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Lamar Jackson has more than proven himself. It’s time for Ravens to pay up

By Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports NFL Analyst

There is no such thing as overpaying for a franchise quarterback. 

Despite the market rate for elite quarterbacks surpassing the $50 million mark, that remains a small price to pay for a proven difference-maker at the position. 

Three-time Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson netted a fully guaranteed $230 million deal amid serious accusations and prior to a lengthy suspension. Kyler Murray commanded $46.1 million annually despite concerns about his study habits and work ethic. Owners and general managers have shown a willingness to hand over what essentially qualifies as a blank check to quarterbacks with elite talent and winning pedigrees.

That’s why I am surprised at the current contract impasse between the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson. The former NFL MVP is unquestionably one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers, with a list of individual accomplishments that has him on a gold-jacket path. Moreover, he is a winning quarterback with a 39-13 record as a starter. 

Think about that. The Ravens have a quarterback with a .750 winning percentage and an NFL MVP award, and they have not paid him despite his production and performance. At a time when quarterbacks get paid big bucks for showing even a hint of potential, there is still an internal debate on how much to pay for a 25-year-old franchise quarterback entering his prime. 

Maybe the Ravens simply wanted to see how Jackson would progress as a passer in 2022 before writing a check that would make him the highest-paid quarterback in the game. Jackson himself set a deadline for a potential deal, and when it wasn’t reached, he and the team agreed to table negotiations until next offseason. But after watching him toss a league-leading 10 touchdown passes in three games while rushing for 100-plus yards in each contest, the Ravens should insist on having a face-to-face meeting with their top player to hash out the final details on a deal that pushed him into the $50 Million Club. 

With Jackson playing on the fifth-year option ($23 million) and almost certainly playing on a pair of exclusive franchise tags at around $45.4 million and $54.4 million, respectively, the Ravens would already be on the hook for $122.8 million over the next three years. 

That total payout is in line with the guarantees ($124M fully guaranteed at signing) Wilson received from the Denver Broncos on a new five-year, $245 million extension that ties him to the organization for the next seven seasons. Considering Jackson is poised to collect nearly as much guaranteed money on a shorter deal than Wilson, why would the 25-year-old even consider signing a long-term deal with the Ravens? 

As a businessman, Jackson is better off playing on the fifth-year option and back-to-back franchise tags because he earns similar guarantees but could parlay his status as a free agent into another blockbuster deal. This would give him a chance to follow the plan that helped Kirk Cousins break the bank in Washington and Minnesota. And Jackson would be much more hotly pursued than Cousins was.

Jackson, who acts as his own agent, certainly studied Cousins’ process while mapping out his approach with the Ravens. And he is willing to bet on himself and his performance to get the contract that he deserves. 

Jackson’s shrewd moves have prompted plenty of advice from observers who are worried about the risk the all-star quarterback takes by playing without a new deal. 

“He’s just got to be smart,” said Hall of Famer and former Ravens star Ed Reed. “I’m not telling him to play scared or anything because I don’t think he’s gonna do that, he hasn’t displayed that, but he has to be smart because it is a business and they will use that shit against you whether you like it or not. You can think these people love you. They’re showing their true colors right now. And it’s no shot at the Ravens because they are an organization that’s a business. It’s a business first. It’s the NFL and it’s football to the players and we love that, but it’s a business first to the league.”

While Reed’s sentiments are certainly sensible, the Ravens’ quarterback clearly knows his value. Jackson reportedly turned down a five-year, $250 million deal with $133 million guaranteed at signing. The deal would have paid Jackson a higher annual salary than Wilson and Murray with more guaranteed cash at signing. 

That contract would have locked him in for six years (reportedly at $274 million) but did not provide a significant increase in guaranteed money compared to playing on the fifth-year option and back-to-back franchise tags. Although some observers have cited injury risk as a major concern in Jackson’s decision to bet on himself, the Dak Prescott injury and subsequent contract make that a moot point. 

The Cowboys‘ star quarterback was injured while playing on the franchise tag and still received a top-of-the-market deal (four years, $160 million with a $66 million signing bonus) that placed him near the top of the charts in average annual salary. Considering he inked the deal after a horrific lower-leg injury, Jackson has an example of how this situation could play out if he suffered an injury in midst of his contract impasse. 

That said, the star quarterback could tweak his playing style to limit some of his exposure to hits on the perimeter. He can slide in the open field when defenders are closing in or scoot out of bounds whenever he is in jeopardy of taking a shot. The electric runner has always taken these precautions as a running quarterback, but he could become a more conservative runner to preserve his health this season. 

Terrell Suggs opens up on Lamar Jackson-Ravens impasse

Terrell weighs in on Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens’ contract negotiations and Ed Reed’s comments on the situation.

Reed suggested that Jackson should change the way he plays to prioritize his own health heading into free agency. It is a strategy that Reed utilized while negotiating his second contract with the Ravens.

“Yes, I would change because I did change. When I went through situations with the Ravens, I was in the last year of my rookie contract and I knew I deserved more — I still know,” Reed said. “I was underpaid. It’s a business, man. You’ve got to understand that.”

Jackson has heard all of the advice. He is very comfortable with his decision to roll the dice and bet on himself despite the injury risks. 

“It was a pretty big risk last season. The year before,” Jackson said earlier this season. “I’m just playing football. Anything can happen. God forbid the wrong thing happens.”

With the Ravens and Jackson unable to reach a deal before the season, we are watching an all-world player bet on himself to get a contract that matches his production and performance. If this three-game sample is any indication, the team should be prepared to make Jackson a $50 million man with a game-changing contract that offers huge guarantees and raises the bar for the quarterback position. 

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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