'Lamar Jackson is our quarterback': Ravens confident they can get deal done, but QB's return no sure thing

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - On Monday, Lamar Jackson did what 26-year-olds do. He posted an Instagram story.

The message, however, was eyebrow-raising.

"When you have something good, you don't play with it," the post read in part. "You don't take chances losing it. You don't neglect it."

Could it have been completely unrelated to the contract situation he and the Ravens find themselves entangled in? Possibly. The timing - not even 24 hours after the Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs without Jackson, who missed the final six games of the year with a knee injury - was noticeable. Maybe he was talking about former offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who "parted ways" with the team Thursday.

Regardless of the post's intentions, it cast an even brighter spotlight on what will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the NFL offseason - whether the Ravens commit to Jackson as the long-term option at quarterback or set the stage for his eventual departure.

Asked whether Jackson would be Baltimore's starter for the opening game next season, general manager Eric DeCosta said Thursday: "I don't see any reason why he won't be."

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Here is where things stand as the offseason begins in earnest for the Ravens and Jackson.

'It takes two to tango'

Ravens coach John Harbaugh and DeCosta presented an optimistic outlook toward reaching a long-term contract extension with Jackson. Harbaugh said he and Jackson have spoken on several occasions since the season ended. DeCosta said he and Jackson also have a strong relationship and spoke earlier in the day.

"One hundred percent; two hundred percent. There's no question about it," Harbaugh said after being asked if Jackson was still in the organization's long-term plan. "Lamar Jackson is our quarterback."

Both Harbaugh and DeCosta were highly complimentary of Jackson the person and the player.

"He's a very bright guy, he has a big heart, but he's just a massive competitor," Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of guys we want to build this team around."

Ravens brass confident long-term deal for Lamar Jackson will be completed

Jackson played the 2022 season on the fifth year of his rookie contract, making $23 million once he and the Ravens could not agree to an extension. According to multiple reports, the two sides could not agree on the amount of guaranteed money in the contract.

The Cleveland Browns guaranteed all $230 million in Deshaun Watson's five-year deal last year. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was critical of the agreement at the time, saying "I wish they hadn't guaranteed the whole contract ... that's something that's groundbreaking, and it'll make negotiations harder with others."

DeCosta would not comment on the specifics of the negotiations when asked about the guaranteed money aspect of the deal.

Lamar Jackson celebrates a touchdown during a Nov.
Lamar Jackson celebrates a touchdown during a Nov.  

Lamar Jackson the player vs. Lamar Jackson the agent

A complicating factor of these negotiations is that Jackson represents himself as his own agent. For as highly as DeCosta thinks of Jackson, he represents the business relationship between the Ravens and Jackson.

"Anytime you negotiate with anybody, it's not always going to be an easy conversation had," DeCosta said.

The bifurcation of negotiating with Jackson the player and Jackson the agent is a line the Ravens will have to toe carefully, said CBS Sports analyst Amy Trask, former CEO of the Raiders.

"It's important that the team handle that carefully, and it strikes me that the Ravens are doing that," Trask told USA TODAY Sports.

If DeCosta can communicate the team offers while Harbaugh and the coaching staff remain in Jackson's corner, "I think that's very, very smart," Trask said.

Discussions between representatives of an organization and those representing the player can be awkward. The two separate discussions will benefit the Ravens.

"Things can become testy between players and an organization, and then when things get resolved, the testiness can go away," Trask said.

Oftentimes, any friction disappears with a deal.

"All of this can be smoothed over," Trask said.

Ravens' comparable deals

Take the "two to tango" analogy further and apply it to dancing in general, Trask said. Every discussion is a different dance. They will feel different and be different.

Earlier this month, the Ravens announced an extension with a player who represents himself: inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract.

DeCosta said that contract was negotiated in six separate days over the course of a month. Baltimore's deal with tight end Mark Andrews (four years, $56 million) came together in three or four days before it was signed in 2021. The 2020 extension for left tackle Ronnie Stanley (five years, $99 million) took 1.5 years to iron out, DeCosta said.

