Up for Debate: How Will Ravens’ Stalemate with Lamar Jackson Get Resolved?

When Baltimore coach John Harbaugh sat down for breakfast Monday at the NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix, he was surrounded by a crush of reporters — all asking the same question: How will the Baltimore Ravens respond now that Lamar Jackson says he wants to be traded?

“I don’t know,” Harbaugh answered more than once. “I don’t know anything really.”

He’s not alone. 

When we threw the question at our Joe Banner, Mike Tannebaum, Jeff Diamond and Rick Spielman — all of whom headed NFL front offices — they were as befuddled as Harbaugh. And how can you blame them? When the Ravens earlier this month placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on their quarterback, they allowed Jackson to negotiate with other teams in free agency. So he didn’t need permission to negotiate a deal with another club. He already had that freedom.

In fact, it’s not even collusion for other teams to talk about him publicly. Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard did just that from the owners’ meetings on Monday.

“Anytime a special player is available, which (Jackson) is, you’ve got to do the work,” Ballard said. “I’m not going to get into deep discussions on where it’s at or what we’re doing or what we might do. But what I’ll tell you is he’s a really good player, really special player. But you never know how any of this will work out.”

So why the public trade pronouncement by Jackson? And why now?

“What he’s doing just doesn’t make sense,” said Banner, a staunch defender of Jackson in the past.

Confused? So are our experts. Nevertheless, they took a look at what’s happening — or not happening — with the stalemate and offered predictions, critiques and advice to bring clarity to a story sorely in need of it.

Banner: What is Jackson’s End Game?

“I’ve spent two years saying people who criticize Lamar Jackson for representing himself weren’t looking at the big picture, and that by waiting two years on a new deal he was really smart. But now we’re at the point where it’s hard to argue that it’s smart. Unless he’s working with a team interested in acquiring him, none of this makes sense. He’s tagged, which means he’s free to work out his own trade and free to talk to anybody. So demanding a trade is like doing nothing. 

“Worse, it seems to indicate that he really doesn’t fully understand the implications of what’s going on here. If he did, he’d find a team himself and make phone calls to whoever he perceives may be interested. But where is that team? Frankly, I find it hard to think of anyone other than, maybe, the Indianapolis Colts, and even then it feels like a bit of a stretch. It’s just not consistent with their personality. I can’t see him getting a fully guaranteed contract from them unless they go short-term, but would anyone give up a lot of draft picks to do a short-term deal? The answer is no. 

“So what’s he doing? I really don’t know. Does he think he can make the Ravens so angry that he forces them into making a trade? Maybe. But that’s not who they are. Plus, it could be that no other teams are interested. So why would you burn bridges? Better yet, what is his strategy and where is he trying to get to? Look, I worked with John Harbaugh for 14 years in Philadelphia, and Lamar’s going to have a hard time finding another coach who’s more supportive of a player, especially a star quarterback. He’s always going to hire quality coaches to work with players, and he’s always going to give his teams a chance to succeed. Frankly, I don’t know any Ravens players who didn’t have great things to say about John. 

“Then there’s this: The Ravens’ history is to pay their guys and give them fair-market value. So now they’re going to decide not to be fair with one of the most important players they’ve had in years? I don’t think so. If I could ask Lamar something, it would be this: Tell me where you’d like to see this story end and what it looks like. Maybe then it would make sense. He’s already been offered a short-term contract, which is what most players are fighting for — and should — because they realize how much more their positions will be paid in three or four years. But if he’s not going to take a short-term deal – which can be fully or almost fully guaranteed — who’s going to give him a long-term contract? 

“We can’t pretend he doesn’t get hurt. He does. He missed parts of the past two seasons, and it greatly affected his team’s outcome. There were teams in the 2018 NFL Draft that didn’t think he’d be successful as a quarterback, and there were teams that thought he’d be successful as a quarterback but were worried that he couldn’t hold up long-term in the NFL. So it’s very hard to sit here and say I’m going to give him a four- or five-year contract, fully guaranteed, trust that those two years were an aberration and that he’ll stay healthy the next four or five years. It could happen, but that’s an awfully big risk. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars. 

