It’s been more than a year since the football world started worrying about Lamar Jackson’s future in Baltimore, and there still isn’t any sign he and the Baltimore Ravens will strike an agreement soon.
In most cases, this would mean Jackson is headed for free agency with the start of the league year in March. But the Ravens aren’t letting him go anywhere. He’s still their franchise quarterback.
“One hundred percent, 200 percent. There’s no question about it,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Thursday. “Lamar Jackson is our quarterback. He’s been our quarterback. Everything that we’ve done in terms of building our offense and building our team, how we think in terms of putting people around him is based on this incredible young man, his talent, his ability and his competitiveness.
“I love Lamar, (general manager) Eric (DeCosta) loves Lamar, and it’s not gonna change in the future. I don’t know anything about the details or the whole thing, but I know one thing: I’m like all the fans out there and everybody else. I’ll have my fingers crossed, my toes crossed and I’ll be saying prayers. I have faith it’s gonna get done, and we’ve got the best people in the world doing it. … Eric wants him here, I want him here, Steve wants him here, and Lamar wants to be here. it’s gonna work out.”
DeCosta has been deadlocked in a marathon of a public dance with Jackson, telling reporters repeatedly since February they’re going to operate at Jackson’s pace and willingness to operate at Jackson’s pace and willingness to negotiate. So far, it hasn’t produced much.
Thursday provided DeCosta another opportunity to recite the same phrases he’s been using for nearly a year.
“Well, it certainly takes two to tango, but I think Lamar and I have a great relationship,” DeCosta said. “I think we communicate quite often; we spent some time together today as a matter of fact. We’ve spoken throughout the season multiple times. These negotiations all happen differently. … I wouldn’t characterize the percentages of getting any deal done or how long it’s gonna take, except to say that we’ll communicate effectively, we’ll be as fair as we can be and we’ll try to hammer out a deal. Hopefully we can get to that point.”
Jackson has a few valid gripes with the team, including one the Ravens addressed Thursday by parting ways with offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Jackson voiced displeasure with the team’s predictable nature in 2021, and a new OC should fix things, especially if said hire doesn’t pigeonhole Jackson as a quarterback whose primary asset is his running ability.
That running ability has also earned Jackson a bit of a reputation for being injury prone, even if it’s not quite accurate. Jackson’s higher rate of runs would theoretically leave him susceptible to more hits, sure, but he suffered an ankle injury that ended his 2021 season while attempting to avoid pressure before passing, not running. His knee injury in 2022 came while he was moving through the pocket with the goal of releasing another pass.
Both cut his season short, forcing the Ravens to rely on Tyler Huntley and in 2022, rookie Anthony Brown. Baltimore isn’t letting these unfortunate occurrences impact its negotiations, at least not publicly.
“I don’t anticipate this being any kind of a trend,” Harbaugh said. “Lamar, I don’t believe is a guy that is going to have those issues going forward. You can’t think that. And really, it’s just football. Both those plays the last two years were kind of freaky plays that happen. They can happen.
“Lamar is a very durable player. I know that people might take issue with that. I get it. But I don’t believe there’s going to be a problem moving forward because I know how hard he’s gonna work. Lamar Jackson works hard. Whether it’s in the weight room, on the field, running, in the classroom, Lamar is all football. He works really hard at it. And that’s really what you do. You work hard, you get yourself in great shape, you go play the game the way you play it. And that’s what he’ll do next year.”
A dynamic, incredibly explosive quarterback is exactly what each NFL team would like on its roster. Baltimore has had one for the last five years, and even if Jackson hasn’t earned a trip to the Super Bowl, he’s certainly won plenty of regular-season games for the Ravens.
He’s not the type a team just walks away from over money, even if the speculative cycle will have you believe otherwise.
If Baltimore can’t strike a long-term deal with Jackson before the franchise tag deadline, it’s safe to expect the Ravens to place the tag on the quarterback, paying him an average of the top five quarterback salaries for one year. The rate will be a hefty chunk of change, but that was always going to be the reality for the Ravens, especially after the division-rival Browns handed Deshaun Watson a massive, fully guaranteed contract in 2022.
“Any deal with Lamar is going to affect the salary cap,” DeCosta said. “Whether we get a long-term deal done or we do an exclusive franchise or a traditional franchise. It’s going to affect the cap, I mean those are big, big numbers. We’re fortunate that we have a better salary cap than most. We have a lot more room than most teams do, which was by design three or four years ago.
“I think one of the things that we saw years ago with Joe (Flacco). When we had to do Joe’s, we didn’t have enough room to franchise Joe back then. So we kind of planned accordingly. We have a lot of salary cap space that we can use that creates some aspect of flexibility with us contract-wise and also franchise wise, as well. It gives us a couple different options. Regardless, it’s not going to be a situation where the market is open and we’re just going and signing guys left and right. That’s not going to happen.”
A franchise tag would secure Jackson’s services for 2023, but could also create a stalemate. Some franchise-tagged players (e.g., Davante Adams) end up getting dealt elsewhere, while others sit out of offseason activities in what is their best method of resistance to the tag.
“That’s something we’re not going to talk about,” DeCosta said of the thought of entertaining trade offers for Jackson. “Our singular focus is getting a long-term deal.”
The Ravens are hoping their relationship with Jackson — which might not be as stable as one would think, considering how Jackson acted on social media following Baltimore’s loss to Cincinnati on Super Wild Card Weekend — will be strong enough to avoid a standoff.
“I mean there’s no guarantee it’ll go that way. So you cross those bridges when you get there,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a history of that with guys that are given the tag, but Lamar’s a unique guy, too. He’s not beating to everybody’s drum. He does his own thing the way he wants to do it. So those things will all come down the road as they come and we’ll adjust and adapt as we face them.”