In 2020, the Ravens extended cornerback Marlon Humphrey, a former first-round pick, to a five-year, $97.5 million deal.

Will the Ravens franchise tag Lamar Jackson?

If a deal cannot be reached at some point in the next six weeks, the Ravens will have to use one of the tags available to NFL teams.

Otherwise, Jackson will become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 15 (which is an extremely unlikely possibility).

There are two types of franchise tags, and the designation matters. The Ravens could use a non-exclusive tag on Jackson. In that case, Baltimore has the chance to match any offer sheet Jackson receives and would receive compensation if he goes elsewhere. If Jackson played in Baltimore on the non-exclusive tag, it would be 14.42% of the 2023 cap - an expected $32.4 million, according to CBS Sports.

The exclusive franchise tag would be costlier at a projected $45 million (subject to change) and would prohibit Jackson from negotiating with other teams.

The window to tag Jackson is Feb. 21 to March 7. DeCosta said he would speak with Bisciotti sometime in the coming weeks about the strategies with each and arrive at a decision later.

DeCosta added that he would love to not have to discuss Jackson at all, meaning a deal has been agreed upon. The Ravens will have an estimated $33 million in cap space this offseason, according to Spotrac.

"So that creates some aspect of flexibility with us contract-wise and also franchise-wise, as well," DeCosta said. "It gives us a couple different options."

Lamar Jackson on the sidelines during a Jan.
Lamar Jackson on the sidelines during a Jan.  

Will the Ravens trade Lamar Jackson?

A lot would have to happen over the coming weeks, and the compensation would almost certainly be more than what the Houston Texans received for Watson. With a tag, the Ravens retain the ability to explore a trade for Jackson.

The organization, presently, appears singularly focused on hammering out a long-term deal.

"It's going to take some time, it's going to take some effort, it's going to take great communication - give and take - but I'm confident that we'll be on the right path to get that done," DeCosta said.

"If for any reason they decide to move in a different direction, they must or had best ask themselves, 'And do what?' " Trask said. "Because Lamar is exceptionally talented.

"If the answer to that question isn't as good or better, then what are you doing?"

From Jackson's perspective, Trask warned, the grass is not always greener elsewhere.

Ravens players want Lamar Jackson back

Defensive end Calais Campbell has been in professional football for 15 seasons. He may not be back with the Ravens next season, but he has strong feelings about whether Jackson should be.

"I think it's in the best interest of the Ravens organization to give him a long-term contract and make him our guy," Campbell told reporters Monday. "Lamar Jackson is a star; he deserves to be paid like it and deserves the opportunity to lead his teams to hopefully multiple championships. As long as he's on the field, you know your team has a chance."

Said Andrews: "I hope that he's going to be back. That's my guy. I have nothing but love and respect for 'No. 8' as a person, as a player and as a friend. So, yes, I love the guy, so I hope he's back."

Will injuries affect Lamar Jackson contract?

Jackson suffered a sprained PCL in his left knee during the first quarter of a Dec. 4 game against the Denver Broncos. What Harbaugh and the Ravens originally categorized as "week-to-week" never materialized in a return.

It was the second year he missed the end of the season and Baltimore's chances of a deep postseason run evaporated with his absence.

The Ravens don't anticipate the injuries becoming a trend and see it more as a result of football and bad luck, Harbaugh said.

"Lamar is a very durable player," Harbaugh said. "I know that people might take issue with that - I get it - but I don't believe that there's going to be a problem going forward, because I know how hard he's going to work."

FOX contributors Sean Payton and Michael Vick were among those critical of Jackson for not playing in the postseason. Others panned him for not traveling to Cincinnati for the wild card game against the Bengals. Speculation that Jackson did not return to further risk injury ahead of this offseason's negotiations ran rampant.

DeCosta said that the team felt it did not need to repair anything inside the locker room.

"I told Lamar that, 'Hey, this thing has been a burden for both of us,' " DeCosta said. "I said, 'But when this thing is over, we are going to feel like a million bucks,' and that's truly how I feel."

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Lamar Jackson agree to new contract with Baltimore Ravens?


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