Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 71-80.
1. Money for nothing? The Baltimore Ravens got a Super Bowl victory out of quarterback Joe Flacco in 2012, and Flacco got an impenetrable contract that will pay him well beyond his current performance level. He'll take in $21 million this season, a year after the Ravens paid him $30 million, and almost certainly will be around for an $11 million payday in 2015. That'll take his three-year grab to $62 million, and because of the deal's cap structure, it's quite likely he'll get some kind of extension after that. (Releasing him after 2015 would trigger a $26 million cap charge.) And for what? #NFLRank tabbed him the No. 80 offensive player in the league, behind 14 quarterbacks, and that seems about right. Last season, Flacco's Total Quarterback Rating ranked No. 25 in the NFL. Don't blame Flacco. His team won the Super Bowl at exactly the right time -- for him.
2. A pair of veteran defenders: Did the Cleveland Browns plan it this way? Who knows? In the end, however, they signed two free agents this spring who were destined to be stacked on top of each other in #NFLRank. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is No. 72 among all defensive players, and safety Donte Whitner is No. 73. Dansby is 32 and Whitner is 29, and nothing about their #NFLRank seems out of place. As much as anything, the Browns are hoping Dansby and Whitner can add edge and aggressiveness to an otherwise faceless defense. Their best playing days are probably behind them, but the Browns will be happy with the attitude adjustment they're likely to bring.
3. Growing into a role: Nate Solder began his college career as a tight end and hadn't finished growing into a left tackle's body by the time he entered the NFL in 2011. But Solder, positioned at No. 72 in #NFLRank, has developed into a more-than-adequate left tackle for the New England Patriots. Soon it will be time for the Patriots to decide whether to commit long term, as the Dallas Cowboys recently did with left tackle Tyron Smith, or move on. Solder is a bargain in 2014 with a $1.7 million salary, but he will have a chance to dramatically increase his compensation in 2015 with a strong season. Left tackle is one of the more difficult spots to fill in the NFL, and the Patriots would be wise to let Solder continue to grow with them.