Analysis

Injuries, Guarantee Demands Pushing Lamar Jackson Talks in Wrong Direction

I am — and have been — a passionate supporter of Lamar Jackson’s approach to a new contract with the Baltimore Ravens. He’s been patient, turning down a reported $250 million extension prior to the 2022 season, and I strongly believe he was smart to wait. He did nothing I wouldn’t have.

Until now.

Now, I don’t see him operating in his best self-interests, and it bothers me. This is a young man who, along with highly qualified advisors, made all the right moves by letting the market come to him. Yet, he was unfairly criticized for a wise business decision. I supported him then and wasn’t afraid to say it.

But now, I’m afraid he’s headed in the wrong direction for two reasons. One is his injury history. Jackson missed a combined 11 games (including the playoffs) the past two seasons, absences that crippled Baltimore’s Super Bowl chances. I know, it happens. But lengthy absences in successive seasons, with questions about his 2022 injury, would concern me if I were signing his next paycheck.

Two, his insistence on a fully-guaranteed contract. A fully guaranteed deal makes sense, right? Not so much. At his age (he turned 26 on Jan. 7) and with his value to the Ravens, it’s not as critical as it sounds. And I’ll explain later.

Injuries a Factor

First, let’s return to the past two years. In 2021, Jackson missed his last five starts because of a sprained ankle. The Ravens lost all five games, and they missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. Now, if that injury were a one-off, I wouldn’t be worried. But it wasn’t. He missed the last six starts this season, including the playoff opener, because of a sprained knee.

It’s not so much the injury I wonder about. It’s the mystery surrounding it. I know he was hurt. I just don’t know how badly he was hurt. It was either significant enough to sideline him all six games, or it might have been an injury he could’ve played through if it weren’t for a contract hanging over his head.

It doesn’t matter which one it was. Either situation is bad because the reality is he didn’t play.

Now, let me make something abundantly clear: I am not suggesting he wasn’t impaired. He was. But if his failure to return to the Ravens was in any way affected by his contract situation — and not because he wasn’t 100 percent — that could be, and should be, concerning for whoever signs him next.

We’re talking about a relatively small quarterback (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) who’s absorbed a lot of body blows in his career. He carried the ball 26 times in a 2018 defeat of Cincinnati and led Baltimore in rushing the past four seasons. I don’t have to imagine the toll it’s taken. It’s there on his resume.

Guarantee or Not?

Now, on to the fully guaranteed contract. That’s the issue that seems to have sabotaged the Ravens’ latest offer, and it’s where I struggle with Jackson’s approach. Let’s say you’re 26 and are a top-tier player at your position. Jackson is both. Now let’s say you’re signing a four-year deal, which could happen here. Nobody seems to realize this, but it’s been proven: The chance of collecting all your money or getting an extension before your contract expires is virtually 100 percent.

So, let’s say you’re satisfied with everything about the proposal … other than it’s not fully guaranteed. You like the cash flow. You like the average per year, the incentives, the bonuses … everything but the failure to fully guarantee the offer. Don’t sweat it. The chances are high that you’re hung up on something that won’t matter. You’re going to get that money anyway.

Remember, Jackson is a league MVP and the face of the Ravens’ franchise. We know that. We also know that puts him in an entirely different category than someone in his 30s who’s looking for a new deal. We’ve seen numerous examples of players who sign four-year contracts but don’t get paid for all four.

They get cut. They get traded. Or they take pay cuts. That’s why those who have leverage – like Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers – demand healthy guarantees. But look at starting quarterbacks who are 10-15 years younger:

  • At 24, Kyler Murray agreed to a five-year, $230.5-million deal last year, with $103.3 million guaranteed at the signing
  • At 25, Josh Allen agreed to a six-year, $258-million extension in 2021, with $100 million guaranteed at the signing
  • At 24, Patrick Mahomes agreed to a 10-year, $450-million deal in 2020, with $63 million guaranteed at the signing

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about Deshaun Watson? At the same age as Jackson, Watson signed a $230 million, fully-guaranteed contract with Cleveland. Terrific. My point isn’t that he was wrong. I simply ask: Why put yourself through the stress and possible alienation of teammates for a fully guaranteed deal when, if you’re 26, you’re going to end up with essentially the same outcome?

