A year ago, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson reportedly wasn’t interested in a new contract because he was too focused on football. Now, at a time when he’s very focused on football, he’s trying to get a new contract.
Will it happen?
It’s impossible to know the answer to that question with any degree of certainty, because the situation is so unique. Jackson represents himself. Coach John Harbaugh recently noted that it’s hard for Jackson to spend time negotiating, since he’s practicing.
And when there’s a chance to negotiate, it’s far more delicate and complicated for the team than it is when negotiating with an agent. The Ravens can’t afford to ever be perceived as taking advantage of the situation with their franchise quarterback, and the final product will indeed be scrutinized for any evidence that the Ravens pulled a fast one with someone who isn’t as skilled in the nuances of negotiating as a good agent would be. (Pro tip: Don’t propose an “Independent Study” clause.)
Jackson is practicing without the contract he wants. Arguably, he should be holding in. A good agent would quite possibly advise him to do that.
Jackson has said that there will be a deadline for getting something done. Presumably, that’s Labor Day weekend, as the focus turns exclusively to Week One and beyond.
Here’s the reality. At some point, the Ravens will make their best offer. Jackson will have to decide whether to take it. If he does, problem solved. If he doesn’t, problem lingers.
Ten years ago, the Ravens went through this same exercise with quarterback Joe Flacco. He was entering the final year of his rookie deal. The team made its best offer. Flacco consciously decided to bet on himself. He won big. After the Ravens became the Super Bowl champions and Flacco became the Super Bowl MVP, he leveraged the situation into the biggest contract in league history — with a structure that required the team to renegotiate and make him the highest-paid player in league history again, three years later.
Jackson could decide to make that same bet. And as much as we love it when a guy bets on himself and wins, we don’t focus nearly as much on situations where a guy bets on himself and loses.
Last year, former Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield surely could have gotten a new contract from the team, but it was clear that the two sides were operating in different universes of compensation. So he bet on himself. And now, after a disastrous season due to a Week Two shoulder injury, he’s competing for a chance to become the starter in Carolina, with his football future hinging on: (1) whether he wins the job; and (2) what he does with it.
For Jackson, the risk of injury is real, given the way he plays the position. While he could end up putting the Ravens over a barrel in the same way Flacco did, it also could blow up on the 2019 NFL MVP. And if Jackson does indeed put Baltimore in a tough spot, they quite possibly will decide to use the non-exclusive franchise tag, inviting another team to do the negotiating for them — allowing the Ravens eventually to decide whether to match the offer sheet that Jackson signs with another franchise or to collect a pair of first-round picks as compensation for letting him leave.
None of that matters, if they get a deal done before Week One. For now, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether they will.