Back in June, when Lamar Jackson finally addressed the mystery surrounding his stalled contract talks with the Baltimore Ravens, he suggested that the most impressive pact in NFL history — the extension between Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns — wasn’t it had nothing to do with his condition.
“I’m my own man,” Jackson said. “I’m not worried about what these guys are getting.”
On Friday, Jackson became a man on his own.
No contract extension with the Ravens. No guaranteed money after 2022. No protection against catastrophic injuries. And perhaps most glaringly of all, there’s no absolute certainty that this bet will work out in the end for the 25-year-old former league MVP. In the history of rolling the dice on an NFL player, this is arguably the riskiest ever. It has a monumental range of possible outcomes, from Jackson finally landing the richest extension pro football has ever seen, to the possibility of a major injury or season that changes the entire trajectory of his next contract.
All of that 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 think that Jackson isn’t considering the $230 million fully guaranteed contract Watson signed or the circumstances that ultimately secured such a huge bag. Jackson’s very “bet on himself” nature now requires him to consider Watson’s contract. What’s the point of betting on yourself if you don’t consider the windfall achieved by the select few quarterbacks who turn their leverage into league-shaping, life-changing contracts?
Kirk Cousins played through two franchise tags in Washington, then was forced into free agency at age 29. The reward was a solid quarterback in the middle of his prime who put together an amazing financial run for the rest of his career. First with a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, and then with a series of extensions that will ultimately result in Cousins likely someday retiring with nearly $250 million in career earnings.
Dak Prescott played through a franchise tag with the Dallas Cowboys after turning down contract extensions in consecutive offseasons. With team owner Jerry Jones facing the abyss of starting at quarterback, Prescott parlayed his leverage into a four-year, $160 million deal (with $126 million guaranteed) that makes him eligible for free agency at the age of 31 years old. If Prescott’s productivity stays at his current level and he plays at least into his 30s, he’s likely to reach $500 million in career earnings by retirement.
Aaron Rodgers set up his previous extension to put the Green Bay Packers at a crossroads after the 2021 season. They would either have to sign him to a new deal, trade him or blow up parts of the team by keeping him and bringing in the salary of $46.7 million in 2022. The result: Rodgers signed a three-year contract for nearly $151 million, with more than $101 million guaranteed. If he plays the next three seasons, he will have nearly $350 million in career earnings. There’s also another $112 million stuffed into a pair of option years in 2025 and 2026 if he’s inclined to play until he’s 43. That seems unlikely, but if it happens, Rodgers’ career earnings will top $450 million.
As impressive as that trio ranks in the pantheon of contract negotiations, it was Watson who became the sledgehammer this offseason. Not only did he create a staggering amount of leverage simply by sitting out the 2021 season and hitting the “no trade” clause, but he played his trade availability perfectly — “eliminating” the Browns early enough in the process to give the franchise time to meet the its astronomical requirements.
Despite the high profile of the off-field disputes and sexual assault and misconduct allegations attached to him, Watson’s peculiar set of circumstances — combined with the Browns’ desperation — helped him create arguably more contract leverage than any player before him. And the end result was a deal that would inevitably create problems in a quarterback deal, even if players like Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals and Russell Wilson of the Denver Broncos weren’t willing to use Watson’s deal as a template for their own. the extensions. .
What did Jackson reject?
In fact, it will always be in the hands of elite strategists and their agents when it comes to following in the footsteps of the Watson deal. While Murray and Wilson were able to raise the bar in terms of guaranteed money, neither took the biggest risk of completing their deals to achieve maximum leverage. Jackson takes the step that Murray and Wilson didn’t. If the end goal of this move is not to secure Watson-like guaranteed money, then why take the added risk?
The logical answer is no.
The deal on the table when talks broke down 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 that kind of deal is a powerful statement, saying he wants to outdo everyone when it’s all over, not just everyone but Watson. If that’s the goal, then the inability to reach extra time on Friday makes sense.
Consider that Jackson’s lack of an agent streamlines his decision-making process in a way that’s drastically different from other elite quarterbacks who signed deals. If Jackson is open to taking a significant risk, there’s no agent’s voice in his ear reminding him what he’s going to miss out on in the next six months. Then consider that Jackson is now a season away from achieving the first major landscape-changing milestone for Cousins and Prescott: Forcing his team to use a franchise tag in 2023. And not just any tag. In all likelihood, the Ravens will use an exclusive tag, preventing Jackson from talking to other teams and placing his 2023 payment at the average of the top five quarterback salaries in the league (a range that currently runs between 45 and 50 million dollars). .
That would be the biggest single-season hit by a team under the franchise tag. And when you add in the 20 percent pay rise for a second tag in 2024, that amounts to massive leverage, the kind that ultimately gets the player whatever deal he’s looking for.
That’s the part Jackson is doing with the Ravens. In the mirror of some other elite offerings 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 definitely be a man of his own.
With a salary that is also far away.