Boardroom looks ahead to four possible scenarios for what comes next in the ongoing Baltimore Ravens-Lamar Jackson contract saga.
The Baltimore Ravens-Lamar Jackson contract saga will likely continue into 2023. The franchise quarterback gave himself and the team a Friday, Sept. 9 deadline to get an extension done before negotiating will halt until the 2022 NFL season concludes.
Well, that day is here, and terms for a new deal have not been agreed. Ravens GM Eric DeCosta confirmed as much Friday morning:
The news here and now is that there’s no news, but that won’t be the case forever. Looking ahead, there are four distinct scenarios that could play out either before or after the parties reconvene after the season ends — with that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s most likely to happen next as the Lamar Jackson contract intrigue marches on in Baltimore.
Contract Extension in 2023
To be clear, a contract extension between the Ravens and Jackson is not off the table; resumed talks will simply have to wait until 2023, and the terms of the deal can absolutely change in several directions between now and then.
Multiple outlets and NFL insiders have reported that Jackson is looking for a deal similar to that of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who received a five-year, $230 million contract that was particularly notable in that it’s fully guaranteed; Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti admitted that Watson’s contract “[will] make negotiations harder with others,” But since Watson inked his extension in March, and since then, both Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Denver’s Russell Wilson have received significant contracts that specifically lack the same guarantees.
Murray has not had the same success in his career thus far as Jackson. Wilson, meanwhile, has had more as a Super Bowl champ, nine-time Pro Bowler, and surefire Hall of Famer. Quite simply, the Murray and Wilson deals help Bisciotti’s case — but Jackson still has not budged.
Should Lamar lead Baltimore to a Super Bowl appearance, win another MVP award, or set some manner of otherworldly NFL record, he’ll have all the more bargaining power. If he and the Ravens don’t play well, however, the chances of a fully guaranteed contract could sink down to zero. For what it’s worth, reports from multiple NFL insiders sugest that the negotiations have not been hostile; the two sides are simply not agreeing to terms. If this remains the case, there will be no greater determining factor for the size and structure of an extension than Jackson’s play on the field this season.
Because the Ravens very much appear to view Watson’s contract as an outlier, the fully guaranteed versus non-guaranteed deal is not an easily solved issue. Should the season end with Jackson still demanding a Watson-esque deal, the Ravens may be content to kick the can down the road for one more year by applying the franchise tag.
The dollar value of a franchise tender is determined by averaging the five highest salaries earned by players at a given position during the previous season; for quarterbacks, it topped off at $29.7 million in 2022 and is projected to hit a little over $31 million next season. Ironically enough, salaries for tagged players are 100% guaranteed.
It’s unavoidable, however, that players tend to be more or less unanimously unhappy about receiving the franchise tag in lieu of a multi-year extension, and a $31 million tender will be significantly lower than the average annual salary and guarantees Jackson’s elite-tier counterparts have received and will continue to receive. For context, the eight highest paid quarterbacks average, at minimum, $40 million annually and are guaranteed a minimum of $100 million over the course of their extensions.
Tuesday, Nov. 1 is this year’s NFL trade deadline, and while the chances that the Ravens would actually trade their MVP-winning franchise quarterback are extremely low, there’s technically a tiny possibility that the front office would at least listen to juggernaut offers if it became clear that agreeing to extension terms was somehow impossible. Should either side become frustrated enough with one another, there’s a nonzero chance of a trade request (or straight-up demand).
The odds of that happening are incredibly slim because there’s been no animosity at the negotiating table so far, so consider this one the wildest of wild cards.
Enter Free Agency
Another unlikely possibility for the Ravens? Simply allowing Lamar Jackson to enter free agency. Simply put, the man won more games in the last four years than Baltimore won throughout the five-year span of 2013-2017 before he arrived, and the franchise undoubtedly wants to keep winning. Jackson is the team’s franchise quarterback and the only MVP in Ravens history, so there’s effectively a better chance that we see LeBron James suit up for the Ravens at QB than watch Lamar Jackson enter NFL free agency.