Lamar Jackson's standoff with Ravens looking more like Aaron Rodgers vs. Packers every day
Lamar Jackson might have this agent thing figured out after all.
In what was arguably the most agent-like maneuver of Jackson’s stance of representing himself in negotiations with the Baltimore Ravens, the star NFL quarterback shared details of a contract extension offer that looked better on its face than it really was. Responding Tuesday to a report that he had turned down $200 million in guaranteed money, Jackson tweeted:
“133/3years fully guaranteed but I need a agent?"
133/3years fully guaranteed😒 but I need a agent? 🤣🤦🏾♂️
— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) March 14, 2023
It was a lot to unpack in such a short tweet, starting with Jackson’s continued stance that he doesn’t need an agent to finish off a contract negotiation that is currently nowhere near finished. But aside from the lingering storyline about Jackson representing himself in a languishing high-stakes negotiation, there was the seemingly jaw-dropping suggestion from Jackson that he had been offered a three-year, fully guaranteed deal for $133 million. If true, it would be a contract that would arguably constitute a solid counteroffer from the Ravens, given that the short-term nature of it would have qualified Jackson for free agency again after the 2025 season, at which point he'll turn 29 years old. But as always, the devil is in the details, and according to a source familiar with the negotiations between Jackson and the Ravens, the quarterback had tweeted only a portion of that actual offer.
“[The tweet is] correct, but that’s only the first three years of guarantees in a five-year deal,” the source said. “That’s the guaranteed portion. But that part about the first three years is accurate.”
Which means as Jackson (the agent) tweeted about Jackson (the player), he made the Ravens' offer look better than it actually was. Because in the pantheon of NFL contracts, a three-year, straight-shot deal with full guarantees is far better than a five-year deal with only three years of guarantees.
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This is all relevant now as Jackson’s franchise-tagged window for negotiating with other NFL teams finally opens at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. First, because it showcases the absurdity of where this entire situation is currently bogged down with the Ravens, with Jackson going tit for tat on Twitter with reports about details of a contract negotiation that neither he nor Baltimore have revealed in their full and accurate context. Second, because it all underscores the reality that this is going to drag on for a long, long time. Likely until July 17, which is the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign a long-term contract.
What Jackson and Rodgers have in common
While there are certain aspects of this soap opera that we’ve never seen (like a quarterback representing himself in a potentially record-setting deal), there is a palpable vibe of discontent that is starting to mirror Aaron Rodgers’ standoff with the Green Bay Packers in 2018. Given all the drama that has transpired over the past five years, few are going to remember that negotiation. It featured one overriding aspect that has lingered between Rodgers and the Packers for years: The subplot of an underlying respect issue between the front office and the franchise quarterback that never resolved itself and laid the groundwork for what we’re seeing now — essentially a painfully slow trade of Rodgers to the New York Jets that is rooted in years of issues that have never subsided between an MVP quarterback and management.
We covered that mess extensively. Record-setting money ultimately resolved the problem (albeit for a short time), making Rodgers the highest paid player in NFL history. Now the messy soup of issues between Jackson and the Ravens' front office feels like it’s starting to head down a similar path. Both crossroads were steeped in some kind of issue about how a quarterback felt valued by his team. For Rodgers, it was whether or not the general manager or other decision makers were willing to listen to his thoughts when it came to roster building. For Jackson, it appears to be a crossroads of how the front office has staked his value versus how Jackson believes he stacks up against other quarterback deals. Those don’t necessarily sound the same, but the underlying theme in both is whether a player feels appreciated by his franchise. Rodgers wanted to be appreciated when it came to his input, while Jackson wants to be appreciated where it concerns his paycheck.
The key between both isn’t what they want. The key is what they perceive. And that shared perception is one of lacking respect. We can debate whether the vantage of the player is accurate, but that’s irrelevant. What is applicable in this situation is the feelings of the players and their ability to act on those feelings by refusing to commit to a contract.
Both sides of Jackson debate have merit
In the wake of all this with Jackson, two sides are digging into their trenches. In one, you have a camp that says Jackson can’t get his ideal long-term deal because NFL franchise owners are bucking back against a Black quarterback who refuses to adhere to the status quo in contract negotiations and wants to change a system that refuses to give players fully guaranteed deals. In the other trench, you have a camp that points to Jackson’s injury history, lack of leverage and playing style as the overriding reason why he doesn’t appear to have a bevy of suitors offering guaranteed contracts.
If we’re embracing reality, both sides are likely right on some — but not all — points. Do NFL club owners want to make guaranteed quarterback deals a staple of the landscape? Of course not. If anything, the braintrusts of teams are looking at the recent spate of long-term quarterback deals and seeing a logjam of regret (see: Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, etc.). They want fully guaranteed quarterback deals about as much as they want a hole in their heads. Conversely, Jackson is looking at himself pressed against the Watson deal and wondering: if a player with a recent and significant history of off-field issues, a barely .500 record as a starter and zero MVP seasons is worth the most one-sided contract in NFL history, why am I not worth the same?
If we’re being honest, we can see the “why” behind both vantage points. Nobody in this thing is 100% wrong or 100% right. And neither has a template to work with when it comes to hammering out their differences without an agent acting as a conduit. The simple fact is that there are numerous hurdles injected into this scenario that make it problematic — whether it’s Watson’s contract or Jackson’s lack of an agent; or the simple fact that every single landscape-changing deal in league history is fraught with pitfalls.
If we step back, this is a negotiation that was tailor-made for problems. Especially when it entered the territory of how a team respects uncommon quarterback talent versus how the overall market values the same commodity. Jackson believes he’s worth a contract that the Ravens have been reticent to offer. The rest of the market gets to weigh in, starting Wednesday, and every indication is that Jackson is going to be confronted by the same reticence elsewhere that he has experienced inside the walls of the Ravens' facility.
We can all argue why that is. And we will all be right on some level. But the only thing that will matter is whether or not Jackson is deemed worthy of a contract offer that goes beyond what Baltimore has extended to this point. If no other NFL teams step forward, that’s a sign that this drama is going to linger for longer than anyone could have anticipated a few months ago. A familiar awkward dance that starts with the Ravens in 2023 and ends with some other team in some other year, with nothing but blame and accusations in between. If you have any doubt about that, just look at what’s going on with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers right now.
The two situations are more closely aligned than you might think. But the destination and the divorce — that feels more likely with each passing moment.