Ravens could’ve avoided Lamar Jackson contract drama in 2021

5 min read

In August 2021, the Buffalo Bills guaranteed Josh Allen $150 million. He played at a draft-bust level as a rookie, slightly improved in his second season, and after the Bills signed Stefon Diggs, Allen took off in season three. Lamar Jackson was selected in that same draft and in his first full season as a starter, he won the 2019 NFL MVP. Going into his sixth season with the Baltimore Ravens, he is now under the non-exclusive franchise tag.

It’s a position that Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert will likely not find themselves in. Like Patrick Mahomes, Allen, and Kyler Murray last offseason, those young signal-callers in Cincy and L.A. will probably sign a new lucrative contract offer before their fourth seasons begin. Yet here is Jackson, who does not have an agent, getting the Kirk Cousins treatment.

After Allen signed with the Bills, Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh said there was no hurry to ink Jackson to a long-term extension and two years later it still doesn’t feel like they’ve pushed the gas pedal anywhere near the floor.

The Ravens are playing hardball
The Ravens are playing hardball in dealing with a position as specialized as NFL starting quarterback, and now so is the rest of the league. According to ESPN’s Field Yates, five teams — four of which desperately need a starting quarterback — have declared that they are not interested in Jackson. Those teams could have a former unanimous NFL MVP if they offer him what he deems an acceptable contract that the Ravens decide not to match, and it would only cost Jackson’s new salary and two first-round draft picks. It would be logical to believe that the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Las Vegas Raiders, and especially the Washington Commanders should be attempting to move mountains to get Jackson on their roster.

Of all teams in the NFL, how could those four be dead set against signing Jackson? The Commanders showed in 2022 that their roster is flush with talent. Jackson at quarterback instead of Taylor Heinicke or Carson Wentz with that receiving corps would give the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys serious problems during the 2023 regular season.

The Panthers proved to have some promising talent on their roster as they stayed in the NFC South hunt all season — though the division was abysmal — and the Falcons’ offense could be electric with Jackson behind center. Yes, the Raiders were 4-7 by Dec. 1, 2022, but if that offense with Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams had Jackson behind center, Herbert’s Los Angeles Chargers likely don’t make the postseason.

While for those teams to be publicly out on Jackson so quickly is strange, there is some good reason for them not to offer him a contract. It is not as if he is able to sign with whichever team offers the best deal. The Ravens have the option to match any offer.

Sports agent Leigh Steinberg provides insight
Longtime sports agent Leigh Steinberg — who currently represents Patrick Mahomes — told Deadspin that because of the control that the Ravens have over Jackson’s contract, an unsuccessful offer going public could cause unnecessary headaches in the organization such as another quarterback option wanting more money.

But again, why go public instead of just quietly not pursuing Jackson? Is the league still smarting over the Cleveland Browns giving Deshaun Watson the first-ever fully guaranteed contract? Last year the owners were reportedly not happy with the Browns inking him to that deal. Here are Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti’s comments about that deal to the press during last year’s March owners’ meeting.

“It’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,’” Bisciotti said. “I don’t know that [Watson] should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that’s groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations hard with others. But it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to play that game, you know? We shall see.”

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Of course, Bisciotti needed to make it clear he believed that a “groundbreaking” contract should not have been offered, especially to that player, and furthermore, they don’t see Watson’s deal as any type of new baseline for franchise quarterbacks. According to Steinberg, Bisciotti most likely wants that contract to be viewed as an “aberration.”

“You have to argue that it’s an aberration because, something,” Steinberg told Deadspin. “Otherwise it exists as a signing and I would use it as a comparable. I would argue this player’s been MVP. Has Deshaun Watson? No.”

This is the tangled web that the Ravens have weaved for themselves. They said in the statement that they released on Tuesday that their “ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come.”

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