Lamar Jackson Contract: Ravens QB Seeking Fully Guaranteed Deal, Higher Than Deshaun Watson's $230M

The Lamar Jackson contract is about a lot more than money, which is saying something because it’s also about a lot of money. 

According to a source familiar with both Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens' position on the negotiations, Jackson is asking for a contract that is both fully guaranteed and worth more than the $230 million that Cleveland gave to quarterback Deshaun Watson on a five-year deal this offseason. 

“Why wouldn’t he (ask for more than Watson)?” the source asked, rhetorically.

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That’s a fair question given the comparative achievements and circumstances of both players. The other issue in play for Jackson is that he is not going the traditional agent route. 

Jackson is representing himself with his mother serving as the guiding force. The source indicated that the NFL Players Association is also providing counsel to Jackson. That service is normal for the union and available to any player or agent. But the no-agent decision is being driven by Jackson and his mother. 

Lamar Jackson Contract: No Agent?

Jackson’s mother, Felicia Jones, has obviously been a powerful force in his life. In particular, Jones helped Jackson resist the attempts by coaches to have him change positions. The result has been one of the most interesting careers in recent memory.  

But navigating a life-changing contract requires more than just gumption. Negotiating a contract is as much about experience as intelligence. High-level contract negotiations require leverage and skill. More importantly, negotiators must understand timing. 

Timing matters more for Jackson, whose career could be shorter than most quarterbacks due to his style of play.

Why is Jackson unwilling to pay 3 percent—the maximum an agent can charge on an NFL contract—for an agent? There's the old adage that a person who represents himself has a fool for a client. There are endless stories, particularly in the music business, about children who were represented by parents who simply didn’t know the right time to strike a deal. 

Again, this is about experience more than intelligence. Watson’s five-year, fully-guaranteed, $230 million contract proves that point. 

Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, has been simultaneously idiotic and brilliant during the blunderful 2021 season and 2022 offseason. Watson ended up getting the biggest guarantee in NFL history while also facing what likely will be a one-year suspension for what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell views as “predatory” behavior with at least two dozen women. 

Mulugheta failed to help Watson avoid the public problems he has faced when all of it could have been settled privately. And Mulugheta also recognized that the Browns were so desperate to move on from Baker Mayfield that they were willing to pay any price. 

Lamar Jackson Contract: Will Ravens Gamble?

Jackson is one of the NFL's most dynamic players. Say whatever you want about Jackson as a pure passer, but the bottom line is he wins. 

Over Jackson’s four seasons, the Ravens are 37-12 with him as the starter and 6-10 without him. They made the playoffs in his first three seasons and were on the way until he got hurt last year. Jackson’s weaknesses as a passer have been exposed in the playoffs against better teams with better defenses. He’s not perfect, but he gives the Ravens a chance to win a championship at a time when finding a great pure passer is no simple task. 

The knock against Jackson is obvious. Running quarterbacks simply don’t survive in the NFL. Jackson is one of three passers in the history of the game who have at least three seasons of 100 carries or more. The other two are Michael Vick, who had five and played only one full season in his 13-year career; and Cam Newton, who has eight and is likely done after 11 years because his body has largely broken down from all the hits. 

Other great mobile quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham, Russell Wilson, Steve Young, Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton never had more than two 100-carry seasons, if they had any. For all the ugly hits that Steve Young took while on the move, he never ran more than 76 times in a season. Russell Wilson wisely got away from heavy running totals six years ago, which is a major reason he has largely avoided injury until last season. 

So, if you’re Baltimore, how do you gamble $230 million for Jackson when you know his shelf life is probably very short? 

On the flipside, can Jackson afford to play out the year-by-year process when he knows the risks? Jackson stands to make roughly $180 million over the next four years if he and the Ravens don’t come to any agreement. He’s set to make $23 million this season. In 2023, the exclusive franchise tag for quarterbacks is estimated to be roughly $40 million. Based on that figure, the Ravens would have to give Jackson $48 million in 2024 and then $69 million in 2025. 

The problem with that is Jackson is also gambling a lot. Another major injury or an inevitable decline in his running ability could make him ineffective as a player. Jackson's ability to throw is set up by his ability to force the defense to respect his running ability. 

And that is why Jackson and his mother need to know the right time to strike. 

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Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.