“What he should really be fighting for is the largest possible deal with as short a time frame as the Ravens will allow. Instead, he’s fighting for the wrong thing. Now, if Baltimore is going to trade him, it must be for a high pick. I would assume Lamar would like to go somewhere the coach has proven he can run a scheme where Lamar can be comfortable and successful, and Shane Steichen did that in Philadelphia with Jalen Hurts. So it’s reasonable to assume the Colts might be interested. If they’re smart, they’ll wait to let the Ravens get a little more anxious — have a little bit more bad blood created — and get closer to the draft where decisions about matching offers can be more challenging. But who’s going to surrender two first-round picks, pay Jackson $50 million a year and give him a fully guaranteed contract that’s longer than three years? I can’t think of anyone.”

Joe Banner is a former front office executive for the Eagles and Browns. He was a part of an Eagles franchise that made a Super Bowl and played in four NFC Championship Games. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeBanner13.

Tannenbaum: Colts or Jets Make Sense?

“To find an analogous situation, I go back to Davante Adams a year ago, where he negotiated a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders and had them and the Green Bay Packers work out compensation (Green Bay gained the Raiders’ first- and second-round draft picks in 2022). That may be what he’s hoping for here; that the Ravens will have some flexibility and not demand both first-round picks. That’s where my mind went the minute I saw his tweet on Monday

“It seems apparent that when Deshaun Watson gained a $230 million contract that was fully guaranteed, that was what it would take to satisfy Lamar. But there are a couple of ways to skin a cat. If that number is really important to him, I don’t see how anyone gives it to him as a fully guaranteed deal. Why? He’s missed 11 complete games in the past two seasons and a good part of two others. So maybe you make it a much longer deal to get to $230 million. If, on the other hand, it’s a fully guaranteed contract that he’s after, I would do the opposite. If I were Lamar, I’d bet on myself and do a two- or three-year deal and then get another bite of the apple. 

“It’s pretty simple if you’re the Ravens: Sit down with him and ask, ‘What’s really important here?’ Clearly, the market set by deals of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and some of the more recent extensions doesn’t seem to work for him. So that means if he wants the most guaranteed money, the Ravens probably are going to want eight or nine years. But if he wants a fully guaranteed deal, maybe it’s a two- or three-year contract. If neither happens, and this comes down to a trade, I can see two teams involved: Indy and the New York Jets. To me, they both make sense. If I’m the Colts, I bring him in for a visit. Because if you’re interested, you’re going to compare him presumptively to quarterbacks in the draft like Will Levis (scouting report), Hendon Hooker (scouting report) and Anthony Richardson (scouting report). And if I’m the Jets, I look at everything until the Aaron Rodgers deal is done. 

“To me, the Ravens can’t take anything less than two ones and at least one starter — a good young player, much like we saw DJ Moore included in the Carolina Panthers‘ deal with the Chicago Bears for the No. 1 overall pick. Before that happens, however, I’d talk to Lamar and make him understand that in negotiations you’re not going to get everything. If you want to get the most guaranteed money, you’re going to have to talk about going long — seven, maybe eight, years. And if you want fully guaranteed money, that’s not going to happen. It’s going to be shorter. Much shorter.”

Mike Tannenbaum is a former front-office executive for the Jets and Dolphins. Follow him on Twitter at @RealTannenbaum.

Diamond: Hire Agent to Negotiate Contract

“When I think of Lamar Jackson’s contract situation and trade demand, I’m reminded of something Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant often said: ‘The greatest asset a player can have is durability, and it’s hard to achieve greatness without durability.’

“Jackson has a couple of things working against him in his ongoing contract battle with the Ravens. First is the injury question because he has missed 11 games over the past two seasons including the January playoff loss in Cincinnati. Second is his 1-3 postseason record with a 68.3 passer rating in those games compared to his 45-16 regular-season record with a 96.7 passer rating. The good news for Jackson is he’s a former league MVP. Last season, the Ravens averaged 25 points per game in the 11 full games he played before a knee injury cut his season short. Baltimore averaged only 13 points per game the rest of the season without him. 

