Mike Preston: Why the Ravens should wait to give QB Lamar Jackson a long-term contract

It is uncertain whether the window for contract negotiations between the Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson is open or closed, but the team should close it.

The status of the negotiations cannot be determined because coach John Harbaugh has gone underground since the Ravens were eliminated from the playoff game by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular season finale, and general manager Eric DeCosta keeps waiting for Harbaugh to show up again before he arrived. the media with his presence. The Ravens have done the same with Jackson.

Now they should close negotiations with the fourth-year quarterback and allow him to play under the fifth-year option they picked last free season, which will pay him $ 23 million in 2022. If he continues to improve and leads the team deep into the playoffs, then the Ravens might offer him a multi-year deal.

If he does not accept a new contract after next season, the Ravens could nominate him with the franchise mark, a one-year bid for the average of the top five salaries in the position over the past five years. Then Jackson will be in his sixth year and the Ravens will get a more in-depth look at how he holds up from all of those hits on Sunday afternoon. If they can not reach some kind of agreement, then it’s time to divorce.

It makes so much sense, certainly more than paying him about $ 40 million a year. season for three to four years and guarantee him $ 100 million – the current rate for top quarterbacks. It may not have been the offer the Ravens presented to Jackson, but it’s probably in the same ballpark as recent contracts signed by Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen, all earning more than $ 40 million per season.

Shortly before training camp started, both Harbaugh and DeCosta talked about the high probability that Jackson would agree to a long-term contract, but there have been warning signs this season. Jackson played well through the first six games, but went back after a 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals as his precision began to wane. Then came the 22-10 loss to Miami in Week 10, a game in which the Dolphins consistently pressed and blew Jackson, who was indecisive on his first readings and at times did not have his arm in position to make quick throws.

Jackson never recovered from missing the following game against the Chicago Bears with an illness, and was later knocked out for the final four games of the season with an ankle injury against the Cleveland Browns. After the game, several Browns players said they wanted Jackson to play because he was not the same quarterback they met earlier.

All of this should give the Raven a break in the contract negotiations. They have a quarterback who has tested positive for coronavirus each of the last two seasons, forcing him to miss a game and more training camp drills. The ankle injury was originally called a high ankle sprain before being judged as a bone bruise, which added more mystery to a confusing season.

Former Green Bay Packers star and Hall of Famer Brett Favre once said quarterbacks should be in full development by age 4, but Jackson still has trouble reading defense. More worrying was that his quick twitch reflexes seemed slower after the Dolphins game. He was not that explosive because teams started holding him in his pocket instead of allowing him to climb out.

Over the weekend, those run-pass option (RPO) quarterbacks crashed and burned in the playoffs, including the Philadelphia Eagles ‘Jalen Hurts and Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray. Despite the RPO success with the Packers, Chiefs and Bills, there is a recurring theme here, which also includes Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

These quarterbacks “run first, give second” have trouble reading defense because in college most of them were taught to read only a quarter to half of the field. If a receiver was not open, they started running. Some will say that Allen and Mahomes are similar, but they are not. Both can make throws anywhere on the court.

Mahomes runs to gain time to find open receivers. Allen is 6 feet 5 and weighs 237 pounds. He is like a tight end in the open field and has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. He can get a little silly and do bizarre things in a game, but he’s first and foremost a passer.

It is preferred here to lock in a quarterback who can make the right throws and win games from his pocket. If a team is to invest in a quarterback, they must be in the form of an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady. There are some who suggest that Jackson was in a crisis this season and that he was trying to do too much to mask the weaknesses of his team. Maybe that’s right. He deserves time to solve his problems, but injuries prevented him from playing. That said, the ravens should listen to the warning signs.

But there are also plenty of reasons to pick up Jackson, who is one of the most explosive players in NFL history. In four years, he has rushed for 3,673 yards and 21 touchdowns and passed 9,967 yards and 84 touchdowns. He has performed some of the most dazzling and incredible runs in the league’s history, competing only with legendary running backs Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders. Of course, he was the NFL’s most valuable player in 2019.

Jackson’s teammates adore him and the Ravens are never out of a game with him as a quarterback, regardless of the score or the opponent. The Ravens can also create short-term savings by signing Jackson to a long-term deal and lowering his $ 23 million cap hit by 2022, giving them more money to spend on free agents and draft picks.

If Jackson continues to be successful and the Ravens win big fights, he will be rewarded in the future. But we’re dealing with the present here, and Jackson has missed training and games due to COVID, illness, or injury. The Ravens have a record of 37-12 with Jackson as the starter, but only one playoff win. The passing game stagnated this season with a good group of young receivers and there was enough guilt to go around.

Jackson had an opportunity to reach a new contract last year, but for whatever reason, nothing was resolved. Maybe he got bad advice, or the offer was too low, or maybe he wants to hit free action. Either way, he should be much richer than he is now.

But that time has passed, and so should the $ 100 million in guaranteed money. The ravens have the ball. At this point, they could force Jackson to lower his demands or allow him to play out his contract. If they really want to play hardball, they can slam the franchise mark on him for both the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

It probably will not get there. Jackson certainly can not complain about earning $ 23 million next season. What’s important now is that the Ravens have to make the best decision for the team, and that is to close the window on these negotiations.

It comes down to business, and the NFL is always about business.


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