OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has established himself as one of the top players in football, setting records and creating highlights with his ability to elude defenders.
Now, Jackson is drawing praise as being at the top of the game with how he’s handled his contract situation.
By not signing an extension last season like Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Jackson has positioned himself to earn at least $130 million more in guaranteed money and over $7 million more per season. One of the few NFL players not represented by an agent, Jackson is being applauded as loudly as the time he threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns.
"If I’m Lamar Jackson, I walk into [Ravens owner] Steve Bisciotti’s office and I simply put my feet up on his desk and say, ‘Hey, great news for you Mr. Bisciotti, I don’t want $1 more than Deshaun Watson. But, oh, by the way, I’m not taking $1 less. So, when you’re ready to write a check for $230 million, I’m going to sign it,’” former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum said on ESPN’s Get Up. "And as great as Lamar Jackson is as a player, by him waiting and representing himself, he’s actually going to go down as a Hall of Fame agent.”
Like Allen, Jackson became eligible for a contract extension last offseason. Unlike Allen, Jackson chose not to pursue a new deal.
Last summer, Allen signed a six-year, $258 million extension, which averages $43 million per season and includes $100 million guaranteed at signing. This offseason, quarterback contracts have shattered the previous benchmarks, with Aaron Rodgers landing a deal worth $50 million per year with the Green Bay Packers and Watson receiving a contract with $230 million guaranteed ($80 million more than any other previous NFL player) with the Cleveland Browns.
It remains to be seen what Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson could make over the next year. Murray reportedly wants an extension with the Arizona Cardinals before the NFL draft at the end of April. And Wilson is in line for a new deal after getting traded to the Denver Broncos.
"It’s one of the great things about Lamar Jackson, he’s very unique,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at the league meetings this week. "He’s just a guy who doesn’t get caught up in things that, whether he can’t control or doesn’t want to address at that point in time, he’s not going to worry about it.
“If it matters to him, then obviously, it would be a priority at this point in time. I’m sure we would be getting something done. He’s got his reasons, thinking the way that he does. Basically what he shares with me is: ‘I got to focus on being the best quarterback I can be. I got to go to work.’ Beyond that, I think when the time is right, it’ll happen.”
On Tuesday, Bisciotti wondered whether Jackson would take the same route as quarterback Kirk Cousins, who chose not to sign with Washington after his rookie deal expired in 2016. Cousins then received the franchise tag twice before hitting free agency in 2018, when he left to sign a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings. His average annual salary of $28 million was the highest in NFL history.
Jackson, 25, is in his fifth-year option, which will pay him $23.016 million this season. If the sides can’t agree on a new deal, Baltimore would be forced to use the franchise tag on him in 2023 and 2024 to keep him from reaching free agency. Under this scenario, Jackson would hit free agency in 2025 at the age of 28. Bisciotti estimated quarterbacks would make $60 million per season by that point.
"With Lamar, you never know, it’s not really in the forefront of his mind whenever I talk to him,” Harbaugh said. "I’d love something to get done. I think he’s planning on something being done. We’re planning on something being done at some point in time."
No one knows Jackson’s plans because he hasn’t talked much about his contract situation, outside of saying his focus lies elsewhere, like winning a Super Bowl and improving as a quarterback. On Wednesday, Jackson lashed out at speculation that he wants to leave Baltimore, tweeting that he loves the Ravens.
I love my Ravens I don't know who the hell putting that false narrative out that I'm having thoughts about leaving stop tryna read my mind🙄— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) March 30, 2022
One argument is Jackson should be looking to get paid right away because of his playing style. Whether it’s running or trying to extend plays, Jackson has gotten hit 736 times since taking over as the Ravens' starting quarterback in the middle of the 2018 season. That’s 64 more times than any other quarterback over that time.
If Jackson sustains a significant injury, it could lower his value. Jackson, though, has been very durable. He did miss the last four games of last season because of a bone bruise in his right foot, but it was the first time he had missed any games in his four-year career due to injury. He was also injured while trying to throw the ball and not running downfield.
Bisciotti doesn’t see this as much of a risk. He pointed out how Burrow tore his ACL in 2020 and led the Bengals to the Super Bowl a year later.
“Oh, Lamar is more susceptible? He is not,” Bisciotti said. "These guys are banging their hands on a helmet and missing six games, like Drew Brees. You know what I mean? Burrow wasn’t running. He was in the pocket. He gets crushed and he tears his ACL.
"That running quarterback, a higher propensity of injury, people have like staked that as a has-to-be, and I don’t know that anybody has ever backed it up by any kind of study. I just don’t know that anybody has ever done that. Have you ever seen it? They talk about it like it’s gospel, like if you’re a running quarterback, you’re more susceptible to injury. It’s like, show me. Show me the stats. I’ve never seen them.”
The Ravens have made it clear that they want to make a long-term commitment to Jackson. The uncertainty is when Jackson will start to engage in contract talks and how much will it cost to get the deal done.
“I think without a QB that you believe in, life sucks as an NFL owner and a fan base,” Bisciotti said later, adding, "We’ll pay him when he’s ready.”