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A Lamar Jackson Holdout Feels Inevitable

Liam McKeone
Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson / Patrick Smith/GettyImages
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Lamar Jackson is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract and hasn't signed an extension yet. That is unusual. The other elite quarterback from the 2018 NFL Draft class, Josh Allen, signed his big-money extension last offseason, which is par for the course. Teams with great players on rookie deals like to get the next contract done as soon as possible in order to better plan for the future and show those players they're committed.

The Baltimore Ravens haven't done that with Jackson. It doesn't mean they aren't committed to their young quarterback with an MVP trophy already on the mantle. Nor does it mean Jackson wants to get out of town as soon as his deal is up. He doesn't have an agent and represents himself, which has undoubtedly complicated the negotiations. But the clock is ticking. And as the new season grows near it feels inevitable that Jackson is going to hold out. Whether that means he'll miss regular season games or not remains to be seen. But even if it's just training camp, Jackson is going to have to play hardball to get the deal his play suggests he deserves.

The Ravens are clearly reticent to just sign the check for Jackson. No team is going to want to give out a Deshaun Watson-level contract to anybody. But Baltimore may be cautious of even giving Jackson something like what Aaron Rodgers or Allen got (around $150 million guaranteed). That is because Jackson is a weird player.

He's great, no doubt about that. He has already won an MVP, making him one of five active quarterbacks to hold that honor. Yet Jackson is average or slightly above-average at throwing the ball, which is obviously important for someone under center. He's an incredible runner but plays quarterback. Common sense suggests his style of play leaves him open to the risk of injury to a far greater degree than any of his counterparts that he wants to be paid like. If the Ravens do decide to rise to what the market demands they're going to want some caveats. Those would likely take the form of injury projection. No football player would be happy about that given the physicality of the game and the inevitability of getting banged up over a full season.

On the other hand, Baltimore would be terrible without Jackson. That is largely true of any team if you took away their star quarterback but it's especially true for the Ravens. They've so fully committed to their quarterback in terms of personnel and scheme that it would be hard to pivot to a more standard offense and it's nigh impossible to find a replacement who can run the offense to anywhere near the same level. The team built the whole plane out of Lamar Jackson. It's what his skillset demanded and obviously works great considering the Ravens are 37-12 with Jackson as the starter.

That's why there is no question a deal will get done eventually. The Ravens technically could get better if they found a star quarterback more in the traditional mold. Maybe. But there's no path to doing that and Jackson's talents are truly unique. The franchise at large is joined at the hip with Jackson for the foreseeable future and all the noise surrounding his new deal is about the fine details.

Even with that in mind Jackson might have to skip some training camp or more to get paid as a top-flight quarterback. He'll want his team to rise to the price precedent set by recent QB deals. The Ravens will argue Jackson's skillset has no precedent and thus they aren't obligated to pay him like Rodgers or Allen. There's the rub. That's where the impasse stems from.

Jackson will get paid. How much and when are the big questions. And the longer it drags out, the bigger the possibility of a holdout looms.

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