Everything about the Lamar Jackson situation is difficult. Everything.
Jackson’s 26, a former Most Valuable Player, beloved in his locker room and well-respected around the league, a cornerstone player in a conference with so many young franchise quarterbacks, the most popular athlete in any sport in his city, and, as a Black player and leader in a city with a 63-percent Black population, is vital to the Ravens’ fan base.
The Ravens absolutely, positively want to keep Jackson—but not entirely on his terms. He is thought to want a fully (or largely) guaranteed contract at the market level of the best-paid quarterbacks, but he has missed 34 percent of the last two seasons with injuries. The Ravens clearly want to be covered for that in case Jackson, who is averaging 10.4 rushes per game in his career, keeps getting hurt.
So it’s a stalemate. By 4 p.m. Tuesday, Baltimore has to decide whether to put one of two franchise tags on Jackson: the non-exclusive tag, which would allow a team to sign Jackson to a long-term offer sheet; if the Ravens didn’t match, Baltimore would get two first-round picks but lose Jackson. The exclusive tag would prevent other teams from negotiating with him, but the Ravens could still trade him. Non-exclusive one-year compensation for Jackson: $32.4 million. Exclusive tag compensation: $45 million.
If a team wants Jackson, it’s disguising its intentions well. I couldn’t find legit evidence of one in Indianapolis, talking to GMs and coaches and other club officials. There may be one (Jets? Falcons?) but I couldn’t find it. And if the Ravens put the non-exclusive tag on Jackson, good luck in forcing him to play in 2023 for $32 million ($4.2 million less than Ryan Tannehill’s slated cap number) after visions of jillions have been dancing in his head.
So what to do? My idea: Baltimore tries to sign Jackson to a short-term guaranteed deal. Maybe two years, $85 million, or three years, $125 million. Or if Jackson is dead-set on eclipsing the $45-million average for Deshaun Watson (I don’t know that he is), Baltimore bites the bullet and makes it two years for $92 million, for example.
Jackson wouldn’t be getting the security he certainly wants. But I don’t see the Ravens doing the full guarantee over five years, the way Cleveland did with Watson. If I’m the team, I want Jackson badly, but not enough to guarantee him his money five years into the future after he’s missed so much time hurt. If the injury trend continues, or gets worse, the team would be spending a fifth of its salary cap, let’s say, on a player not playing. The advantage for Jackson if he signs for two years and plays at his expected level: He’d be a free agent again at age 28, in his absolute prime, and probably able to demand (and get) a contract averaging much more as the cap rises. Say, $65 million a year.
I doubt either side would be happy with this compromise. Jackson wouldn’t be making the big score, and the Ravens would be faced with reliving this nightmare in less than two or three years. But as in most compromises, it’s necessary because neither side finds a deal it likes. This deal, I think both sides could tolerate.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column