Lamar Jackson still doesn’t have a lucrative, long-term contract extension with the Baltimore Ravens. It’s the one ominous sign looming over an otherwise positive offseason.
General manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh have retooled a roster decimated by injuries last season. Smart signings and shrewd drafting, combined with returning players, should make the Ravens a contender again in the AFC.
The only risk is Jackson’s contract situation continuing to drag on and becoming a distraction. He’s about to play on his fifth-year option, and the Ravens don’t need this level of uncertainty about the face of the franchise.
ALL the latest Ravens news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Ravens newsletter here!
Ironically, the solution to the Ravens’ problem could come from AFC North rivals the Cleveland Browns. They handed Deshaun Watson a contract that set a new template for what top quarterbacks can earn.
One NFL insider believes the Ravens need to commit to paying Jackson on the same level as Watson.
Watson the Benchmark for Jackson’s Next Deal
Speaking on an edition of the Ross Tucker Football Podcast, Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Brandt said the “$46 million dollar average” the Browns paid Watson is now “the standard” for what teams must pay elite QBs.
Although Brandt admitted “teams hate it,” referring to the contract Watson was given, he also said “that’s the market.” Brandt, who spent time working in the front office for the Green Bay Packers, thinks any delay in Jackson’s new deal depends on whether or not Watson-level money has been offered:
It’s true the Browns didn’t do teams like the Ravens any favors when they gave former Houston Texans starter Watson $46 million annually and $230 million in guaranteed money. The risk was obvious involving a player who led the league in passing in 2020 but is facing allegations of sexual misconduct and a possible suspension for up to eight games this season, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.
Jackson, the NFL’s MVP in 2019, has more playoff appearances than Watson. He also boasts a win percentage on par with some of the best to ever play the position, per NFL on CBS:
Jackson’s vital to the Ravens’ Super Bowl hopes, so what’s the delay with his contract?
Ravens Owner Can’t Ignore Watson Impact
There’s no getting around the Watson contract for team owner Steve Bisciotti. Brandt, writing for Sports Illustrated, noted how Bisciotti has reacted to the contract and its impact: “Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is astute enough to know how one bad deal can affect an entire industry. He is well aware what the Watson deal has done to his industry and more directly to him. Indeed, he was grousing about the Watson contract at the NFL owners’ meeting in March, knowing the price of retaining Jackson had just risen exponentially.”
Brandt doesn’t believe Jackson’s lack of an agent is holding up negotiations. Nor does he view Watson’s terms as an “outlier” Jackson won’t be able to reach: “Of course, the Ravens—and all other NFL teams not named the Browns—will try to explain away the Watson contract by arguing that it is an outlier, that teams like the Falcons and Saints were bidding up his price, etc. To those inevitable arguments, it is up to Jackson—with or without an agent—to cut them off and simply say: ‘Whatever the circumstances were with Deshaun, the market is the market. I’ve been more productive, more successful and less injured than Deshaun. This is not complicated.'”
Like everything else with his contract situation, whether Jackson will ultimately take this hardball stance with the Ravens remains unclear. Part of the reason for the uncertainty concerns Jackson’s all-action playing style.
As a dual-threat playmaker, he’s naturally susceptible to more hits than many other quarterbacks take during a season:
Yet, the same is true of Buffalo Bills starter Josh Allen. The Bills gave Allen $43 million annually when they extended his contract in 2021. As Brandt noted, the landscape is different now, post-Watson.
Perhaps the bigger problem is the Ravens have never been in this situation before. They’ve always been a franchise built upon a culture of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Things are different with Jackson, a true superstar thriving at football’s most important position. Finding another like Jackson won’t be easy, so the Ravens are unlikely to be able to avoid having to pay him Watson money.
It’s more a matter of when, not if, that happens.