Window opens for Ravens’ Lamar Jackson to contact other teams
- March 16, 2023
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The first link in Lamar Jackson’s social media bios is an email address for “business inquiries.” They’ve been around for years, but at 4:00 p.m. ET Wednesday, the investigation into Jackson’s business will take an intriguing turn.
Then the Baltimore Ravens quarterback can begin negotiations with other teams. This is unprecedented territory, as Jackson, 26, becomes the first NFL MVP quarterback under 30 to receive the nonexclusive franchise tag, which earns him $32.416 million for a season and allows him to negotiate contracts with to lead the rest of the league. If he accepts an offer, the Ravens have five days to pass or get two first-round picks in compensation.
The Ravens chose that option over the exclusive tag set at $45 million, which would have prevented Jackson from speaking to other teams and left Baltimore in control of trade terms.
What makes the situation even more unique is that Jackson doesn’t have an agent. Instead, Jackson has drawn on a close inner circle of family members and advisors, as well as the NFL Players Association.
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It’s this dynamic that makes it difficult to predict Jackson’s future. While other teams have been busy for the past two days finalizing deals on free-agent quarterbacks or trading in draft capital that will lead to quarterback selection, Jackson had to wait to find out his market value.
Some agents and former general managers believe Jackson’s lack of an agent is being overstated and may even have worked in his favour. However, others believe that the lack of representation complicates a complex process and could make teams procrastinate.
“I tried to put myself in the shoes of a GM who might be interested. What do I have to do now? Do I need to call Lamar personally?” said Randy Mueller, a former NFL general manager who is now the director of player personnel for the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons. “It’s definitely unorthodox. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it certainly complicates things.”
Lamar Jackson might find it difficult to contact teams to talk about a new contract without an agent, but he might also have made millions more by having no representation and being patient. Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire
Even though Jackson doesn’t have an agent, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have help.
“We can offer him the same type of support that we can provide to any certified agent,” an NFLPA source said. “We can review and review a contract. We can tell him if a deal sounds good or if it’s market value for a player like him.
“If he has any questions during the process, he can come to us and we can discuss them with him.”
But the NFLPA has limits.
“[Teams] can call his mother, who has taken care of many of these matters. Or they can call him directly,” an NFLPA source said. “We cannot speak directly to teams and negotiate directly on his behalf. We can’t go back and forth with teams.”
Two agents who have both brokered NFL quarterback deals believe Jackson is already a step behind. If Jackson had an agent, they said, his representative could have been his attorney at the NFL combine earlier this month and talked to teams about their interest in formulating his market.
“He’s sat so far out that he can’t go back on his word,” one agent said. “It takes tremendous humility to say, ‘I tried, it didn’t happen, I’m going to hire an agent now and make the best offer I can.'”
Jackson’s list of potential teams dwindled before he had a chance to make a call. The Carolina Panthers rose to #1 overall pick to draft quarterback. The Miami Dolphins gave Tua Tagovailoa a vote of confidence by exercising his fifth-year option. The Las Vegas Raiders have signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a three-year, $67.5 million deal.
However, other teams appear to be potential suitors, such as the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Washington Commanders.
An agent suggested Jackson target a handful of teams and contact them immediately if they would be willing to give up two first-round picks for him. Then work begins to draft a contract that the Ravens would not honor.
last september, A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen that Jackson turned down an offer from Baltimore that included $133 million at signing, $175 million for injuries and $200 million in total guarantees if he is on the roster on day five of league year 2026. The $200 million would rank second among all quarterbacks behind Deshaun Watson (five years, $230 million guaranteed) and those of Kyler Murray ($103.3 million guaranteed at signing) and Russell Wilson (124 million dollars guaranteed at signing) exceed contracts signed in the last year. Schefter and Mortensen reported in September that Jackson wanted a fully guaranteed deal similar to Watson’s.
Jackson seemed to refute the report of $200 million in guarantees on social media on Tuesday.
“I think that’s doable for Lamar, but honestly I don’t think it’s doable if he’s just waiting for the phone to ring,” one agent said.
