It’s unclear if the Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson would have gotten a negotiated contract if the Browns hadn’t given the quarterback Deshaun Watson a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal. It’s pretty clear that the Watson contract played a huge role in stopping the Ravens and Jackson from doing anything.
It’s widely believed that Jackson wanted a fully guaranteed contract, especially since Watson got one. This is not an unreasonable position for Jackson. He won a league MVP award. Not Watson. Jackson has been a model citizen for the Ravens off the field. Watson, to put it mildly, did not. If Watson deserves five years with a full warranty, so does Jackson.
Conversely, it is not unreasonable that the Ravens refuse to do so. Subsequent contracts (such as the Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson offers) suggest that the Watson contract was an aberration. Indeed, the planets aligned perfectly for Watson. Despite the off-field issues, he: (1) forced a trade from Houston; (2) successfully brought four teams to the table in an attempt to land his serves; (3) eliminated the Browns from consideration after burning the bridge with Mayfield Baker; and (4) saw a desperate Browns franchise make Watson an offer he couldn’t refuse, in the form of a fully guaranteed deal.
Jackson, unless he scrambles to be traded after the 2023 season, won’t be able to create the same kind of rush for his serves. Even if he does, one of the teams pursuing him will have to be desperate enough to offer the kind of contract that will spark derision and disapproval from the rest of the league.
And if the Ravens decide to apply the franchise tag for 2023 and 2024, Jackson remains three years away from Kirk Cousinsunrestricted free will. Jackson, given his style of play, may not be the same player after three more years of consistently running the ball and taking hits.
This is another reason why Jackson needs an agent to explain the situation to him. Who would have told him why the Watson deal was an elusive goal, absent first and foremost a willingness to refuse to play for the Ravens. Who would have advised him on the risks and rewards, the costs and benefits, the pros and cons of taking or not taking the best deal the Ravens put on the table.
Then it’s possible that Jackson was, and still is, quietly advised by the NFL Players Association. President of the JC Tretter union wrote an essay after the Watson deal urging agents to push for fully guaranteed contracts. What if the NFLPA, in all of its advice to Jackson, was trying to advance this agenda instead of considering Jackson’s real best interests?
Because Jackson hasn’t told anyone much about the process, it’s fair to wonder where and who he got his advice from. If someone advised him to hold on to a fully guaranteed contract without explaining to him that he might have been better off getting as many guarantees as possible and maximizing his compensation compared to the Murray and Wilson contracts, that would help explain the refusal to accept the final offer from Baltimore – if they were ready to exceed the numbers of Murray and Wilson.
Nobody knows what the Ravens offered. But it’s the Ravens, not one of the various dysfunctional teams that always find a way to screw things up. Given the deals they’ve struck in recent years with key players, it’s fair to assume the Ravens have put together a package that, while not fully guaranteed, has become a solid alternative to $124 million over the next three yearson an annual basis of $23 million in 2022, approximately $46 million under the exclusive franchise label in 2023, then $55.2 million under the label in 2024.
Unless Jackson plans a power play, like demanding a trade after the 2022 season, the choice fell on Gate #1 ($124 million over three years) or Gate #2 (the best deal of Baltimore, under a deal that was not fully secured). He chose door number 1. He has every right to do so. Here’s hoping he did so with a full understanding and appreciation of the ramifications of transmitting through Gate #2. Saying, “It wasn’t fully guaranteed” isn’t reason enough to do so.