Lloyd: Joe Flacco is finally getting his due. But he can't return to the Browns next year.

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

And yet …

There's something about Flacco's 16 years in the NFL that has been gnawing at me as I watched this incredible final chapter revival. He was always good, always consistent at his best, but never quite elite.

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

He didn't even appear in a Pro Bowl. They invited him once, but he passed because his wife was due to have his third child.

He was beloved (still is) by a large portion of the Baltimore fan base, but was always overshadowed by Hall of Famers like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. That Ravens defense still tends to get most of the credit for their Super Bowl ring.

That's why what's happening here is so absurd that no NFL or Hollywood screenwriter could have made it seem plausible. A quarterback who hasn't been good in a decade going through these types of heaters? Throw for more than 300 yards in three consecutive games for the first time in his career, lead the league in passing yards since becoming the Browns' starter in Week 13 and tie for the league lead in touchdown passes during that? time too?

Drug testing for everyone.

Flacco is getting all the credit now, just weeks away from turning 39. He quickly captured the attention and admiration of a city once divided by the Deshaun Watson trade.

He's once again surrounded by an excellent defense, but no one here other than Myles Garrett is on track for the gold jacket right now. Here, Flacco is the same as always. He is the adult, the professional who calmly goes about his business. There is no drama or cloud of controversy. He just shows up, does his job, and fulfills his duties every day.

Now, in the twilight of his career, in a city that loathes everything related to the Baltimore Ravens, Flacco has stolen the heart of a city desperate for someone to love. It's about Rocky being applauded in Russia or Jeter getting a standing ovation in Boston.

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

If this is the victory lap of his career, Flacco should take his time going around the track. Accept it all. Regardless of how this ends, he's already done enough to always be a Cleveland folk hero. Here he will be welcomed and cheered the same way 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 has exceeded expectations in part because there were none when he arrived. His three wins in four games here equal his total in his last four. years as an NFL starter.

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

Make it make sense.

With the Jets coming to town Thursday night, and with Flacco playing in Cleveland, obviously, New York executives would probably like to take a mulligan on how they handled this season following Aaron Rodgers' torn Achilles tendon. . The Jets and Browns entered 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 have thrived.

When they signed Flacco, I thought rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson should still be the starter. Based on his record and numbers since leaving Baltimore, and the fact that no team called him through the first 12 weeks of the season, Flacco seemed like nothing more than the emergency option for a team that has been on the phone with 911 quite a while this year. season.

Then Thompson-Robinson suffered a concussion in Denver and Flacco immediately began exceeding everyone's expectations to the point where he's now done too good a job. It's hard to see how the Browns could bring him back next year. Do they really want to allocate three spots on the 53-man roster to quarterbacks? Do they want to give Flacco a few million in salary when every dollar counts against his salary cap?

This is Watson's team. His ironclad contract makes it so, and fortunately, after some bumpy stretches, the last memory we have is of him going 14 for 14 in the second half (with a broken shoulder) to beat a Ravens team that It seems the best in history. the league today. Watson remains the last quarterback to beat Baltimore and he did it on the road.

Thompson-Robinson was selected to be the long-term backup behind Watson. None of that has changed. Flacco's presence here next year could only risk splitting the locker room the first time Watson struggles. For a quarterback so close to 40 years old, he's just not worth it. The sequel is never better than the original. Whether Flacco wants to play again next year or not is his decision, but it can't be in Cleveland.

So enjoy this for what it is: an extraordinary story, the best in the NFL right now. And a highly respected veteran who gets what's coming to him.

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

When it's over, it's really over.

(Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)



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