Back in June, when Lamar Jackson finally tackled the mystery surrounding his ongoing contract negotiations with the Baltimore Ravenshe suggested the most jaw-dropping pact in NFL history — the extension between Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns — did not affect his situation at all.
“I’m my own person,” Jackson said. “I don’t care what those guys get.”
On Friday, Jackson became a man on his own
No contract extension with the Ravens. No guaranteed money beyond 2022. No protections against catastrophic injury. And perhaps most striking of all, there’s no absolute certainty that this gamble will work out in the end for the 25-year-old former league MVP. In the history of dice rolls for an NFL player, this is probably the riskiest ever taken. It has a monumental spectrum of possible outcomes, from Jackson possibly getting the richest extension professional football has ever seen, to the possibility of a major injury or a season that changes the entire trajectory of his next contract.
All of this is now on the table. And the idea that Watson’s deal had nothing to do with it is absurdly unbelievable.
Can Lamar Jackson follow a similar path of Cousins, Prescott and Rodgers?
In a league where leverage makes kings, it would be foolish to believe that Jackson doesn’t account for the fully guaranteed $230 million contract that Watson signed or the circumstances that ultimately secured such a huge bag. The very nature of Jackson “betting on himself” now requires him to think about Watson’s contract. What’s the point of betting on yourself if you don’t consider the luck achieved by the select few quarterbacks who have parlayed their leverage into league-shaping and life-changing contracts?
Kirk Cousins played through two franchise tags in Washington and then forced himself into free agency at age 29. The payoff was a solid quarterback in the midst of his prime creating an amazing financial path for the rest of his career. First with a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed deal with the Minnesota Vikings, then with a series of extensions that will eventually result in Cousins likely retiring at some point with nearly $250 million in career earnings.
Dak Prescott played through one franchise tag with the Dallas Cowboys after turning down contract extensions in consecutive offseasons. With team owner Jerry Jones facing the precipice of starting over at the quarterback position, Prescott parlayed his leverage into a four-year, $160 million deal (with $126 million guaranteed) that makes him eligible for free agency at age 31. If Prescott’s productivity remains. at its current level and he’s playing at least into his late 30s, it’s possible he could reach $500 million in career earnings by retirement.
Aaron Rodgers structured his previous extension to put the Green Bay Packers at a crossroads after the 2021 season. Either they would need to sign him to a new deal, trade him or blow up parts of the team by keeping him and carrying his $46.7 million salary cap hit in 2022. The result: Rodgers signed a three-year deal for nearly $151 million, with more than $101 million USD guaranteed. If he plays the next three seasons, he will rack up close to $350 million in career earnings. There’s also another $112 million stuffed into a pair of option years in 2025 and 2026 if he feels like playing until he’s 43. That seems unlikely, but if it happens, Rodgers’ career cap hit would top $450 million.
As impressive as that trio stands in the pantheon of contract negotiations, it was Watson who became the sledgehammer this offseason. Not only did he generate a shocking amount of leverage simply by sitting out the 2021 season and hitting his “no-trade” clause, he played his trade availability perfectly — “eliminating” the Browns early enough in the process to give the franchise time to rally. his astronomical requirements.
Despite the massive significance of an off-field lawsuit and sexual assault and misconduct allegations that have been attached to him, Watson’s wildly odd set of circumstances — combined with the Browns’ desperation — helped him generate arguably more contract leverage than any player before him. . And the end result was a deal that was bound to create problems in quarterback negotiations, even if players like Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals and Russell Wilson of the Denver Broncos didn’t want to use Watson’s deal as a template for their own extensions. .
What did Jackson refuse?
In fact, it will always be in the hands of elite quarterbacks and their agents when it comes to following in the footsteps of Watson’s deal. While Murray and Wilson were able to up the ante in terms of guaranteed money, neither took the greater risk of playing their deals to achieve maximum leverage. Jackson is taking the step that Murray and Wilson didn’t. If the end goal of that move isn’t to secure Watson-like guaranteed money, then why take the added risk?
The sensible answer is no.
The deal that was on the table when talks began Friday was an extension that, according to a league source, would have made Jackson the second-highest paid player in the NFL, with guaranteed money second only to Watson. For Jackson to turn down such a deal is a strong statement that says he’s looking to step over everyone when this is over, not just everyone but Watson. If that’s the goal, then the inability to reach an extension Friday makes sense.
Consider that Jackson’s lack of an agent enhances his decision-making process in a way that is drastically different from the other elite quarterbacks who have signed deals. If Jackson is open to playing at a significant risk, it’s not the voice of an agent in his ear reminding him of what he’s going to lose in the next six months. Then consider that Jackson is now one season away from achieving the first significant milestone event that dramatically changed the landscape for Cousins and Prescott: Forcing his team to use a franchise tag in 2023. And not just any tag, either. In all likelihood, the Ravens will use an exclusive tag, preventing Jackson from talking to any other teams and putting his 2023 payout at the average of the top five quarterback salaries in the league (a range that is currently between $45 million and $50 million). .
That would stand as the largest single-season cap hit by a team under the franchise tag. And when you add in the 20 percent salary for a second tag in 2024, it adds up to gigantic leverage, the kind that ultimately gets a player whatever deal he’s looking for.
This is the track Jackson is on with the Ravens. In the rearview mirror of some other elite quarterback deals achieved through leverage, it should look familiar. All Jackson has to do now is stay healthy and play up to his ceiling. If he does that, he will certainly be his own man.
With a salary that stands at a distance, too.