Lamar Jackson Is Entering A High-Risk, High-Reward Season| Should Baltimore Make Him NFL’s Highest Paid Player?

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These past two NFL offseasons have witnesseed the largest contracts in history of the sport, with quarterbacks getting paid exorbitant contracts with unprecedented, guaranteed money. Former MVP Lamar Jackson is still without a contract extension as the 2022 NFL training camp lurks three months away.

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LJ8 is entering the final year of his rookie deal and will make $23.02 million. Typically, quarterbacks who outperform their rookie deals get an extension in the middle of their rookie deal. This is not the case for Lamar and Deshaun Watson’s monster deal just made things more complicated for the Baltimore Ravens.

Despite Watson’s off-the-field allegations, he was able to land a fully-guaranteed contract which pays him a total of $230 million over the next five years. This one-of-a-kind contract put teams on notice and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti shared his thoughts on the deal.

“I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others,” Bisciotti said.

Bisciotti’s comment about making “negotiations harder” is obviously directed toward the ongoing mystery of why Lamar doesn’t have a contract extension yet and talks between the two have come to a standstill. The Ravens do not expect a new deal done before the start of the season and expect Jackson to play out his rookie deal.

Several NFL analysts have said Lamar would be crazy to step on the field without a long-term deal done. Lamar has said he wants to be in Baltimore, so any rumors of him wanting to be traded are just that.

So what’s the problem?

The five top-paid quarterbacks are all at least making $40 million a year, and Aaron Rodgers set a record by making an annual average salary of $50.2 million. Jackson’s statistics and awards have put him in line to make in the $40 million range, but the real question will be if he has earned the right to be the highest-paid player in the NFL.

According to one reporter’s tweet, the franchise is reaching out to Jackson and he’s not being receptive, which is odd.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on whether Lamar Jackson will sign extension before season: “Unless he has a change of heart and calls Eric [DeCosta, Ravens GM] and says ‘I’m ready.’ Eric can’t keep calling him and say, ‘You really need to get in here.’ That’s not a GM’s job.”

If the Ravens do have reservations about how much they want to invest in Jackson, his durability would be a main concern.

Jackson missed the final six games of last season with an injury. Some executives doubt he can last a full season. In spite of an injury-prone 2021 season, Jackson has been a reliable starter, quickly showing that the NFL was not ready for him.

People will always take shots, same as former Colts GM Bill Polian, who suggested Jackson become a wide receiver prior to the 2018 draft.

The facts remain that Jackson has efficient passing numbers, along with unseen rushing statistics by a quarterback. He’s positioned the Ravens as constant playoff contenders and owns a career record of 37-12 record in just four NFL seasons.

The main criticism is his playoff inconsistency, which has left some still doubting if he is worth being the highest-paid player.

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The NFL playoffs is a small sample size to judge Jackson on, because in a one-and-done scenario there is no room for error. This is a challenge some of the greatest quarterbacks in history have faced.

Most noticeably Peyton Manning. Early on, Manning had a losing record in the playoffs and did not win his first Super Bowl till the age of 30. Jim Kelly lost four straight Super Bowls.

Though it is not ideal to enter your final year without a contract extension, Lamar is an interesting situation. This will be a high-risk or high-reward season for Jackson, because the risk is if he gets injured in back-to-back seasons the Ravens could be hesitant to extend him and pay him guaranteed money.

The high reward is Lamar having another Pro Bowl-caliber year and leading the Ravens to the playoffs, which gives him ultimate leverage. If 2021 is a solid year, Jackson’s camp could easily ask to be the highest-paid quarterback in the AFC North, because the Bengals will be looking to extend Joe Burrow next offseason as well.

There is plenty of money to spend as the NFL rebounds from the pandemic. The salary cap will certainly continue to increase which helps Lamar’s chances of striking a deal, but negotiating the contract is another layer because he represents himself.

Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta discussed Jackson’s contract earlier at the combine and pointed out that conversations are not urgent currently but they are ready to get a deal done at Lamar’s pace.

DeCosta acknowledged that Lamar is a cornerstone player and could lead the franchise to the Super Bowl.

“He’s a guy that, when we think about the Ravens three, four, five years from now, we envision Lamar being a very, very big part of that team and definitely a player that can help us win Super Bowls,” DeCosta said.

The Ravens have made it clear that Jackson is their franchise quarterback, and Lamar has continued to put in the work as a leader this offseason, as evinced by the workouts with teammates he’s posted on his Instagram

 

All of Jackson’s preparation is proof he is ready to bounce back from an injury-riddled season and prove he deserves the next record-setting contract in the NFL.