OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Joe Flacco understands the lofty expectations that come with a Super Bowl ring and a new $120.1 million contract.
He couldn't care less.
The Baltimore Ravens quarterback scoffed at the idea that he is under pressure to excel this season, now that he's the reigning Super Bowl MVP and owns a six-year contract that, at the time, was the richest in NFL history.
"All we can do is go out there and keep winning, just like we have every year we've been here and not really worry about what people say and what the expectations are," Flacco said Tuesday. "Who really cares?"
After throwing 11 touchdown passes without an interception in a sensational playoff run that ended with a 34-31 win over San Francisco, Flacco no longer has to prove he is one of the league's elite players. He's the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, and now he's got the fame — and a paycheck — worthy of such an accomplishment.
"I can't really complain at this point. We won last year, I have a lot of money — or I'm going to get a lot of money — and we're going to win football games. That's the way it is around here," Flacco said a brief training camp practice with rookies and injured veterans. "We're not going to apologize for acting like a good football team. Yeah, our expectations are high, and we don't care if that comes with pressure. We expect to win."
As he prepares to enter his sixth NFL season, Flacco has already won nine playoff games, taken the Ravens to the AFC title game three times and has never missed a start. What else can the guy do?
There is no limit to his potential, according to Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
"He continues to grow," Harbaugh said. "The contract really doesn't have much to do with how hard you work, as long as you continue to work, which he will and has."
Flacco's sheepish grin and will to win hasn't changed since he arrived as a first-round pick out of Delaware in 2008. Now, however, he exudes the confidence of a champion.
And with linebacker Ray Lewis retired, Flacco will be asked to do more than merely guide the offense. At times, he will be required to be the voice of the team — in and out of the locker room.
It's nothing he hasn't done before.
"I'm always a leader. I'm not going to really change my role," he said. "We don't have Ray Lewis here anymore, if that's what you're asking. Me and him are probably different in terms of how we lead anyway. I'm not going to change what I do at all because I make more money. That has nothing to do with leading a football team.
"I'm going to go out there and play well and lead by example and I'm going to have fun with my guys. I'm going to get them to trust me and we're going to be a good football team because of it."
During a whirlwind offseason that began immediately after the Super Bowl, the Ravens retooled much of their defense, traded standout wide receiver Anquan Boldin, dumped fullback Vonta Leach and lost center Matt Birk to retirement.
But general manager Ozzie Newsome made signing Flacco a priority, and now Harbaugh has his quarterback in place for another six years.
"It's a great thing to have your quarterback. It's very important, it's a big advantage," the coach said. "Every team in the league is chasing that."
Better still, Harbaugh knows he can count of the durable Flacco to be ready for every start. From his first game as a rookie through his first Super Bowl experience, Flacco has taken the first snap of every game and stuck around until his services were no longer required.
"I don't think it's the end all be all, but I'm definitely proud to say that I can be there for my team every Sunday," Flacco said. "It's not about being hurt, not being hurt. As a player and as a quarterback, there really is only one of you every Sunday and you just take pride in the fact that you can show up for your teammates every week. I think that definitely helps out a lot in terms of being a leader on the team. All of the guys know the fact that you're going to be out there for them."