In June, when Lamar Jackson finally addressed the mystery surrounding his languid contract talks with the Baltimore Ravens, he suggested that the most jaw-dropping pact in NFL history – the extension between Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns – had no bearing on his situation.
“I’m a man of mine,” Jackson said. “I don’t care what these guys get.”
On Friday, Jackson became a man on his own.
No contract extension with the Ravens. No money guaranteed beyond 2022. No catastrophic injury protection. And perhaps most glaring of all, no absolute certainty that this bet will end favorably for the 25-year-old former league MVP. In the history of dice rolls for an NFL player, this is arguably the riskiest ever taken. It has a monumental range of possible outcomes, from Jackson ultimately landing the richest extension professional football has ever seen, to the possibility of a serious injury or a season that changes the entire trajectory of his next contract.
All of this 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 the same path as Cousins, Prescott and Rodgers?
In a league where leverage creates kings, it would be foolish to believe that Jackson disregards the fully guaranteed $230 million contract signed by Watson or the circumstances that ultimately secured such a huge sack. The very nature of Jackson “betting on himself” now forces him to think about Watson’s contract. What’s the use of betting on yourself if you don’t consider the windfall achieved by the select few quarterbacks who turned their leverage into league-shaping, life-changing contracts?
Kirk Cousins played through two franchise labels in Washington, then broke into free agency at age 29. The Gain was a solid quarterback in the middle of his prime, setting a staggering financial path for the rest of his career. First with a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, then with a series of extensions that will likely culminate in Cousins retiring one day with nearly $250 million in pay. career income.
Dak Prescott played 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 over at quarterback, Prescott turned his leverage into a four-year, $160 million deal (with $126 million guaranteed) that makes him eligible for free agency at age 31. If Prescott’s productivity stays at its current level and he plays until at least his late thirties, it’s possible he could hit $500 million in career earnings in retirement.
Aaron Rodgers structured his previous extension to put the Green Bay Packers at a crossroads after the 2021 season. Either they should sign him to a new deal, trade him, or blow up parts of the team by holding him and raising his salary cap charge to $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 touch nearly $350 million in career earnings. There’s also an additional $112 million in a pair of option years in 2025 and 2026, if he’s inclined to play until age 43. It seems unlikely, but if it happens, Rodgers’ career earnings would exceed $450 million.
As impressive as this trio is in the pantheon of contract negotiations, it was Watson who became the hammer this offseason. Not only did he generate shocking leverage by simply abstaining from the 2021 season and pressing his ‘no trade’ clause, but he played his trade availability perfectly – ‘eliminating’ the Browns quite early in the game. process to give the franchise time to meet. its astronomical requirements.
Despite the enormous significance of off-court litigation and the sexual assault and misconduct allegations attached to him, Watson’s extremely bizarre circumstances — combined with the Browns’ desperation — helped him generate arguably more contract leverage. than any player before him. And the end result was a deal that would eventually create problems in a quarterback negotiation, even if players like Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals and Russell Wilson of the Denver Broncos were unwilling to use the Watson’s agreement as a model for their own extensions. .
What did Jackson refuse?
In reality, it will always be in the hands of the elite quarterbacks and their agents when it comes to following in the footsteps of the Watson deal. While Murray and Wilson were able to up the ante in terms of guaranteed money, neither took the biggest risk of playing their deals for maximum leverage. Jackson takes a step that Murray and Wilson did not take. If the end goal of this move isn’t to get guaranteed money like Watson, then why take the extra risk?
The sensible answer is no.
The deal that was on the table when talks broke down on Friday was an extension that a league source said would have made Jackson the second-highest-paid player in the NFL, with guaranteed money topped only by Watson. . For Jackson to turn down that kind of deal is a strong statement, saying he’s looking to crush everyone when it’s all over, not just everyone but Watson. If that is the goal, then the inability to reach overtime on Friday makes sense.
Consider that Jackson’s lack of an agent streamlines his decision-making process in a radically different way than other elite quarterbacks who signed deals. While Jackson is willing to play at significant risk, there’s not an agent’s voice in his ear reminding him of what he stands to lose over the next six months. Then consider that Jackson is now one season away from reaching the first milestone event that dramatically changed the landscape for Cousins and Prescott: forcing his team to use a franchise tag in 2023. And not just any tag no more. In all likelihood, the Ravens will use an exclusive tag, barring Jackson from talking to other teams and setting his 2023 payout at the average of the league’s top five quarterback salaries (a range that currently sits between 45 and $50 million).
This would constitute the highest single-season success achieved by a team under the franchise label. And when you add the 20% pay hike for a second tag in 2024, that amounts to gargantuan leverage, the kind that ends up getting a player whatever deal they’re looking for.
This is the track Jackson is on with the Ravens. In the rearview mirror of some other elite quarterback deals achieved through leverage, it should look familiar. All Jackson has to do now is stay healthy and play to his ceiling. If he does that, he will definitely be a full man.
With a paycheck that’s way off, too.
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