due Flacco in 2014 if Baltimore had to exercise a tag again next year. Two years, $44 million ... significantly more than Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady make now. The regular franchise tag for quarterbacks, meanwhile, is $14.5 million.
"Don't be so sure of that exclusive tag. The Ravens were $5 million over the league's $121 million salary cap at the close of business Friday, and that figure doesn't include a dime for Flacco."
King listed the Browns, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals as potential suitors of Flacco if the Ravens don't lock him down.
"Cleveland was $48 million under the cap as of Friday," King wrote. "Signing Flacco would rob the Browns of the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, plus their first-rounder next year. Because the Browns used their second-round pick on receiver Josh Gordon in the Supplemental Draft last year, they wouldn't choose until 68th overall in April.
"But think of the shot of adrenaline for the Browns, if they could rip away Flacco from a team they despise. What sweet irony for Cleveland, to steal the Super Bowl-winning quarterback from the team that stole their franchise. With new owner Jimmy Haslam and uber-aggressive (CEO) Joe Banner dying to make a splash to show their fans this won't be the same old Browns, imagine Cleveland signing Flacco for five years and $110 million, making him the highest-paid player in history. And say Cleveland makes the 2013 salary $35 million. That way it'd be almost impossible for Baltimore to match; if the Ravens balked at $20 million per, you think they'd accede to $35 million in Year 1?"
The scenario laid out by King will grab the attention of Browns fans, but it sounds like fantasy at this point.
Haslam recently vowed to create a quarterback competition for Brandon Weeden, though he also said, "I don't think you'll see us make any big, splashy, high-priced moves because I think we've said all along we're going to build through the draft."
And even if Flacco becomes available, there's no guarantee he would want to play for the Browns.
The Browns, though, certainly are expected to acquire a quarterback in the offseason via free agency, which begins March 12, the draft, which runs April 25-27, or a trade.
Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Ryan Mallett of the New England Patriots have been linked to Cleveland. Chase Daniel of the New Orleans Saints and Brian Hoyer of the Cardinals have recently been mentioned by Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com as logical fits for the Browns.
As for Michael Vick, he can be crossed off the list of quarterback possibilities for the Browns. The Philadelphia Eagles re-signed Vick to a one-year deal worth a maximum of $10 million, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday.
When all the dust settles, it would be surprising if Flacco doesn't stay put, too.