Randy Mueller, the 2000 NFL Executive of the Year, brings over 30 years of experience in the football business, including stints as the general manager of Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. With Heavy, Mueller breaks down the NFL from a front office perspective. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyMueller_
With revelation coming to light through comments made by Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on March 29 that former NFL MVP Lamar Jackson is not interested in signing a long-term extension, the Ravens are between a rock and a hard place.
According to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, “Bisciotti doesn’t foresee Baltimore signing Jackson to a contract extension before the start of the season ‘unless he has a change of heart and calls Eric [DeCosta] and says, ‘I’m ready.'”
If I were the Ravens, I would act sooner than later when it comes to breaking the stalemate. During a week when the Ravens signed head coach John Harbaugh to a three-year extension keeping him under contract through the 2025 season, the same cannot be said for their star QB.
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It’s not often that a player is refusing the truckload of cash that a team is backing up to dump on his yard, but that seems to be the case with Jackson. Sure, the Deshaun Watson deal (five years, $230 million fully guaranteed) with the Cleveland Browns complicates things a bit but there is a deal to be made if both sides want it.
Bisciotti’s words made it clear that the ball was in Jackson’s court and that Jackson has neglected to show a willingness to commit, but rather wants to focus on the task of winning a championship. That’s noble on his part and by waiting, his price has gone up. Many eyes in NFL negotiating circles are on these dealings.
Kirk Cousins’ Impact on the Jackson Negotiations
No player has bet on himself like this since Kirk Cousins after the 2015 season in Washington when he went from $824,000 to $24 million in 2016. Since then, Cousins has made more money than any QB in the league and nobody would have him in their top-five rankings at the position.
Nobody has played the system better. Speaking of the top five, that’s where Ravens brass will have to slot Jackson by using the franchise tag — the average salary of the five highest-paid players at a position in a given year. That number will in all likelihood be north of $43 million annually in 2022.
Most insiders think this is top-notch negotiating by Jackson and his advisors. The risk is in Jackson staying healthy and his team being good in 2022. See Joe Flacco, circa 2012, being a free agent after leading his team to a Super Bowl win and cashing in as the highest-paid player in the land. It’s high-limit poker being played in the reality of the NFL between Jackson and the Ravens.
The authenticity of Jackson’s motives are only known by him and I would take him at full face value. I believe him, but as a team, the Ravens need to find an alternative option.
It’s all about timing. I am not suggesting moving on or not continuing to negotiate, but until they give themselves a viable option, they are in a precarious situation. Some of the worst deals done by NFL general managers stem from making them when you’re desperate and have no alternative. You end up over-paying and not using sound judgement.
I’ve lived it and because of this fact, I think Jackson is giving the Ravens a chance to create an option for themselves.
1 2022 QB Prospect Who Makes Sense for Baltimore
I realize backup QB Tyler Huntley performed admirably in 2021 in Jackson’s absence but I’m talking about adding a QB in the 2022 NFL draft. One that the team feels they can develop and upgrade their passing game with.
I actually recommended this as an option for the Browns in 2021 as protection against just what transpired with Baker Mayfield. It might cost the Ravens a second-round pick or so, but there will be somebody in the draft that the Ravens’ evaluators and coaches can get a clear consensus on and feel like they can raise his game.
I happen to like Bailey Zappe, the QB from Western Kentucky. I think if he was two inches taller he might be vying for the first QB being considered in this draft. He is accurate, he is comfortable in the pocket, he has plenty of arm strength to go with anticipation and for my money can make all the NFL throws needed to be successful. I see similarities with other 6-foot-tall QBs who have been successful in the last decade in the NFL.
What if the Ravens find a way to acquire him outside of round one?
Nobody thinks you can replace Jackson with an unproven second-round pick, but he gives them options and might give their pass game a shot in the arm as well. It also sends a message to Jackson that as much as we love you, we are looking to get married and not date any longer. At a minimum, it’s an option that they currently don’t have.
Ravens At Least ‘Need to Give Themselves an Option’
The Ravens also need to be honest in arriving at a market value for Jackson with he and his representation — even if it’s mom. Let’s be real: He’s not Patrick Mahomes, he’s not Josh Allen, he’s not Aaron Rodgers. But my point is, find out where both sides think he is.
Jackson’s side will come in thinking he should be the highest-paid player in football — fully guaranteed just like Watson. It really doesn’t matter what we as fans think, you have to establish common ground between player and team in order to make a deal.
One mistake, in my opinion, that was made in Washington with Cousins was they had no options or other lane to pick. They were put in a corner and had no choice but to significantly overpay Cousins.
By not being willing to sign a deal now, Jackson is giving the Ravens the opportunity to look for options. Nobody, including the media, could question their thought process. It makes perfect sense. Nobody here is suggesting Baltimore move on from Jackson. I am suggesting that the Ravens need to give themselves an option.
In fact, it’s probably their only play. It just might save them a few million dollars in the process and bring Jackson closer to the negotiating table.