The Baltimore Ravens will kick off their 2022 regular season this afternoon against the New York Jets. Lamar Jackson, of course, will be starting under center. He will be embarking on his fifth season in the NFL, and after a long offseason, will be doing so without a new contract under his belt. Jackson, representing himself, and the Ravens failed to come to an agreement regarding an extension and so the former MVP will play out the final season of his rookie deal.
This is quite unusual. Top-flight young quarterbacks like Jackson almost always get their big extension before playing a snap on the last year of their rookie deal. Some, like Kyler Murray,, get the extension even earlier. Jackson is more accomplished than all but Patrick Mahomes in terms of the younger generation of quarterbacks and yet his team did not bend over backwards to ensure he'd be around for the long run and make him very rich in the process.
This is almost entirely the fault of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns gave Deshaun Watson and all the baggage that accompanied him a fully guaranteed deal worth $230 million. Jackson is younger than Watson, just as good as Watson, and didn't have to recently settle two dozen civil suits. Naturally, he believes he deserves a similar contract in terms of value and especially in terms of guaranteed money. The Ravens, on the other hand, are not terribly eager to give anybody a fully guaranteed deal worth that much money. No NFL team is. Even Russell Wilson, a Super Bowl champion with a very extensive body of work that proves his excellence, didn't get a fully guaranteed extension from the Denver Broncos that he signed months after the Watson deal.
But Jackson is sticking to his guns. So he will risk it all and play out this season with no financial guarantees in the future. If he performs as well as he usually does, then he'll have even more ammunition coming back to the bargaining table next offseason before he hits free agency. However, reports from Jay Glazer and Chris Mortensen today reinforce what we all knew-- Jackson isn't hitting free agency anytime soon. Glazer reported for Fox that the Ravens will use the franchise tag if they can't reach an agreement with Jackson, while Mortensen's tweets indicate Jackson isn't backing off his stance that he deserves a guaranteed deal anytime soon.
You know what this smells like? This smells like Kirk Cousins 2.0.
Cousins, whose only physical similarity to Jackson is that they both wear No. 8 under center, famously played two years under the franchise tag for Washington. He wanted a big deal, they didn't want to give him one, so the team tagged him twice before Cousins went to Minnesota on... wait for it... a fully guarantee contract.
That seems to be the path Jackson is on, barring any severe injury. The Ravens are very unlikely to give him a fully guaranteed deal worth a quarter-billion dollars unless he drags Baltimore to the Super Bowl and wins. Any result in between those two extremes will lead to an extended bout of negotiations that likely end in the franchise tag. For years.
Jackson is better than Cousins and the Ravens are likelier to capitulate the more he wins. But in the meantime, he's on the Cousins franchise tag diet.