Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens: The Key to Resolving the Impasse
When the Green Bay Packers were at a crossroads with Aaron Rodgers a year ago, the impasse was supposedly about everything except his contract. Rodgers desired more communication with the front office, greater inclusion in team planning, and greater respect for the core veterans who helped shape the culture. All of that, plus one colossal bonus for the league's reigning MVP: A reworked contract that made him Green Bay's undisputed starter through at least the 2023 season, as well as the NFL's highest paid player. When it was all said and done, the final tally was unmistakable. Whatever short-term promises the Packers' front office couldn't keep, the long-term guaranteed money made up for it.
This is the formula for resolving the standoff between Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Make a note of it. It should be laminated. Return to it in weeks, months, or years, however long it takes to reach the inevitable number. That's what this was all about back in September. It's all about it right now. And it will be about that if Jackson is eventually franchised for the 2023 season. Trying to focus on something else is a shell game that revolves around the same issue.
"One hundred percent — you know, 200 percent," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (left) said on Thursday. There is no doubt about it. "Our quarterback is Lamar Jackson." Rick Scuteri/AP Photo
That should have been the takeaway from Thursday's news conference, when Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta reaffirmed what they've been saying since the beginning of this negotiation: They want Jackson to be the Ravens' long-term starting quarterback; they want to get a deal done; and they're not in a rush to explain why it's all taking so long.
All of this was treated as breaking news, despite the fact that it has been the organization's position since negotiations began. How certain is the team that Jackson is the quarterback of the future? Allow Harbaugh to add some rhetoric to drive the point home once more.
"100% — you know, 200 percent," Harbaugh said on Thursday. "There's no doubt about it. Our quarterback is Lamar Jackson. He has served as our quarterback. Everything we've done to build our offense and team, how we think about the people around him, is based on this incredible young man and his talent, ability, and competitiveness."
Yes, if you'd forgotten about the adages about hard work, communication, and optimism, there was plenty of them on Thursday. There was no shortage of window dressing issues, from Jackson's influence on the next offensive coordinator to the investment in the wide receiver depth chart to the surrounding offensive pieces' readiness to compete.
Surely, these are all positive signs that the Ravens want Jackson back. But, once again, the team has never stated that it does not want Jackson back. The Ravens have repeatedly stated that this is a difficult negotiation in progress. That the two parties have not reached an agreement. Furthermore, some contract negotiations are more difficult and time consuming than others.
Thursday's news conference could have ended with DeCosta's first line about his confidence in completing Jackson's extension: "It certainly takes two to tango."
That's right there. That's all. That's the message: this is still in the same place it's been since the beginning, with two sides staring at each other, trying to figure out the exact contract number and set of guarantees that will keep Jackson in the fold in the long run.
The solutions are as straightforward as they were in August. Baltimore can meet Jackson's demand for total guaranteed money, or Jackson can soften his stance on how close he gets to a fully guaranteed deal. If neither happens, Baltimore can use franchise tags to keep control of Jackson's future, and he can either go along for the ride or refuse and force a trade.
This has always been the path forward, with numerous bridges to cross. Negotiations resume this week where they left off. The window for the team to place Jackson on the exclusive franchise tag (potentially resulting in a salary of around $45 million) or a nonexclusive tag (projected to be around $32.5 million) opens next month. The exclusive tag means Jackson can only negotiate with the Ravens. The nonexclusive tag would allow Jackson to negotiate a free-agent contract with other teams, with Baltimore having the option to match the deal or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
This tag window will be open from February 21 to March 7. If the two sides do not reach an agreement by then, Jackson will be tagged. That is an unavoidable conclusion.
Once tagged, the onus is on Jackson to decide what the move means and how he will respond. Would he refuse to sign an exclusive tag and stay away from the team for the entire offseason? Most likely, yes. Will he try to work out a deal with another team if he has a nonexclusive franchise tag? Also, most likely. Is everything coming to a meaningful halt? Absolutely.
We'll find out how large the gap between Jackson and the Ravens is one way or another. Either through the use of a specific tag or Jackson's reaction to it. The key out is no more mysterious than it was when the talks broke down last September.
This is following in the footsteps of Rodgers. There will be numerous sideshows, resolutions, and platitudes about what matters. The money is still the main draw. Just like it has always been.
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