Choice is Obvious

For me, what Jackson should do is easy. The market rate for elite quarterbacks today is roughly $50 million a year. Jackson may argue he wants more because he wants to be the highest-paid, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable. But, if what I hear is true – that he’s happy with the Ravens, likes the coaching staff, likes the way they play and would like to stay there – he should get off the fully-guaranteed demand and trade it for a high-end average-per-year figure.

Then, when he signs, he becomes the highest-paid quarterback. He should also insist on nothing more than four years but try for three. If the cap is going up from $20 million to $25 million per year, which I think it will, that means it increases from $60 million to $75 million in the next three years.

Do the math: Somebody who’s the highest-paid quarterback today at $50 million will be underpaid in three years. I know that sounds inconceivable, but what would he earn in three years if the cap is 25-30 percent higher? The answer, of course, is 25-30 percent more than he is now.

If Jackson is offered a contract where guarantees are reasonable — say, more than 50 percent at the signing — and they accelerate each year, I’d get this deal done today and be proud of myself. If not, then it’s up to him or his representation to help Baltimore move him and gain the best deal possible.

I don’t think either side wants that. But if it gets to that point, he should help put the team in a position to gain the most it can so he can go where he’s happiest.

Joe Banner is a former front office executive for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland 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

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News

Ravens’ Harbaugh: 200% Chance Lamar Jackson Stays

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta were emphatic that quarterback Lamar Jackson will return to the team next season despite his contract uncertainty.

“200 percent. There is no question,” Harbaugh told reporters Thursday when asked if Jackson would return next season. “Lamar is our quarterback, and he’s been our quarterback. Everything we’ve done in terms of building our offense and building our team and how we think and how we put people around him is based on this incredible young man, and his ability.”

Harbaugh and DeCosta reportedly spent time earlier Thursday with Jackson, whose rookie contract expired after this season.

“It certainly takes two to tango,” DeCosta said. “But I think Lamar and I have a great relationship. I think we communicate quite often. As a matter of fact, we’ve spoken throughout the season multiple times. These negotiations, they all happen differently. I wouldn’t characterize the percentages of getting any deal done except to say we’ll communicate effectively, and we’ll be as fair as we can be.”

DeCosta added he’s not willing to entertain any trade proposals for Jackson and said the focus will remain on signing Jackson to a long-term contract. If a long-term extension can’t be reached, the Ravens can place the franchise tag on Jackson. The tag would pay Jackson $40 million guaranteed next season if used. The Ravens can place the tag on Jackson from Feb. 21 until March 7.

However, The 33rd Team analyst Ari Meriov isn’t sure if Jackson will be willing to play under the tag next season, which could lead to a situation where Jackson forces his way out of Baltimore.

Baltimore also could place the non-exclusive tag on Jackson, which would pay him $30 million to $33 million per year. With the non-exclusive tag, Jackson could sign an offer sheet with another team, and the Ravens could match. If the Ravens didn’t match, Jackson’s new team would have to give up two first-round picks to sign him.

Jackson doesn’t have an agent and is representing himself in negotiations, which could make finding a compromise for a contract slightly more difficult. The Ravens agreed to a new contract extension with linebacker Roquan Smith, who also represents himself, on Jan. 10.

Rumors started to swirl Jackson was going to leave Baltimore this offseason after he didn’t travel with the team for its playoff game against the Bengals last weekend. Jackson didn’t travel because of a PCL injury he suffered that forced him to miss the final five weeks of the season.

One sign both sides are at least on the same page is Jackson will be involved in picking the team’s next offensive coordinator after Greg Roman was let go on Thursday. Jackson seems to be engaged on the issue as he responded to a Tweet about what Baltimore’s potential new offensive coordinator’s scheme could look like.

All sides seem committed to building something in Baltimore, but it remains to be seen if it will work out.

“Eric wants him here. I want him here. [Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti] wants him here. Lamar wants to be here. It’s going to work out,” Harbaugh said.

Analysis

Lamar Jackson, 5 Other NFL Players In Need of Scenery Change in 2023

“Home sweet home” doesn’t necessarily apply to professional sports. For many athletes, another time-honored slogan sometimes fits: “Get me out of here.”

There are plenty of NFL players who are in need of a scenery change after this season. Mike Tannenbaum, a former front-office executive for the Jets and Dolphins and current analyst for The 33rd Team, offers six:

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Jackson simply can’t stay on the field, and Baltimore is no contender without him. He has been absent for 13 games since late in his MVP 2019 season, and his injuries over the past two seasons wrecked the team’s fortunes. Baltimore has gone 4-9 in those contests, scoring just 82 points (13.6 average) in the six games he missed this season, including a 24-17 loss to the Bengals in the Wild Card Round.

