OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite Lamar Jackson rocking the NFL world on March 27 by tweeting he had asked for a trade from the Baltimore Ravens, coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence Jackson would remain his quarterback.
Perhaps Harbaugh based his optimism on the fact teams were publicly stating they wouldn’t pursue Jackson, who was given the nonexclusive franchise tag, meaning he could negotiate with other teams.
Whatever the reason, Harbaugh’s instincts proved accurate as the Ravens and Jackson agreed in principle to a five-year, $260 million extension on Thursday, just hours before the NFL draft (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ABC and ESPN+) began.
Jackson, who does not have an agent and represented himself, became eligible for an extension over two years ago, but negotiations never seemed to gain momentum. Jackson reportedly was looking for a deal along the lines of what Deshaun Watson received from the Cleveland Browns, who signed him to a fully guaranteed $230 million contract in March 2022, but the Ravens balked at a fully guaranteed deal.
The contract Jackson agreed to includes $185 million in guaranteed money, according to a source, and is worth $52 million per year, which is the highest in the league. The Philadelphia Eagles‘ Jalen Hurts will make $51 million after signing his extension on April 17.
Now the Ravens can focus on football, having signed their QB and improved their wide receiver corps by signing Odell Beckham Jr. on April 13.
ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley examines the timing of the deal, the relationship between Jackson and the Ravens and how this affects Baltimore going forward.
Why did the deal get completed hours before the draft?
Jackson probably didn’t want to be the odd man out in the quarterback musical chairs. There’s a good chance the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts are going to draft quarterbacks early in the first round. There was also the possibility that the Ravens could take Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, who made a pre-draft visit to Baltimore, if he slid in the first round. Jackson didn’t want to risk that happening, which would have hampered any leverage he had remaining.
The Ravens played it deftly, offering Jackson a little more than what Hurts got 10 days ago and a little more than their last proposal to him in September (five years for $250 million with $175 million guaranteed).
Did Jackson get what he wanted?
Yes and no. Jackson can boast bragging rights that he became the NFL’s highest-paid player despite not having an agent. He’s going to make $52 million per season, which is a huge raise from his $32 million franchise tag tender. But he didn’t come close to getting the same guaranteed money as Watson.
The Ravens insisted Watson’s deal was an outlier, and they’ve been proven right. The three significant quarterback deals signed after Watson – Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Hurts – were each for less than $190 million guaranteed. Perhaps the Hurts deal was a wake-up call for Jackson that his guaranteed money wouldn’t approach Watson’s.
Will the deal mend the relationship, despite Jackson asking for a trade earlier this year?
The Ravens will contend there is nothing about their relationship with Jackson to repair. Even when Harbaugh was caught by surprise by Jackson’s announcement that he requested a trade last month, Harbaugh didn’t take it personally and said it was the process of doing business in professional sports. “It’s a monetary thing,” he said. “That can be worked out.” And Harbaugh was right.
Still, Baltimore’s offseason was built around helping Jackson. The Ravens hired new offensive coordinator Todd Monken to modernize the scheme, moved receivers coach Tee Martin to quarterback coach and upgraded the wide receiver group. Baltimore’s two biggest free-agent signings were wide receivers – Beckham and Nelson Agholor. It felt like the addition of Beckham, who received $15 million for one season, was a very expensive peace offering to Jackson.
Why were the Ravens so confident Jackson would return, even with the trade request?
The Ravens sized up the market for Jackson better than anyone. It seemed like a huge risk to place the nonexclusive franchise tag on the 26-year-old Jackson. He became the first NFL MVP quarterback under the age of 30 to be allowed to negotiate with other teams.
But several quarterback-needy teams are picking in the top half of the first round, where they can get franchise quarterbacks on five-year rookie deals. And other teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions publicly said they were happy with their current quarterback situation.
It was shrewd of Baltimore to use the nonexclusive tag, which is $13 million less than the exclusive one. By going with the less expensive tag, the Ravens could conceivably have placed the tag on Jackson for the next two offseasons. If Baltimore played hardball like that, Jackson wouldn’t have reached free agency until 2026.
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Do the Ravens consider Jackson to be fully healthy?
Harbaugh was asked last month about Jackson’s injured left knee, which caused him to miss the last six games last season, including the wild-card loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. “I believe so,” Harbaugh replied when asked if Jackson is healthy.
The bigger question is whether Jackson will remain healthy. Jackson’s durability has come under scrutiny because he hasn’t finished the last two seasons because of an ankle injury in 2021 and a sprained knee in 2022. He has missed 10 of Baltimore’s last 22 games. It should be noted that Jackson was injured eluding the pass rush and not on designed runs. But Jackson does take more contact than other quarterbacks because of his dual-threat style. Since entering the league in 2018, Jackson has been hit 877 times, which is 27 more than anyone else.
How does Jackson’s deal affect the Ravens going forward?
The immediate benefit is Jackson will attend the mandatory minicamp in the spring and report to training camp on time in the summer. This is huge for the Ravens, considering Jackson will have to learn a new system with Monken and get a rapport with a revamped wide receiver group.
Without this new deal, it was unknown whether Jackson would miss most of training camp or even sit out the season like running back Le’Veon Bell did in 2018 after the Pittsburgh Steelers placed the franchise tag on him.
The other aspect is the salary cap relief. Jackson’s $32 million tender accounted for 14.4% of Baltimore’s cap. His new deal could free up around $10 million in cap space. The Ravens could use that to strengthen Jackson’s supporting cast as well as his chances of winning a Super Bowl.