Latest on Lamar Jackson: “Now it feels like anything is possible”
The window for teams to place the franchise tag on eligible players opened this week and runs through March 7. However, it’s become almost a certainty that the Baltimore Ravens will place that tag on Lamar Jackson as they continue to work on a contract extension for the former MVP quarterback.
Lamar Jackson last spoke to the media in person in November. Moreover, he hasn’t Tweeted anything relevant since his self-reported injury update leading up to the Wild Card game in Cincinnati. Of course, the Ravens said all the right things last month at their end-of-season press conference, but that was to be expected.
But things are far from as cut and dry as the Ravens would like everyone to believe. If a Ravens team source that recently spoke to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler is to be believed, things may be heading for turbulence.
“A couple of months ago, I would have said no way [that a trade will happen],” a team source told Fowler. “Now it feels like anything is possible.”
Jackson and the Ravens aren’t in the same ballpark …
So, while the Ravens want everyone to believe that there’s no doubt that Lamar Jackson will be in Baltimore — John Harbaugh went as far as saying that “Lamar Jackson is our quarterback,” and there is a “200 percent” chance he remained a Raven last month — things are far from guaranteed.
Of course, guaranteed is the issue here. Jackson wants a fully guaranteed contract from the Ravens. But, as of today, the Ravens have balked at that request. Jackson turned down a five-year, $250 million contract in September, including $133 million guaranteed.
According to Fowler, all of Jackson’s counteroffers to the Ravens have been for fully guaranteed money in the $250 million range.
That means Jackson and the Ravens are roughly $120 million apart regarding guaranteed money.
Lamar’s “prove it” year went all wrong …
However, Jackson opened the 2022 season, making one heck of a case for his demands. He became the first player in NFL history with at least three touchdown passes and 100 yards rushing in consecutive games. He was also voted the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Month.
But he threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions over his next nine games. Jackson was seen slamming his helmet on the sideline multiple times and getting into the face of teammate Ronnie Staley during a Week 9 victory in New Orleans.
Jackson’s dream start to the season had come crashing down. It was apparent that the pressure of one of the most closely watched contract years in recent memory was getting to Jackson.
In a Week 8 game at Tampa Bay, Jackson threw two touchdown passes in the second half of a 27-22 victory. Then, as he jogged into the tunnel to leave the field, a fan’s sign broke off its string and landed by Jackson’s feet. It read: “Pay ‘Em Now.”
“That was funny,” Jackson said afterward. “I saw that land right by me and just had to pick it up.”
Things became even more complicated when Jackson hurt his left knee on the final play of the first quarter in a 10-9 win over Denver in Week 13.
Jackson would miss the rest of the regular season and the Ravens Wild Card loss to the Bengals last month. It’s fair to wonder whether Jackson’s injury lingered to the point it did because he didn’t want to play on a compromised knee with no financial guarantees beyond this season.
So, what’s next?
Jackson’s durability concerns, which shined brightest at the worst time for him, are why the Ravens are reluctant to meet his demands.
There’s no denying that Jackson is a game-changer. The Ravens are 40-17 when he is on the field. They average 27.5 points per game when he is under center. However, in 13 games without Jackson since 2019, Baltimore is 4-9. They averaged just 17.2 points per game in that span.
There’s a case to be made both ways. Hence the potential standoff looming in Baltimore.
“It could become a standoff because I wouldn’t expect him to sign the tag for a while,” an AFC exec told Fowler. “And [the Ravens] will be so far apart in the guaranteed money.”
The only certainty here is that the franchise tag will be applied to Jackson before March 7. What happens next could go a few different ways. Jackson and the Ravens could find a medium that works for them in extension discussions. On the other hand, Jackson could refuse to play on the franchise tag to force the Ravens to trade him.
There’s also the question of which tag the Ravens will deploy. The exclusive franchise tag would pay Jackson $45 million this season if he signs it and plays. On the other hand, if things ended in a trade, that would give Baltimore the leverage to extract more than two first-round picks and decide on the trade partner.
If they go the non-exclusive route, they’ll pay Jackson only $32.4 million. That would allow Jackson to negotiate with other teams. More importantly, it would limit the Ravens to two first-round picks as compensation if he was to sign elsewhere. Many believe that Watson’s ability to negotiate with other teams led to him landing the fully-guaranteed contract that he did. Baltimore would be wise not to give Jackson that power. Because, in a thin quarterback market, he may find a team desperate enough like the Browns.
One last wrinkle in all of this will be what the other quarterbacks due for extensions this offseason will do. If Burrow, Herbert, and Hurts get extensions, their guaranteed money will serve as case law for the Ravens and Jackson.
Buckle up; the ride appears to be a bumpy one.