The Ravens have been ready, for up to a year or longer, to give quarterback Lamar Jackson a major second contract. Jackson, for whatever reason, has not wanted to engage the team in contract talks.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh recently addressed the delicate situation during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show.
“He’s a unique guy,” Harbaugh said. “People have been scratching their heads and trying to figure out Lamar probably for a long time, you know, ever since he was a kid. And he’s got his way of going about doing things. But that’s what you love about him, it’s what I love about him. Get him on here and ask him. Maybe he’ll tell you.”
That comment underscores that fact that the Ravens don’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing. That it objectively makes no sense. The Ravens are ready to give Jackson his reward. Structured the right way, it would help the team properly plan its short- and long-term approach to constructing a team around him. Instead, the Ravens will pay him $23 million this year and, absent a new contract in 2023, the franchise tag for one or two years before he officially would become a free agent in 2025 — unless the Ravens would be willing to tag him a third time, at a 44-percent raise over his second tag amount.
It gets expensive. It gets unwieldy from a cap standpoint. Lost in the waiting game is the possibility that the Ravens will become exasperated, and attempt to make other plans.
Through it all, Jackson continues to play the position in a physical way, resulting in far more risk for him than other quarterbacks of the kind of acute or chronic injuries that could short-circuit his high-level skills.
That’s what makes it all so strange. The Ravens are ready to roll. It’s in Jackson’s best interests to engage them now, if he truly wants to stay. Although he has pushed back on the perception that he’s looking to leave, his actions are consistent with a Kirk Cousins-style, two-tags-and-walk-away strategy.
“When he’s ready to do it, it’s going to become a priority for him, then we’re gonna know it, you know?” Harbaugh told Eisen. “It doesn’t have to be a priority for us right now. It’s got to be a priority for both sides. We can do something, or we can wait. Because we know it’s gonna get done when it’s supposed to get done. Hey, when it’s God’s will and Lamar’s will at the same time, it’s gonna all fit together. I do believe Lamar when he tells me that, man, he just wants to be the best quarterback he can be, and that’s what he’s thinking about right now. He doesn’t think he has to think about his contract. He feels like he’s got time to do it. Yeah, you could argue that one way or the other. But everybody gets to make that decision for themselves. That’s a great thing. That’s his choice, not somebody else’s.”
Harbaugh then turned the tables on those talking publicly about Jackson’s contract situation.
“I’ll tell you what, all the pundits out there . . . if you want to talk about your particular contract situation and how you’re doing with your salary and when you’re gonna go ask your boss for a raise and all that, maybe we can all talk about that back and forth and have that conversation,” Harbaugh joked (unless he wasn’t joking). “But in the end, the person gets to decide for themselves, you know? So that’s what Lamar’s doing. I think it’s kind of funny and cool and fascinating how everybody wants to talk about it and speculate on it, but it’s really pretty simple, I think. He’s not ready, you know? And when he’s ready, we’ll be ready. And when that happens, we’ll have something.”
He’s clearly not ready. As previously mentioned, Jackson already has informed the team that he doesn’t want to do a new deal until after the current season. Harbaugh seemed to allude to the specific discussion when that message was sent.
“We had a serious conversation at the end of the season with Lamar and Eric and myself,” Harbaugh said. “And he made it pretty clear where he was at with it and what he wanted to do this offseason, and that was really the last formal one we had.”
It may be the last formal one they have for awhile. There’s nothing to discuss, formally or informally, until Jackson is ready. And while Harbaugh is doing his best to glass-half-full the situation, he has to be dismayed by this. It makes no sense. He knows it. But he can’t say it. Because the team has no choice but to tiptoe around Jackson as he takes an unprecedented approach to his second contract.
The team is ready to give it to him. He’s just not ready to take it. And no one knows why, including Harbaugh and the Ravens.