“With the question marks, especially regarding his injury history and the fact that one of his strengths is as a runner, I don’t see any team willing to give the Ravens the compensation they would demand for a 26-year-old former MVP quarterback. That would be in the range of the Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson deals with two first-round picks plus additional picks or players. And the Stafford and Wilson deals aren’t looking great today for the Rams and Broncos. Further complicating a potential trade is Jackson’s demand for a Deshaun Watson-like fully guaranteed contract. Then there’s the matter of Jackson acting as his own agent, which is detrimental to his cause. He needs to turn his negotiations over to a reputable agent and understand that Watson got his contract fully guaranteed because he had a no-trade clause in his contract and could dictate terms to Cleveland, where he preferred not to go.

“I don’t see Jackson signing the franchise tender and showing up for the Ravens’ offseason program. He’ll stay away until a new contract is negotiated. I expect he and the Ravens to compromise on a shorter contract of three or four years at $47 million per year (more than the averages of Watson and Kyler Murray in their recent deals) but with about 65 percent of the deal guaranteed, which is more in line with other top quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers’ current deal. There’s too much money at stake for Jackson not to play, and the Ravens would benefit from lower cap numbers in the early years of a new deal so they can use the additional cap space to perhaps trade for an impact wide receiver such as DeAndre Hopkins, which would make Jackson happier. I don’t think it will come to Jackson playing under the $32.4 million franchise tag, which would create more ill will between the Ravens and their best player. However, that would be better for Jackson than not playing, and then he can try to prove he can stay healthy and play at a high level this season.

The best course for Jackson is to hire an agent and get a reasonable deal done asap.” 

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.

Spielman: Ravens Still Have Control

“I think it’s peculiar, if you want to call it that, that this story breaks with GMs and coaches from 32 teams together in one spot at the league meetings in Phoenix, since the trade was supposedly requested on March 2. That means a lot of side conversations will be going on between meetings. But let’s be honest: Baltimore still controls this situation, and Lamar Jackson is worth more than two No. 1 picks. I don’t know if there’s potential for a sign-and-trade where a team says we’ll give you X, Y and Z, something similar to what Denver gave Seattle for Russell Wilson. 

“But the only team I’d think might have a possibility of getting involved is one that can give Baltimore its future quarterback. And that would be the Colts, but I don’t know that they go down that road. They’ve been bringing in veterans at the ends of their careers the last few years, and Lamar is still in the prime of his career. Nevertheless, let’s say a trade happened, he went to Indianapolis and Baltimore wound up with the Colts’ first-round pick (No. 4 overall). You’d have to think it would be Anthony Richardson. He has a skillset similar to Lamar’s, and the Ravens have a scheme that would fit him if he walked through the door tomorrow. But what if Richardson is the Colts’ guy? He could be, especially with Shane Steichen coming over from Philadelphia and what he was able to do with Jalen Hurts. Maybe the Colts look at this and say: We’re going to go with the young quarterback because we have a new young coach. And he’s going to try to do with Richardson what he did with Hurts in Philadelphia. I just don’t know. 

“If I were Baltimore, I’d ask for nothing less than what Seattle got for Russell Wilson. Jackson is younger, a better athlete and a top-tier quarterback. You don’t just give two first-round draft picks for a franchise quarterback. You give more than that. So, if someone signed Lamar to an offer sheet – with Baltimore getting two first-round picks in return – I’d expect the Ravens to match the deal. That’s probably why it hasn’t happened yet. 

“This is all so confusing because it sounds like Lamar enjoys playing for the Ravens, in Baltimore, and for that coach. It sounds like it all has to do with financial commitment, with the two sides at an impasse right now. But if I’m Baltimore, and I don’t get what I think Jackson is worth, I do nothing and keep his rights. I can franchise him through the fall, understanding that he can hold out but also knowing that eventually, he has to come in and play.”

Rick Spielman is a former general manager of the Dolphins and Vikings, and winner of the NFL Executive of the Year award by Pro Football Weekly in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @spielman_rick.

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