Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is a dynamic, one-of-a-kind talent that has taken the dual-threat quarterback playstyle to the next level. Jackson was named the unanimous NFL MVP in his first full season as a starter in 2019 and was named a First-Team All-Pro as well.
With his fifth-year option expiring this offseason, you would think the Ravens would have extended the two-time Pro Bowler by now and committed to him as their franchise quarterback of the future. Unfortunately for Jackson, he finds himself still trying to negotiate a long-term deal with the Ravens’ front office, as the team prepares to franchise tag him when the window opens on Feb. 21.
It’s become a somewhat awkward situation for everyone involved, with Jackson and the Ravens constantly appearing to not be on the same page with a new contract, despite the organization making it publicly known they want Jackson in Baltimore. This yearlong debacle has had Charm City and Ravens fans galore on pins and needles, wondering what will happen this offseason and if the Ravens will let Jackson walk, or even trade him to another team.
The Ravens are at fault for this situation and have dug themselves into a hole that is hard to get out of.
Because they waited to pay Jackson, the Ravens have made it more difficult on their salary cap situation to give him the long-term, fully guaranteed deal he is asking for. ESPN reported this past fall that Jackson turned down a long-term deal that would have made him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks as it relates to contract value at somewhere around $250 million, although the guaranteed money was only $133 million. The lack of guaranteed money has been a non-starter for Jackson, as he desires a fully guaranteed contract like Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson, whose record-setting, fully guaranteed $230 million deal reset the quarterback market after his trade from Houston.
When it comes to their NFL resumes, Jackson’s is clearly better than Watson’s and the former deserves to be paid more than the latter. However, the foolish deal the Browns gave Watson is truly an outlier and has front offices, such as Baltimore’s, in a bind for the future in terms of quarterbacks.
There’s also an on-the-field problem to address, one the Ravens are most likely using against Jackson in this situation—the most likely reason why they won’t pay him the amount of guaranteed money he desires. That problem is Jackson’s durability, as he has missed 11 games in the past two seasons due to ankle and knee injuries.
As dangerous of a dual-threat as Jackson is, his lower-body injuries are concerning due to how much he relies on his legs to contribute to his dynamic playmaking ability. When considering the front office point of view, it makes sense why the Ravens might be hesitant to give him a fully guaranteed long-term deal.
The Ravens are at the point where if a deal does not get done soon, they will have to use the franchise tag on Jackson, either exclusively or non-exclusively. The main difference between the two is the exclusive tag will not allow Jackson to negotiate with other teams, giving the Ravens full control of him. The non-exclusive tag will allow Jackson to negotiate with other teams and see if there are franchises that will give him the fully guaranteed long-term deal he desires and deserves. Given that Jackson and the Ravens have waited this long to reach an agreement on a contract, the most likely option is that the Ravens use the exclusive franchise tag on him and possibly entertain trade offers for him.
The exclusive franchise tag is estimated to be around $45 million this year, meaning the Ravens must pay Jackson that amount and risk facing limited cap space to do anything in free agency. There’s also the possibility that Jackson holds out and doesn’t even play on the franchise tag in 2023, something he should’ve done in 2022 to prevent injury until the Ravens paid him.
Both sides seem to be stuck in a rut, and it would be a huge loss for Baltimore if Jackson isn’t their starting quarterback come Week 1 this fall. In order to keep their once-in-a-lifetime talent at quarterback, the Ravens should pay Jackson the money he deserves and keep him in Baltimore for years to come—especially before more quarterbacks receive extensions and new contracts continue to reset the quarterback market.
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