What’s the end game for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens? No one seems to know
If, as it currently appears, no other team makes a play for quarterback Lamar Jackson, his only viable option in 2023 will be to play for the Ravens. But Jackson currently has no contract with the Ravens.
So, before he can play for the Ravens again, Jackson and the Ravens need to work out a contract -- for one or more years before July 17, or for one year only after July 17.
Let’s consider the possible outcomes for the looming negotiations between Jackson and the Ravens.
First, Jackson and the Ravens could agree to a multi-year deal (or a one-year deal) before the July 17 deadline.
Second, Jackson and the Ravens could agree to a one-year contract after the July 17 deadline and before the opening of training camp.
Those are the easy ones. The simple ones. The clean ones. It gets a lot less easy and simple and clean if Jackson and the Ravens don’t work out a contract before camp opens.
The Ravens have extended the non-exclusive franchise tag to Jackson. If/when he accepts it, he gets $32.4 million for 2023. But why would he play for $32.4 million? That number grossly understates his value. And that’s where it becomes critical for the two sides to come up with an arrangement that would pay Jackson more than $32.4 million.
Jackson may want $45 million. That’s what the exclusive franchise tender would have been. He could, in theory, want more than that. After July 17, he can ask for whatever he wants on a one-year deal.
The Ravens could try to come up with a sweetener. One possibility would be to offer a significant per-game roster bonus, incentivizing him to play as many games as possible. At $1 million per game, for example, he’d make up to $49.4 million in 2023.
Whatever it is, they’d have to reach an agreement on a one-year deal. Given that Jackson and the Ravens have spent more than two years unable to reach an agreement on anything, why would anyone presume that a contract would emerge now?
Absent a deal he likes, Jackson could stay away from all of training camp and report just before the start of the regular season, while still earning the full $32.4 million under the franchise tag. He also could skip games, at a cost of $1.8 million per week, eventually showing up by Week 10 or simply not showing up at all.
Given the determination (some would say stubbornness) that Jackson has displayed when it comes to, for example, not hiring an agent, why would he report and play for less than whatever he decides he wants? It would be foolish, then, to ignore the possibility that he could sit out all of 2023.
What would happen next? The Ravens could tag him again in 2024. Because he would have had no earnings for 2023, he wouldn’t get a 20-percent bump over $32.4 million (or whatever his pay ultimately could be), but the base franchise tag at the position for next year.
Which currently is expected to be in the range of $35 million. Even though the market could be upwards of $55 million by 2024.
And then Jackson and the Ravens would do it all over again. Will another team pursue him after he sits out a full year? Will Jackson and the Ravens work out a multi-year deal? If not, will they negotiate a one-year contract?
At some point, one side or the other needs to blink in order to get a deal done. At some point, one side or the other needs to significantly change its position. At some point, Lamar Jackson may to choose between capitulating and not playing.
What if he won’t give in? What if he wants what he wants and he won’t accept a penny less? What if the inexplicable lack of suitors makes him less likely to accept his CBA-driven fate and more likely to say “f--k you, pay me”?
What if his request to be traded by the Ravens means he’ll never play for the Ravens again?
He’s determined. He’s stubborn. If he doesn’t change his thinking, and if the Ravens and/or the rest of the league don’t either, what happens?
Here’s what could happen. And we need to at least keep an eye on this possibility.
Lamar Jackson may never play in the NFL again.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. It wouldn’t be a sudden and abrupt decision. A consciously and deliberate storming out. It would be the end result of a day-by-day process based on neither Jackson nor the Ravens ever giving in, and no other team ever making a serious run at acquiring his contractual rights.
If Lamar Jackson doesn’t play this year and if he doesn’t play next year, when does he play? When do the Ravens relinquish his rights? When does someone else trade for him? When does he accept the best offer that another team will make?
This isn’t a prediction or a report or anything other than a recognition that this is a very unique and unpredictable situation. Something has to give. Jackson won’t be under contract with anyone until it does.
His career won’t continue until he signs a contract that he’s willing to accept. For now, it can’t be ruled out that he’ll never receive an offer he won’t refuse.