Lamar Jackson’s Ravens contract entering Patrick Mahomes territory
Among the NFL quarterbacks who will soon be eligible for a contract extension, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens is easily the most intriguing figure. If he gets an extension, it could approach Patrick Mahomes money. Yet, there are enough uncertainties about Lamar to warrant a wait-and-see approach to this situation.
It is not an absolute lock that the Ravens will give Jackson a mammoth extension. It is probable, but there is a larger context which needs to be sorted through. The 2021 season looms large in this discussion, and we’ll get to that shortly.
First, though, let’s present the situation as it stands today, helpfully laid out by ESPN’s Dan Graziano, who explains that Lamar (Ravens), Josh Allen (Bills) and Baker Mayfield (Browns) are still with the teams which drafted them:
Having played three years, they are now eligible for extensions. Their teams don’t have to extend them; all three had their fifth-year options picked up, so the teams (Ravens, Bills, Browns) have control of them through 2023 and could franchise them in 2024, 2025 and 2026 if need be. But recent history (Carson Wentz and Jared Goff in 2019, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson last year) shows teams extending their star quarterbacks at the first opportunity, and it would be surprising if these three didn’t follow suit.
Industry buzz seems to think Jackson will not only sign first but get the biggest deal of these three, since he’s the one with an MVP trophy he can wave in his team’s face at the negotiating table. Jackson is working without a traditional agent, which throws at least some uncertainty into the issue. But the Ravens have made it clear they want to keep him and understand what it’ll cost. It wouldn’t surprise people around the league if Jackson’s deal came in behind Mahomes’ $45 million-a-year average and ahead of Prescott’s $40 million, but as always, the key will be to watch the structure and guarantees.
That last detail is the key point. The Ravens will want to pay Lamar, but how player-friendly or team-friendly the deal is remains up for debate.
This is where the 2021 season comes into play. The Ravens have made a genuine, good-faith effort to surround Lamar Jackson with quality pass-catchers and resources. It is clear Jackson is a unique and devastating talent, but it is just as clear that Lamar is more of a wizard with his legs than his arm. Patrick Mahomes is a gifted passer who can run well. Lamar is a gifted runner who can sometimes throw the ball brilliantly but hasn’t manifested enough command of the passing game to give Baltimore a complete offense.
Lamar Jackson clearly regressed in 2020. Yes, he set the bar very high in his 2019 MVP season, so a comedown was inevitable to some extent, but Lamar’s regression was sharp. The Ravens need to know that if they fall behind 10-0 or 13-0 in the first half, they can come back. They need to see Lamar take some punches and lead his team down the field late in games when trailing, passing the ball expertly even when defenses know Baltimore has to throw.
Patrick Mahomes has already established himself as a quarterback who can struggle for two or three quarters but then take over the game in the fourth quarter on passing downs and in predictable passing situations. His talent as a passer takes over and leaves defensive players shaking their heads. Lamar Jackson will never attain that standard on a permanent basis, but he definitely needs to come closer to it. His feeble performance against the Bills in the AFC divisional playoffs last January was a sour punctuation mark at the end of a very uneven season.
If the Ravens are going to give Jackson a player-friendly extension — a contract Lamar would easily accept in a stress-free negotiation with the Baltimore organization — Lamar has to make big strides in the passing game this year. If he doesn’t, the terms of an extension will probably involve a lot more discomfort than either side would like to admit.