Lamar Jackson’s ongoing contract negotiations have been the center of Baltimore sports talk for the majority of the off-season. Even as their beloved Orioles make an unlikely run at a wildcard spot, the standoff between the former league-MVP and the Ravens front office has taken center stage. Earlier this week, Jackson announced that his contract discussions had a Friday deadline, and that if the two parties could not agree on a deal, he would simply play on his rookie contract.
Well… It’s Friday now and Jackson still hasn’t gotten paid. That means he’ll go into the final year of his rookie contract without an extension. In my opinion? This is a terrible mistake.
Lamar Jackson Is Taking an Unnecessary Gamble
As someone who returns his cart to the store after he gets groceries, I can admire why Lamar Jackson is honoring his contract. In a perfect world, everyone who fills out or signs a contract will honor the terms to fulfillment, and there’s something respectable and old fashioned about Lamar Jackson showing up to work because he said he would.
However, he’s taking such an unnecessary and potentially damaging risk, that it makes me wonder what kind of guidance Jackson is receiving outside of the organization. Because playing on his rookie deal, that means Lamar Jackson is only guaranteed the money that remains on his contract. Should he regress on the field or suffer a catastrophic injury, the Ravens, like most professional sports teams, would simply let him go. With his health and wealth on the line, they would be completely free of any obligation to further support him, even as he would be making those sacrifices for the team. With the leverage to force the team to pay him, he has nothing to gain and everything to potentially lose by playing this season, and trust me, to say that Lamar holds all of the leverage in this standoff is an understatement.
Jackson, a unanimous league MVP, is one of the NFL’s most exciting young players and boasts a 37-12 record as a starter. The entire offensive philosophy of the Baltimore Ravens is based on Lamar’s ability to create plays with his legs. With Lamar, the Baltimore Ravens are AFC playoff contenders. Without him, they sit comfortably at the bottom of the AFC North. The Ravens will only go as far as Lamar takes them, as we saw in 2021.
The Other Guys
The Baltimore Ravens are choosing not to extend Lamar’s contract. He, like many players in the league, wants guaranteed money. As he should, most NFL contracts boast numbers the player will never actually see. A contract that isn’t fully guaranteed is rarely worth the paper it’s printed on, as we’ve seen time and time again in the NFL.
This off-season alone, the Las Vegas Raiders paid Derek Carr, the Buffalo Bills paid Josh Allen, the Denver Broncos paid Russell Wilson, the Arizona Cardinals paid Kyler Murray, the Green Bay Packers paid Aaron Rodgers, and the Cleveland Browns paid Deshaun Watson. Of those quarterbacks, only Aaron Rodgers can say that he’s won a MVP or been named first-team All-Pro, like Jackson. Carr, Allen, Wilson, Murray, and Watson boast some Pro Bowl appearances, but have hardly had the kind of season that the Ravens passer had in 2019. Hell, Deshaun Watson took an entire season off and is suspended for 11 games because of a myriad of sexual assault allegations, and his franchise still pulled out the checkbook.
It is not ethically improper or inconsiderate for Lamar Jackson to prioritize a payday that he has earned. It’s borderline common sense for him to protect himself, his body, and his financial future by utilizing the leverage he has to force Baltimore’s hands.
Simply put, if Lamar Jackson stayed home and sat on his hands, the Baltimore Ravens would pay him whatever he wanted. The jobs of everyone from general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh to the physical therapist rehabbing the mascot, Poe, rely on Lamar Jackson. Good luck beating anybody in the “who are these receivers,” two tight end, run first offense without the dynamic quarterback. Tyler Huntley is a perfectly suitable backup, but he’s not Lamar Jackson, and he proved that last year by going 1-3 as a starter.
The Baltimore Ravens have built their entire team around Lamar, expect Lamar to carry them in a competitive AFC North, through a powerhouse conference in the AFC, and to contend for a Super Bowl, but they won’t financially invest in him what the market dictates that he deserves.
The way Lamar plays, by utilizing his athleticism to thrive as a runner and a passer is exceptionally dynamic, but equally dangerous. Because Lamar takes off as a runner, he exposes himself to more contact than the average quarterback. There’s a long, proven history of running quarterbacks being perceived as more injury prone, due in large part to the extra hits. Jackson himself has already experienced this, missing five games with various injuries just last season.
There’s every chance that Lamar Jackson has another fantastic season, and then he, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert all reset the quarterback market next year, making them rich beyond their wildest dreams. But when you consider that Lamar is probably going to make over 200 mil guaranteed regardless, you have to ask if the risk is worth it. An underwhelming year or another battle with the injury report could cost Lamar millions of dollars and jeopardize his future in the league.
Good on him for putting the team first, but it worries me that he thinks the team would do the same in return.