Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is getting paid and accepting the reality of the NFL

Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson is getting paid and accepting the reality of the NFL

Eventually, Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson accepted the cold reality of his situation and agreed on a massive new five-year deal on Thursday.

It’s time.

And now Jackson must redouble his efforts on the field. He still has a lot to prove.

In the end, Jackson accepted a deal that made him the highest-paid player in Ravens history. He has earned this status. The Associated Press’s 2019-20 NFL MVP also reportedly tops the NFL’s all-time list with a $260 million package, boosting the $255 million contract that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts recently signed in casts a shadow.

Here’s the thing, though: In NFL player contracts, the most important thing is the practical guarantees. Upon signing, Jackson will be guaranteed $185 million. On that all-important list, Jackson still ranks well below Cleveland Browns signal caller Deshaun Watson, whose record-breaking $230 million deal is fully guaranteed. And Jackson isn’t even number 2. Arizona Cardinals passer Kyler Murray holds that honor with $189.5 million guaranteed in his contract. Jackson and Hurts ($180 million guaranteed) round out the top four.

For months, the Ravens’ top decision-makers made it clear to Jackson that they would not offer him a contract that was fully guaranteed. They also had no interest in having a player on their roster with at least $200 million guaranteed.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson celebrates a win over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on September 26, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Apparently, even if the Ravens put it all up on a billboard in downtown Baltimore, Jackson still wouldn’t have gotten the message. Jackson’s previous stubbornness caused the Ravens to tag him with the non-exclusive franchise tag to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, which in turn angered Jackson so much that he publicly revealed that he wanted to leave Baltimore.

Jackson accomplished more than Watson. Had Jackson been able to secure a greater guarantee than Watson, well, Jackson could have struck a blow for player empowerment that would have resonated in professional sports’ most successful league.

But things have never gone his way since Jackson’s negotiations with the Ravens. That was as clear as the lack of production from the Ravens’ wideouts up to this point in the Jackson era.

The Browns needed Watson to waive his no-trade clause as part of a proposed deal to acquire him from the Houston Texans, and their desperation was evident in their willingness to accept Watson’s unprecedented contract demands. Jackson has no such influence, said N. Jeremi Duru, a professor of sports law at American University and a longtime observer of the NFL’s hiring and contracting practices.

“Deshaun Watson was a runaway,” Duru said over the phone. “But the question was, ‘Could this be the beginning of a new normal?’ What we quickly saw was that a bunch of people in power, owners, were expressing genuine concern about it [Jackson’s deal] and what it might mean.

“What you’ve seen since then is that we didn’t have those kinds of massive guarantees. And I think it’s going to be a while before contracts go in that direction again.”

Still, Jackson is in the top 3 of all time in terms of guaranteed money, which isn’t bad.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left) and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (right) greet each other at the end of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on September 28, 2020 in Baltimore.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Taking their franchise to a new level, the Ravens senior leaders showed a strong commitment to Jackson, who despite his many accomplishments has plenty of room for growth in the most important area for quarterbacks: his playoff performance.

There’s just no way to sugarcoat this: Jackson hasn’t shone in the postseason. He has a 1-3 record in four playoff starts and his production is down from the regular season.

It won’t be enough for Jackson to just make mind-blowing games as a runner and passer during the regular season. Not because of the money the Ravens are going to pay him.

Consistently, Jackson must lead Baltimore deep into the postseason. He needs to polish his reputation with those signature playoff moments already piled high by the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow. Heck, Hurts joined the roster last season when he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

Then there’s the question of Jackson’s durability.

The fact is he ended the last two seasons injured. Jackson missed 11 games, including Baltimore’s AFC wildcard playoff loss to the Bengals.

After no public bidders surfaced for Jackson during his contract battle with the Ravens, many NFL watchers took to social media to explain that team owners must collude to crush player hopes for Watson treatment. Perhaps. But good luck finding evidence to support this theory of the case.

Here’s a counterargument: Perhaps most NFL general managers would be reluctant to aggressively pursue a quarterback, even one as gifted as Jackson, who has spent much of the last two seasons on hiatus and has yet to prove he’s capable of a team to lead a super bowl.

The Ravens drafted Jackson, scrapped their offense and rebuilt it around him to maximize his unique abilities. He’s her type. Even without fully guaranteeing Jackson’s contract, they repeated this.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.

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