The Ravens have the ability to fulfill any offer Jackson receives, and coach John Harbaugh has made it clear he wants Jackson to stay in Baltimore. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jackson isn’t the first high-profile NFL player to speak to teams without an agent. Richard Sherman, DeAndre Hopkins, Bobby Wagner and Russell Okung have all represented themselves in free agency over the past six years.
Even Jackson’s teammate, middle linebacker Roquan Smith, negotiated a five-year, $100 million extension with the Ravens without agents in January. Smith’s deal — which beats all insider linebackers in annual average ($20 million), signing bonuses ($22.5 million) and total guarantees ($60 million) — was negotiated in six days over the course of a month.
“Everyone has their opinion on how they think things should go, but I don’t think anyone as a player knows what’s actually in it,” Smith said. “I think nowadays players want to sit at the table for 100% transparency. If you have respect for the guy you’re talking to and have the help of his advisers, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
The difference between Jackson and these other players is that Jackson is dealing with a franchise tag that comes with the added hurdles of draft compensation and Baltimore’s ability to keep up. The day came after the sides failed to reach an agreement after 25 months of negotiations. Ravens officials have acknowledged that reaching Jackson and negotiating was sometimes difficult.
After Baltimore gave Jackson the franchise tag on March 7, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said he would continue to work toward a long-term deal with the quarterback.
“Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team that Lamar Jackson will lead for many years to come,” DeCosta said in a statement.
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The threat that the Ravens will match any offer could deter teams from pursuing Jackson. If Jackson signed an offer sheet and Baltimore complied, the other team essentially handled the Ravens’ negotiations for them.
“It was brilliant of Baltimore to put the low franchise label on him and say, ‘Find your market and come back to us. We’ll pay for it,'” said an agent.
If Jackson finds a team willing to give up two first-round picks for him, it will likely be up to Jackson and his inner circle to carve out a contract that would be difficult for Baltimore to fulfill. It could include a record $75 million signing bonus to free Jackson from the Ravens, an agent suggested.
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Jackson hasn’t spoken publicly about his contract situation since Week 1 of the 2022 season, so it’s been difficult to discern what the quarterback wants. It’s not known if Jackson wants to go elsewhere because of his contract hiatus with the Ravens, or if he’d be happy to return to Baltimore if he doesn’t get a better offer elsewhere. A recent video posted to Jackson’s Instagram story showed him sporting a gold Ravens chain and his team’s hooded sweatshirt, prompting optimism from the fanbase.
Joe Banner, who was a manager at the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, is not among those who criticize Jackson for not having an agent.
“I think it’s overkill, and I actually think it’s served him well so far,” said Banner, who is a contributor to NFL news website The 33rd Team.
If Jackson had had an agent, he might have been encouraged to sign a contract when he was eligible for a contract extension in January 2021. Since Jackson waited, the top annual quarterback average has increased by $5 million ($45 million to $50 million), and four quarterbacks have signed contracts for which the total guaranteed money is $150 million -dollars exceeded.
Mueller, who was GM of the Saints and Dolphins, said he would be reluctant to deal with a player who doesn’t have an agent.
“I would definitely keep that in mind because it’s a long, hard and tedious road to getting to a deal,” Mueller said. “I would do whatever the team and the player wants, but it’s just a lot of bridges that you would have to cross that you wouldn’t normally have to cross in a really busy time for decision makers.”
Since Jackson became the Ravens’ starting quarterback midway through the 2018 season, he has had the second-best record (45-16, 0.738 winning percentage) among active quarterbacks and the third-best overall QBR (64.8) behind Patrick Mahomes.
But Jackson was unable to finish the last two seasons due to injuries, missing 11 games across 2021 and 2022, including a playoff loss in Cincinnati.
“Do you want the player? Do you trust him to stay healthy? Are you willing to agree to the terms that he is a priority?” said banners. “You need to be able to answer all of these questions as opposed to just some of his questions — or you should just find another solution to your quarterback problem.”
ESPN Colts reporter Stephen Holder and Bears reporter Courtney Cronin contributed to this article.