Last year, the Ravens were reticent when it came to discussing the failure of quarterback Lamar Jackson to engage the team in contract negotiations. (As of Week One last year, it was suggested that he’s too “immersed” in football to negotiate. Which was all the more reason to hire someone else to negotiate the deal. Especially with the Ravens losing one player after another to torn ACLs during the most recent training camp and preseason.)
This year, the Ravens already have opted for measured candor when it comes to pointing out that they’re ready, willing, and able to work something out. Jackson, who clearly isn’t too focused on football in early March to negotiate, still hasn’t engaged them.
Jackson’s approach is either strategic or misguided. Last year, the situation became simplified after the Bills signed Josh Allen to a long-term deal that pays out $43 million per year. Based on the terms and structure of the Allen contract, Jackson should have asked the Ravens for the exact same contract, and he should have refused to play until he got it.
Instead, Jackson proceeded without a new deal. Between illnesses and injuries and the struggles of the team, he arguably has hampered his leverage.
Jackson now enters his option year. By rule, he’ll get $23 million. It’s a nice bump over the slotted four-year deal that paid out $9.5 million to the 32nd overall pick in the draft, but it’s not close to what he’s worth. Next year, if the Ravens apply the franchise tag, Jackson will get between $30 million and $35 million. In 2024, he’d get a 20-percent increase over the first tag for his second tag.
This approach, whether Jackson is intending the outcome or not, would force the Ravens to give him a 44-percent raise over his 2024 salary under the franchise tag or a 20-percent raise over his 2024 salary under the transition tag, which would give the Ravens only a right to match any offer sheet he signs elsewhere.
Some think this is the method to the apparent madness. That Jackson, without the benefit of a seasoned and savvy agent, is deciding to eschew long-term offers and put in seven years with the Ravens before hitting the open market and picking his next destination.
While the one-year-at-a-time approach can indeed work for quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson’s physical, run-heavy style significantly enhances the risk that, by the time 2025 rolls around, Jackson will be too banged up to break the bank.
Whatever Jackson does, he would benefit from the advice of one of the top quarterback agents. (I won’t name any for risk of having my phone blown up by whoever gets omitted.) As a former league MVP, Jackson can hire any agent he wants. Why not simply line up meetings with five of the top quarterback agents, if only to pick their brains about what approach they’d recommend?
It’s entirely possible that Jackson has consciously decided to ignore any and all overtures by the Ravens in order to get to the open market and pick his next team. And we fully support any approach that pushes back against the system and gets players what they deserve. As best we can tell, however, the Ravens are willing to give him what he deserves. At a minimum, it’s too early to know whether they will or they won’t, because Jackson won’t engage in the back-and-forth that either will, or won’t, result in a deal.
At some point, the Ravens may decide to protect themselves. Tyler Huntley, undrafted in 2020, is an exclusive-rights free agent in 2020. While the term necessarily means “not a free agent at all,” what if the Ravens decide to offer Huntley a real contract, a multi-year deal that pays him well to be the understudy to Jackson? If Jackson isn’t going to give the Ravens the long-term answer they want at the quarterback position, it would be smart for the Ravens to ensure that Huntley will be ready to go, if Jackson eventually is gone.