Lamar Jackson bet on himself, now Baltimore Ravens must pony up for hefty new deal | Opinion
What a remarkable coincidence. On the day that Kyler Murray finally settled his protracted contract negotiations and agreed to a five-year, $230.5 million extension that locks him up as the Arizona Cardinals quarterback through the 2028 season, Lamar Jackson reported to the Baltimore Ravens training camp on Thursday – five days early.
In another sense, Jackson, entering the option year of his rookie deal, is running late when it comes to striking a long-term mega contract.
This could have – no, should have – already been finished business by now.
Yet, the wait continues while Jackson’s participation – or not – in the Ravens' practices looms as the most significant storyline as NFL camps fully open this week.
Maybe Murray’s deal will be the impetus that pushes Jackson and the Ravens to find the common ground that both sides realize is inevitable.
Then again, the same rationale could have applied nearly a year ago when Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen signed a six-year, $258 million extension.
So, maybe not.
Jackson, 25, can also draw on the Deshaun Watson contract as a barometer. Watson’s fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million extension from the Cleveland Browns undoubtedly complicated the issue for the Ravens, as team owner Steve Bisciotti grumbled about when it came down last spring.
Watson’s deal, stunning in that it was struck while he is embroiled in an off-the-field mess that could lead to an NFL suspension, threatens to change the metrics that might seal a Jackson contract.
If the Ravens want to get this done now, it may take following the template of the Watson deal by offering a deal that guarantees every penny upon signing. No, it shouldn’t take that, even though Jackson has been such a bargain in far outplaying his rookie contract as the last player picked in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. If the dollars over the first three years of a new Jackson deal are in the range commanded by Watson ($138 million) and Aaron Rodgers ($150 million), then surely there’s room to work on the structure and the guarantees.
According to Spotrac.com, Murray’s new deal includes an average of $46.2 million per year in new money and $160 million guaranteed. Rodgers’ contract, completed in March, averages $50.3 million per year, followed by Murray, Watson ($46 million), Patrick Mahomes ($45 million) and Allen ($43.006 million).
Of course, the numbers can be dizzying. Yet, it’s the color of NFL business, the flow of the market, which will continue to escalate against the backdrop of the $100 billion that will rain into the NFL through 2033 from its extensions of its major media rights deals.
Jackson undoubtedly knows this. He also must realize that, with a 37-12 record as a starter (his .788 winning clip is best among quarterbacks drafted since 2018) and 2019 MVP award on his résumé, the new Murray contract is at the floor of what he should be willing to receive.
That Jackson reported to camp early represents quite the statement of good faith. He showed up a few weeks ago for the mandatory minicamp, too, after skipping organized team workouts. But he’s also in position to establish a line in the sand in Owings Mills, Maryland, too, by refusing to practice and surely not to play in Week 1, without a new contract.
No. 8 is an X-factor in full effect. Last year, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt had a similar contract dilemma. Watt showed up to camp but didn’t fully participate in drills. Then he landed a four-year, $112 million contract with $80 million guaranteed, putting him on course for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Jackson, who doesn’t have an agent to fan the flames, hasn’t publicly declared what his approach will be when it comes to practicing or whether he intends to play this season if he doesn’t get a new deal by, say, early September.
Guaranteed $23 million for 2022 on the final, option year of his rookie contract, Jackson could play this out over the long-haul course of three more seasons. The payout for the exclusive franchise tag for quarterbacks in 2023 is projected at least $33 million; in 2024 that number would approach $40 million in his case.
Remember, Kirk Cousins went the route of playing out the tag and cashed in. And Dak Prescott struck gold despite suffering a gruesome injury, landing a four-year, $160 million extension from the Dallas Cowboys in 2021.
Maybe Jackson will hold out for the prospect of exceeding Rodgers’ level. If he leads the Ravens to a Super Bowl crown, perhaps he could even command a deal that exceeds $60-million-per-year.
Then again, the recent quarterback deals to measure against are not chump change.
Jackson isn’t the first star quarterback to bet on himself. It paid off for Prescott, Cousins and in a previous generation of QB money, for Jackson’s predecessor for the Ravens, Joe Flacco.
Yet Jackson, too, is betting on himself in more ways than one. I’m wondering whether this impasse between the Ravens and their franchise quarterback would even exist if Jackson had an agent.
When Jackson came out of Louisville, he reasoned that he didn’t need an agent because rookie contracts were slotted without much wiggle room for negotiation. He used an attorney to pour over the fine print of the contract and thus saved himself the one-to-three percent fees that agents collect as their commission.
Yet, this is a different deal now, underscored by the market factors, structure and timing that influence these mega contracts that are a lot more complex than the rookie deals. If Jackson had an agent to work through the negotiations with the Ravens, maybe the long-term security that he deserves would be in the books by now.
Regardless, Jackson’s agent – himself – is in camp with a potential deal waiting to happen.
Follow columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lamar Jackson: When will Baltimore Ravens sign QB to new mega deal?