A Dive into Lamar Jackson's Contract Status
Do I have a list in my phone that highlights all of Lamar Jackson's accomplishments that I will include as fun facts throughout this article? I plead the 5th. Now that we got that out of the way, let's get into his contract status and the Ravens' three options.
Lamar Jackson, Florida native and former Louisville quarterback, was the last pick (32nd) in the 2018 NFL Draft. He signed a four-year deal with the Ravens for $9,471,648 with a $4,968,471 signing bonus. Lamar has been crucial to the Baltimore Ravens' run-first offense winning an MVP in 2019 and posing a 49-21 record thus far.
Fast forward to 2022, Baltimore exercised their fifth-year option to keep him one more season pushing his deal closer to $23,016,000. Thanks to Sam Hubbard's 98-yard fumble-return TD, the Ravens season has ended and Jackson is currently not under contract.
***FUN FACT 1: Lamar, at 22, is the youngest QB to ever win an MVP in the NFL.
The total number is unclear. However, per Adam Schefter, Baltimore reportedly offered Jackson a contract extension worth $250 million. This offer was for six years, per Chris Mortensen, with $133 million guaranteed.
Jackson would have been the second-highest-paid quarterback in terms of average money per year and guaranteed money at signing. Why deny this offer? Let's ask his agent. Jackson, who does not have an agent, seems to want the Deshaun Watson special (absent the litigation).
Watson secured a $230,000,000 deal with $230,000,000 fully guaranteed from the Cleveland Browns. In addition to breaking the hearts of NFL owners into pieces, this precedent set a high bar for many future NFL QBs, like Lamar.
Before the Watson deal, Russell Wilson's $245,000,000 deal ($160,000,000 fully guaranteed), was the highest fully guaranteed deal and still $70,000,000 less. This decision, like the Browns' decision, played out perfectly as the Denver Broncos finished 5-12 at the bottom of the AFC West.
Going into next season, the Ravens now have three options with respect to Lamar: (1) exercise their franchise tag, (2) finalize a trade, or (3) agree to a long-term deal.
1. Franchise Tag
The franchise tag window is open between Feb. 21 and Mar. 7. The Ravens can either offer a (1) exclusive or (2) non-exclusive franchise tag. The way to reconcile these two tags is that an exclusive tag is more expensive ($45 million) but allows the Ravens to control the negotiation process. A non-exclusive is more affordable ($32 million) but allows other teams to talk with Jackson.
Most teams, despite the extra money, lean toward an exclusive tag so that another team cannot dictate communications with the desired player.
***FUN FACT 2: Lamar, in 50 games, is the only NFL player ever with 8000 pass yards and 3000 rush yards.
The exclusive franchise tag poses a problem, per ESPN's Jamison Hensley, because the Ravens have a little over $40 million in cap space. Since the exclusive tag is projected to be around $45 million, the organization would have to make some pay cuts in order to be under the cap by Mar. 15.
If the Ravens offer a franchise tag—arguably their best financial decision—Lamar could very likely sit out the 2023 season because his security is not guaranteed. Lamar's knee injury against the Broncos during Week 13 appeared to be inconsequential - Harbaugh at least made it seem that way - but he ended up missing four games and their first-round playoff exit against the Bengals.
Fans, like myself, speculate that potentially would have played through the injury if the Ravens gave him his fully guaranteed deal. Since the front office did not "truss" Lamar, he decided to nurse his injury back to full health to ensure he can get the full money somewhere else, if required.
Hopefully, Jackson does not consult with Le'Veon Bell, who was upset with the Steelers' franchise tag and sat out the 2018 season to protest.
***FUN FACT 3: Lamar has the most career NFL wins by a QB younger than 25.
The good news is that only Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott have been offered franchise tags in the past and both led to the QBs getting paid. Kirk left Washington to sign long term-deal with Minnesota, and Dak later signed a long-term deal with Dallas.
2. Trade (please don't)
This option would definitely make some noise in the NFL because there have only been 9 trades involving MVP QBs and none have been above the age of 30. Twitter has already been having some fun photoshopping Lamar on their favorite teams.
The Ravens understandably have some dubious feelings on giving Jackson a fully guaranteed deal because he missed 10 of the past 22 games. With his nature of being a mobile QB, the risk of injury is much higher than someone who is more of a pocket passer.
It's impossible to say what the Ravens would be able to secure in a trade, but precedent is on their side. I mentioned how poorly both Wilson and Watson turned out, but the Seahawks (trading Wilson) and the Texans (trading Watson) got plenty in return.
***FUN FACT 4: Lamar is one of two players (Tom Brady) to have 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in 3 games during a season.
Seattle got two first-round picks and two second-round picks for Wilson even with him being 33 at the time. Similarly, Houston got first-round picks in 2022-2024 and some other picks for Watson even pending litigation at the time. Lamar's value, at 25 and arguably at the peak of his career, is likely higher than both of these quarterbacks.
3. Long-Term Deal
Contract negotiations have been going on for two seasons. Baltimore now has two months to make this long-term deal happen. Things could be seen as pointing in the right direction as the Ravens recently fired running back and tight end aficionado OC Greg Roman.
John Harbaugh took this opportunity to speak highly of Lamar and note that he will be involved in the process of finding a new OC.
"Lamar Jackson is our quarterback...everything we've done is based on this incredible young man." He went on further to say that "everyone wants Lamar to be in Baltimore and Lamar wants to be in Baltimore."
I can confirm this statement and I speak for everyone.
Thanks for stopping by,
Matthew Marino is a 2L at Elon University School of Law.