And he’s now in contract limbo.

“With the Lamar Jackson situation, it seems like what has happened with the contract has led to a lot of frayed feelings,” Tannenbaum said. “Sometimes a fresh start is good for everyone. I’m not saying it is beyond repair, but I think it would serve everyone well to move on. It could be a team like Atlanta or the Jets; a lot of teams would be interested in Lamar.”

The Falcons stand out as a possible suitor because coach Arthur Smith maxed out the talents of Ryan Tannehill when he was the offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Atlanta has a strong running game, instability at quarterback, and the salary cap room (more than $50 million) to pay what Jackson would command.

Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans Saints

Sticking with quarterbacks, where might Winston land? Probably not back in New Orleans, where he made only 14 appearances in three seasons. If released, the Saints would have a dead-cap hit of $15.2 million.

“I’m a big fan of Jameis, and I think a fresh start would help him,” Tannenbaum said. “He’s a more traditional quarterback than Lamar. I think he is somebody who should sign a one-year deal and prove himself quickly, then get back in 2024 with a more notable deal. He should bet on himself for another year. Jameis has an unbelievable amount of ability.”

Derek Carr almost certainly will be traded or released by Las Vegas and would benefit from a new start, and New Orleans seems like a logical landing spot, given the need and how the city embraces community-active quarterbacks (think: Drew Brees). But the market should be hot for Carr, who will likely have several suitors, including the Jets, Colts, Texans, Commanders and Panthers.

Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets

The second-year quarterback has been a major disappointment for the Jets. He has flashed talent with his arm but the situation in New York seems toxic at best at this point. This feels like a situation where both sides should want a split; the Jets invest in a new quarterback for the future and Wilson gets a fresh start in a new city.

“I would trade him and see if I could get a third-round pick and take your losses,” Tannenbaum said. “Then the Jets could sign a veteran guy or trade for one.”

Maybe Carr. Maybe Jimmy Garoppolo. Or Aaron Rodgers? It wouldn’t be the first time a future Hall of Fame Packers quarterback landed in the Big Apple.

Trey Lance vs. Seattle

Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers

Brock Purdy has changed the thinking here dramatically in what he has done over the past two months. The consensus had been that Garoppolo would be the quarterback leaving the Bay Area as a free agent, not Lance, but maybe the Niners find a way to keep him instead, as insurance behind Purdy.

“I don’t think a trade will happen, but he can’t really get on the field, and Tennessee has a new general manager, Ran Carthon, who comes from San Francisco,” Tannenbaum said. “And it doesn’t look like it has worked out there for Lance.”

Lance is young enough and is still on a team-friendly rookie deal that there would certainly be a trade market for him. He was all set to be the 49ers’ starter in 2022 before an ankle injury ended his season in Week 2. The ankle required a second surgery in December, but by all accounts he appears set to return to action by the start of OTAs in May.

The question remains: Will it be in San Francisco or someplace else?

Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins

A year ago, Miami placed the franchise tag on their tight end, guaranteeing him a salary of $10 million in 2022. It doesn’t appear the Dolphins will make an attempt to re-sign Gesicki to a long-term deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and Gesicki himself seemed to acknowledge as much Wednesday that his final days in Miami are behind him.

“I’m not sure what the next step has in store for me and I’m not positive where it will be, but if my time in Miami has come to an end I will forever cherish every moment and be grateful for the highs and lows,” Gesicki wrote in a message to fans on Twitter. “No matter what and no matter where, the show goes on.”

Gesicki is coming off a down year (32 receptions, 362 yards and five touchdowns) in Mike McDaniel’s explosive offense. He seemed to be the forgotten man with the Dolphins, who have heavily invested in the wide receiver position with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

“If he gets into an offense that moves him around the way they did in Jacksonville with Evan Engram, he can be a real asset to a team,” said Tannenbaum, who believes Cincinnati would be an excellent fit.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Elliott is coming off the worst year of his career (231 carries, 876 yards, 3.8 yards per catch) while being outshined by backfield mate Tony Pollard. It could be time for a mutual split as the Cowboys invest in their emerging running back (Pollard), and Elliott can take on a role with another team.

The 27-year-old Elliott signed a six-year extension in 2019 worth an average of $15 million per year. Only Christian McCaffrey ($16M) has a larger per-year average. He received $12.4 million in this season, but the remaining four years have no guaranteed money. With Pollard’s emergence as a legitimate RB1, it seems like Elliott’s days are numbered in Dallas.

