The Baltimore Ravens offered Lamar Jackson a new contract ahead of the current season that promised him $274 million over six seasons. The quarterback declined because only $133 million of that amount would be guaranteed if signed. Crazy, you might think, but the really crazy thing is that both sides are doing the right thing, the fault is in the system.
Unlike in European football, for example, NFL salaries are not freely negotiated. The US Football League is a franchise system whose rules should give all 32 clubs the same chance of success, at least in the medium term. There is no promotion or relegation. The cornerstones of the collective bargaining agreement are salary caps for franchises, the structure of contracts based on seniority, and restrictions on contract renewal. This also means that contracts are not paid by the month but by the day of the game, which often also means that if you can’t play, also because of an injury, you don’t get any money.
In this specific case, Jackson, 25, gets the $ 23.016 million that he is entitled to under the contract in his fifth year as a professional – the sum was not negotiated, but was noted exactly as it was in the first professional contract. The Ravens have an option drawn for this season, and after this season they can put what they call a “franchise tag” on him. They would have to pay him the average salary of the five highest-paid quarterbacks – an estimated $ 46 million just for the 2023 season – so that he is not allowed to negotiate with other clubs. That is roughly the average annual salary of the offer including all bonuses: $ 45.6 million .
Jackson basically plays two positions at once – that makes him prone to injury
There are variants of this franchise tag: The Ravens could therefore only offer 32 million – with the option of drawing even with a higher offer from another club or being compensated with two first-round picks from the talent exchange if Jackson leaves. Or only 29 million, for which they would only have the right to tie without being entitled to draft picks.
A franchise tag variant could be worthwhile for the Ravens this year because they could gain time and continue to make their own decisions – after that it will be expensive, the exclusive tag (where Jackson is not allowed to negotiate with any other club) would raise the salary to 55.2 (2024) and set 80 million in the season thereafter, which is significantly more than a long-term solution.
The Ravens’ hesitation is risk-aversion because of Jackson’s style of play, which he has impressively demonstrated in the first three games of this season. Basically he plays two positions at the same time: as a thrower he gained 218 yards and four touchdown passes in the 37:26 against the New England Patriots last weekend, but he also ran 107 yards himself and reached the opposing end zone once. That’s why the fans, but also those responsible for the Ravens, are amazed at every attempt to run: out of rapture at the spectacle, but also out of concern for Jackson’s health.
Injuries are not uncommon for running players. So it’s not about the total and thus the comparison with Russell Wilson (Denver Broncos, $242.5 million, 161 of which is guaranteed) or Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals, 230.5 million, 160 million guaranteed), but only about the Comparison with Deshaun Watson, who negotiated the pre-season guarantee of 230 million with the Cleveland Browns over five seasons.
In the contract negotiations, Jackson is practically betting that nothing will happen to him
Jackson became the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game in 2018 at the age of 21, a year later he was named the league’s most valuable player, this season he is considered for those spectacular performances in the first Games again as a favorite. He doesn’t employ a consultant, he negotiates for himself together with his mother Felicia. Understandably, he wants the highest possible guarantee amount and he’s practically betting that nothing will happen to him: “There’s always a risk; I play football, something can always happen . Let’s hope the wrong thing doesn’t happen.”
Both Jackson and the Ravens understandably follow the rules, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon; the collective agreement is valid until 2030. On Sunday, the Ravens will play against the Buffalo Bills, whose playmaker Josh Allen is considered the biggest competitor for the MVP election. The spectators are likely to drop their jaws a lot at this game – mostly out of excitement, but also out of concern if Jackson is brought down hard again.