Three first-round quarterbacks from the class of 2018 approach their fourth NFL seasons, with long-term deals expected for each. So when it comes to the second contracts for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who’s going first?
For the teams and the players, it’s an important consideration. The first deal done becomes the first deal to be leapfrogged by one of the others. That could cause the players to be patient. It should cause the teams to be urgent — unless, of course, the team that goes first ends up paying more than the others.
Last week, I asked Ravens G.M. Eric DeCosta whether this dynamic will create a problem for his team’s effort to get Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, signed.
“I don’t know,” DeCosta said. “We’ve been in situations like this. We were in a situation like this with [offensive tackes] Ronnie Stanley and [Laremy] Tunsil and [David] Bakhtiari and guys like that. Then we were in a similar situation with [cornerbacks] Marlon Humphrey and Tre’Davious White and Jalen Ramsey. What I always think to myself is we’re going to the best deal we can for the Ravens. Certainly, we’ll consider other deals and other ways of doing deals and different things. But we’re going to negotiate and do the best deal we can for the club that also makes sense for the player.”
There’s another potentially significant factor affecting Baltimore’s situation. Allen and Mayfield have agents. Jackson does not. How much does that complicate the process for DeCosta?
“I don’t know that it complicates things,” DeCosta said. “If it makes things easier, I’m not really sure. I think that the biggest thing is communication. For me and Lamar to communicate. We’ve already done a deal with Lamar. We did a rookie deal with Lamar. Obviously, it wasn’t the same, but we did. We understand some of the complications because we did that prior deal.
“This is a much different deal with a much different structure and things like that. I think that sometimes having the General Manager and the salary cap people talking to the player really does improve communication. What we see sometimes is that we will have conversations with an agent and in some cases a player’s not even aware of that. That won’t be the case here. I think the transparency will be pretty significant. That would be pretty good. I hope that if Lamar asks questions, he can get the answers. I know he has people that he trusts and respects that can help him and advise him because this is a big deal. We want to do it right. We want to do something he feels really good about and we want to do something that we feel really good about as well.”
DeCosta downplayed the reality that negotiating directly with the player can create awkward moments, because difficult things sometimes need to be said about the player’s potential weaknesses or other factors pointing to less favorable terms than the player is seeking. As DeCosta explained it, teams and players constantly have difficult conversations on a variety of topics.
Any conversations between Mayfield and the Browns, Allen and the Bills, and Jackson and the Ravens have yet to result in new contracts. It’s entirely possible if not likely that the agents for Mayfield and Allen want to see what the unrepresented player gets before proceeding; they likely won’t want to provide the baseline for Jackson.
Conversely, they won’t want Jackson to establish an unfavorable baseline that they would be used to hold down their clients’ deals. It’s nevertheless better to be in a position to try to surpass the deal that Jackson does without a traditional agent than to risk the embarrassment of Jackson getting a better deal than the players who are represented in the traditional way.