“He could stay on a pay cut, but sometimes it’s easier for a guy like Zeke to take a pay cut someplace else,” Tannenbaum said.

Mike Tannenbaum, the co-founder of The 33rd Team, is a former front-office executive for the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. Follow him on Twitter at @RealTannenbaum.

Analysis

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson Could Force His Way Out of Baltimore

There has been a great deal of speculation about Lamar Jackson’s future with the Ravens, especially since Baltimore’s season ended with a loss to the Bengals in the Wild Card Round, a game in which the star quarterback didn’t accompany the team to Cincinnati.

It’s a bit unclear if Jackson traveled with the team to other road games aside from this last one. Of course, the week before when they played the Bengals in Baltimore, he was there on the sideline. Everyone saw him. He was smiling and walking around for that one.

There are people who believe whenever you have a knee injury like Jackson does, and some players even mention he’s been limping around in the team building, it might not be worth going on a plane because the swelling could get even worse. One of the main reasons Jackson has yet to return is he still has significant swelling from that injury, which was first reported as one that would keep him out of action for 1-3 weeks. He ended up missing six, never making it back in time for the playoffs. This is the second straight year he has missed the entire back end of the season.

Jackson just completed the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. He does not have an agent, and I think everyone knows that by now.

Last year, Deshaun Watson got $230 million, fully guaranteed, in an unprecedented contract. And Jackson seeks a deal similar in structure, where the raw dollar figure doesn’t matter. It’s the guarantee structure that matters more to him.

When Watson signed his contract last year, only one owner came out publicly and said it was a bad contract: Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.

The Ravens’ final offer before the regular season was a traditional contract. It wasn’t fully guaranteed, and Lamar declined it. He played out this season, got hurt, and didn’t return.

Now, everyone is speculating on where he might end up in 2023. I think I’ve seen a jersey swap of him on almost every team on Twitter already, so everyone understands the situation.

Where it gets really interesting is the franchise-tag dilemma. The Ravens will have from Feb. 21 until March 7 to tag Jackson. That would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. I think everyone expects them to do so.

However, there are two different types of franchise tags. There’s the exclusive franchise tag and there’s a non-exclusive franchise tag.

If Baltimore placed the exclusive tag on Jackson, it would cost upwards of $40 million per year. Non-exclusive is about $30 million to $33 million per year. The difference is, if Jackson gets the non-exclusive tag, he would have the right to go out and try to find a contract from a different team.

If he signed another team’s offer sheet, the Ravens would have five days to match it, and if they don’t, they would receive two first-round picks from the team signing Jackson.

Considering how much Houston got for Watson (five draft picks, including three first-rounders), getting just two first-round picks is not that much. So it seems unlikely Baltimore will go the non-exclusive route. The exclusive tag makes much more sense.

The question then becomes: does Jackson want to play another season on a fully guaranteed franchise tag after knowing he just had two straight years of getting injured? Because now security is a big deal. So it becomes a situation for Jackson where, if he’s not getting the long-term deal with Watson-like guarantees from Baltimore, does he try to force his way out? And Jackson not having an agent makes it pretty hard for the team to understand what he’s thinking.

READ: Compromise Key for Jackson, Ravens to Strike Deal

The only way we get any new information from Jackson has been through Twitter, which he used a couple of weeks ago to provide an update on his injury. But otherwise, nothing is getting out, which makes sense since the Ravens are one of the best organizations at not allowing sensitive information to leak. So this situation has been more speculation than facts.

The Ravens have until March 7 to make a decision on the franchise tag. From there, maybe Jackson starts pushing a little bit and saying, “You know what, if you’re not giving me what I deserve, what do we do from here? Should I leave?”

Will he force his way out in the end?

Until now, Jackson has not forced much of anything, but the way the season ended felt a bit fishy. We’ll see where it goes in the coming weeks and months. One thing is for sure: this is going to be the offseason of Lamar Jackson.

WATCH: AFC Divisional Round Preview

Analysis

Ravens’ Lack of Respect ‘Ruined’ Relationship With Lamar

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson did not travel with his Baltimore teammates to Cincinnati for their wild-card matchups with the Bengals on Sunday. Samari Rolle thinks the Ravens-Lamar Jackson relationship could be over and feels the blame is on Baltimore for failing to show Jackson more respect.

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