Lamar Jackson Could Be Incredibly Right or Incredibly Wrong on Contract
His desire to negotiate his ideal contract is noble, but it could also cost the Ravens’ electric quarterback millions if he suffers a significant injury. All we can do now is wish him luck.
The Ravens and Lamar Jackson were never going to reach an agreement on a long-term contract before the start of this season. Friday’s statement from general manager Eric DeCosta simply confirmed as much.
The problem with this entire saga has been the series of funhouse mirrors through which everyone views Jackson’s value over the long term.
Jackson likely sees Deshaun Watson, a quarterback with the same number of playoff wins and one fewer league MVP awards, earning a fully guaranteed, market-setting contract and wonders what the hold up is without taking into account the Browns’ embarrassing level of desperation when it came to offering Watson a deal.
We see Jackson on the field and feel a steady current of electricity. We love watching him play football the way it was meant to be played. We see a team hanging on the edge of Jackson’s cape trying to keep up with his superhuman brain and body. We see an unstoppable Ravens scheme when everyone is healthy. We see billionaires forking over fully loaded deals for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and wonder what gives.
The Ravens see assets, some of which increase in value and some of which decline in value over time. They see Jackson the way we see Jackson on the field, but they also see the effects of the repeated collisions. They see the style of play necessary to reach their intended goal and understand the trade-off when it comes to a player’s long-term health. They, very likely, look at Jackson the way we might admire a Formula One car built to hug corners, blaze past opponents and, maybe, sometimes, unfortunately, flip off the track. They probably see a little bit of what the Bills see every time Josh Allen leaves the pocket: awe and terror, excitement and anxiety. They also see Allen having won a few more playoff games and factor that into their actuarial thinking. The Ravens are one of the most analytically driven franchises in all of sports. There is a rating placed on all of this that they’ll ultimately trust. There is a numerical line they will not cross.
Toss that all in a blender and you’ll wind up here, with Jackson almost certainly getting franchise tagged (nonexclusive tag likely in range of $32 million, exclusive tag around $46 million for 2023) at season’s end, fit to earn his guaranteed money the hard way. It brings about both feelings of incredible pride and incredible fear. Most of us would have just taken the money. Most people taking educated guesses at how this process has gone would encourage Jackson to take the money. None of us are Jackson.
We feel pride because what Jackson is doing is noble. Just like some of the players before him who bet on their long-term value and dunked anything less than a suitable deal back into the faces of his employers, Jackson is not accepting the idea that he shouldn’t be fully compensated for the risks he’s putting his body through. It has been his ethos throughout his career. He kept going from place to place, insisting to everyone that he was a quarterback until someone treated him as such. He was right. The football world was wrong. It’s incredibly difficult to operate this way, turning down the potential for generational wealth because, behind the paper facade, some owner is still trying to twist the gears and win this negotiation like it’s some sort of private equity takeover.
We feel fear because we know what happens in a league with a 100% injury rate. We see it every Sunday, numb to the macabre Fox jingle that plays during a medical timeout, but aware of its disturbing frequency. We hear from agents and executives (Jackson represents himself) who hope that someone could get through to Jackson and explain that even a little security is better than no security. Our brains are wired to crave absolutes, familiarity and sensibility, so when someone decides to eschew those creature comforts, it sets off all manner of alarm bells.
In the end, Jackson could be both incredibly right and incredibly wrong. Right to move the cause for players forward. Wrong to risk his own body doing it. He could wind up like Cousins. He could end up like Teddy Bridgewater or Alex Smith. The Ravens could end up succeeding in a kind of cold, Patriots-esque manner, ultimately praised for their ability to look past the electricity and the awards to see what we all collectively fear for Jackson. It’s important for us to remember that this is what they’re paid to do, as unsatisfying as that feels from the outside looking in.
It all depends on how you look at it—how the mirror bends and contorts to our own personal realities. All we can say for certain right now is that Jackson did what very few of us would have the courage to do. All we can do is wish him luck.
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