Lamar Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie contract with the Ravens. Despite skipping voluntary practice at the start of the offseason, the star quarterback says he's committed to Baltimore, and his early arrival to training camp all but confirms as much. On the other hand, team owner Steve Bisciotti has said this offseason he's doubtful the two sides will strike a long-term agreement anytime soon, suggesting Jackson has shown no urgency to negotiate with general manager Eric DeCosta ahead of the 2022 season.
Now, with Cardinals QB Kyler Murray despite signs of previous discontent, what happens next in Jackson's case? How should Ravens fans be feeling about his future in purple? Here's everything you need to know:
Should Ravens fans be worried?
Not yet. It's certainly not ideal that Jackson isn't yet locked up, because the longer he and the Ravens wait to hammer this out, the more the QB market shifts. Ultimately, that benefits Jackson the most, at least for the short term. But it's clear both he and the organization want their marriage to continue. Ownership has basically said, "Come to the table and we'll pay you," at least publicly. It's possible, however, that Jackson's apparent hesitancy stems from an ever-shifting QB market that keeps demanding him to reassess his own value.
How much could Jackson command on a new deal?
That's the key question, isn't it? If it's true the Ravens are ready to talk but Jackson is slow to engage, that's likely because the QB, who has traditionally represented himself in contract talks, is trying to confirm his market value amid a financial landscape that's changed dramatically in recent months. A year ago, and even earlier this year, Jackson could've safely expected to net somewhere around $40 million per season on a new deal, just behind fellow 2018 first-rounder Josh Allen ($43M).
Since the end of the 2021 season, Allen has proven himself a slightly more worthwhile investment, leading a hot playoff run and giving himself one more MVP-caliber season than Jackson, even though the latter has technically won MVP. But then the Browns went and fully guaranteed a five-year, $230M deal to secure former Texans star Deshaun Watson, who is 1.5 years older than Jackson, with a worse career record (28-25 vs. 37-12), the same amount of playoff wins (one), and oh by the way pending NFL discipline for his alleged role in two dozen incidents of sexual assault or misconduct.
If Watson, who sat out an entire season while facing legal issues, is worth $46M per year, it stands to reason Jackson should command at least that much. Several team owners have already publicly lamented the Browns' decision to make Watson the face of record guarantees (perhaps more because of its effect on the QB market, not what it says about team integrity), but remember that just because one player gets full guarantees doesn't mean everyone will. Murray, for example, will average $46.1M per year on his extension, but less than half of his total deal is fully guaranteed.
All in all, we'd expect Jackson to presently command at least $46.5M per year on a new deal. Call it a four-year, $186 million contract that makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid QB behind Aaron Rodgers ($50.2M) and allows him to revisit the market between ages 29-30. The Ravens, meanwhile, would avoid having to restart at QB and secure one of the NFL's top-five signal-callers in terms of pure athletic ability, hoping to maximize their title chances in that window.
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Is there any reason the Ravens might balk at his price?
Sure, because while everyone can probably agree Jackson is worth just as much, if not more, than Watson and Murray right now, we must remember Jackson is also coming off an injury-riddled season in which he posted the worst passing marks of his career. Electric and irreplaceable as he is, Jackson makes a good chunk of his money as a runner, and thus inherently opens himself up to future injury risk. It's one thing to really want Jackson to stick around. It's another to commit top dollar to him over the course of a long-term contract, when in reality you might be able to take reasonably priced one-year flyers on him in 2022, 2023 and even 2024, which leads us to ...
What happens if a deal isn't done before Week 1?
If we reach the start of the 2022 season and a deal is still not in place, it's very possible Jackson will be headed toward a 2023 franchise tag. It's not unprecedented, by the way, for a star QB to get tagged and later sign an extension; the Cowboys notably used the tag on Dak Prescott twice before signing the QB to his current four-year deal. But both Jackson and the Ravens could have motivation to play out 2022 on the tag, with Jackson looking to further build his market after a down year and the Ravens wanting to confirm Jackson, at his peak, can lead them closer to the promised land.
How much would Jackson cost on a 2023 tag?
Over the Cap projects 2023 QB franchise tags to cost a fully guaranteed $31.5 million. That would represent a substantial raise from Jackson's 2022 payout ($23 million) on the fifth-year option, making him roughly the NFL's 11th-highest-paid QB.
Does Jackson prefer to wait it out and be tagged?
He doesn't seem opposed to it and in fact has looked fondly upon Vikings QB Kirk Cousins' history with the tag in Washington, as previously reported by Jason La Canfora. Cousins notably parlayed back-to-back tags into the NFL's first fully guaranteed QB deal with the Vikings in 2018 free agency. While a tag wouldn't give Jackson nearly as big a payday as a long-term deal, he could conceivably hold even more leverage by playing under it, forcing the Ravens to weigh costly options ahead of 2024: 1.) tag him again, substantially upping his salary yet again; 2.) extend him on a likely top-three QB deal; 3.) tag and trade him to a team willing to extend him; or 4.) allow him to test free agency, where he might be able to totally reset the QB market.
What happens next?
We wait. Ravens fans should have no worries about whether Jackson suits up for the team in 2022. So far, his words and actions have indicated he wants to be there. The Ravens, meanwhile, want him there. Beyond that, it's all a matter of if/when both sides come to the table for extended negotiations.