The road to Lamar Jackson getting the non-exclusive franchise tag from the Ravens was a long and windy one. Boardroom breaks down how we got here and what could happen next.
The Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson have had much success since the Ravens drafted him in 2018. But now, all of what they have built together is in jeopardy as the two sides have not agreed on a contract extension for Jackson to remain a team member.
With Jackson receiving a non-exclusive franchise tag, he can now go out and find the deal he wants with another club. Still, reports have surfaced that teams are not interested in the 2019-2020 NFL MVP.
A lot has already happened before free agency’s official kickoff next week. Boardroom takes a look at how Jackson and the Ravens got into the situation they are in now, the debate as to what Jackson deserves, and the confusion around the lack of interest in Jackson from other NFL clubs.
How We Got Here
Though we are at the crescendo of the contract dispute between the Ravens and Lamar Jackson, the road to get here has long been building. Jackson has been due for a boatload of money ever since his 2019-20 MVP season. Jackson became eligible for an extension the following season after he won his first playoff game but was later bounced out of the playoffs by the Buffalo Bills.
Throughout the summer of 2021, the Ravens expressed interest in getting a deal done, but a new contract was not Lamar’s focus. In June, he told reporters he was “not really focused on negotiations right now. I’m focused on getting a Super Bowl.”
When the 2021-22 season began, not much changed, Jackson was focused on quarterbacking the Ravens and Baltimore supported his decision but was quietly adamant about getting a deal done. The Ravens’ signal-caller season came to an unfortunate end when he suffered an ankle injury that would keep him out for the remainder of the year. At the time, the Ravens were 8-3 when Lamar was healthy but finished 8-9 after he was injured.
When the season concluded, Ravens’ General Manager Eric DeCosta said at the 2022 NFL Combine that the team will work at “Lamar’s urgency … We are ready to be there for Lamar at any point when he decides that he really wants to work on it. We will be. We have an awesome relationship.”
During the summer, the two sides got together to discuss a deal. Jackson set a deadline for the 2022-23 season opener — Sept. 9, but a deal was not completed by then. Jackson again led the Ravens to an 8-4 record before being injured in Week 13 and missing the final five games of the season.
With the season ending and Lamar’s rookie contract being complete, the two sides returned to the negotiating table, but with Jackson receiving a non-exclusive franchise tag, no deal has been reached.
What Jackson Deserves
The issue as to what Jackson deserves has been a never-ending debate ever since Deshaun Watson inked a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. At the time of the deal, Watson was in the midst of 24 civil lawsuits from women that alleged he sexually harassed or assaulted them during private massage appointments. Watson has settled 23 of the 24 cases, paid a $5 million fine, and was suspended for 11 games last season.
The deal could have set a precedent for more fully guaranteed deals to be inked. But NBC Sports’ Peter King reported in March 2022, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam were reportedly “not the most popular people at the league meetings … [King] heard lots of grumbling from those who think/thought trading six picks for a player who could have been found guilty of heinous offenses or signing him to the richest contract in league history … stinks to high heaven.”
Since then Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson signed deals that were not fully guaranteed, showing signs that the Watson deal could be an anomaly. But with Watson receiving the contract that he did, Jackson has every right to want more. Since entering the league in 2017, the Ravens’ quarterback has led his team to more wins and playoff appearances than Watson while also earning a league MVP award. And in the five-year span (2013-2017) before Jackson arrived in Baltimore, the Ravens won a total of 40 games. But in Jackson’s five years (2018-2023), he has won 49 games as the starting quarterback.
ESPN’s Chris Mortenson reported in the first week of the 2022-23 season that Jackson had turned down a deal that would have paid him $133 million at signing and over $250 million overall. The total worth of the contract was never revealed, but the $133 million marker would have been more than both Wilson ($124 million) and Murray ($103.3 million). Relative to Murray and Wilson, Jackson has more wins since he entered the league than both.
Jackson has been able to achieve the success he has without a proven No. 1 receiver. Whether that was because of now-former Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman is a debate for another day. But Murray and Wilson have had Deandre Hopkins and DK Metcalf, respectively, more than what can be said for Jackson. The closest thing may have been Jackson’s close friend Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, who the Ravens traded to the Cardinals during the 2022 NFL Draft.
Since 1996, Baltimore is the only team to not draft a Pro Bowl receiver.
Rumors have swirled from multiple NFL insiders who say Lamar has been negotiating for a fully guaranteed deal. On ESPN’s First Take, Stephen A. Smith said Jackson’s camp has never asked for a fully guaranteed deal. Regardless, the contract dispute between the Ravens and Jackson still lives.
Why it Doesn’t Make Sense
A non-exclusive tag on Jackson gives him the ability to negotiate a deal with another team while the Ravens have the opportunity to match that same deal. There are multiple NFL teams who could use Jackson’s quarterbacking services, but ESPN reported that those who were rumored to be in consideration will not pursue him. Those teams include the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Washington Commanders, and Las Vegas Raiders.
Strangely enough, the Falcons, Dolphins, and Panthers were in talks to trade for DeShaun Watson last season. As noted before, Jackson is the more accomplished quarterback between him and Watson. On top of that, he has a clean record off the field.
The Commanders have been in quarterback limbo ever since they parted ways with Kirk Cousins. The Washington team has had 13 different quarterbacks to start a game since 2018. The Las Vegas Raiders recently cut ties with longtime quarterback Derek Carr and though Jarrett Stidham played well as the backup, the club is still searching for another franchise quarterback.
The teams bowing out could have a connection to the NFL owners being unhappy with the Haslam’s giving Watson a fully guaranteed deal. The NFL Players Association is already on that trail. In November, the PA filed a grievance that alleged teams are colluding to keep players from receiving fully guaranteed contracts. NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith did not give any update on the grievance process at his Super Bowl press conference.
On the other hand, owners and teams could argue that Jackson’s health over the past two seasons is a reason to refrain from giving him a Watson-esque deal.
It is unclear as to what will happen next between the Ravens and Lamar Jackson. But the representatives of Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts all could be waiting to see how it plays out. If Jackson does get the deal he’s looking for or he resets the quarterback contract market, all three of those QBs could bargain for deals of similar stature.
And so the firework fuses of NFL free agency have already begun being lit. But the show doesn’t officially start until Wednesday, March 15.
Until then, fans, players, and team officials alike await more action from the Ravens and Lamar Jackson.
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