While the Baltimore Ravens got their business taken care of during the first day of the 2023 NFL Draft by selecting wide receiver Zay Flower, it was the business conducted before the draft got underway that headlined not just the day, but really the past two years.
Things moved quickly on Thursday between the front office and quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was given the non-exclusive franchise tag earlier this offseason. Having previously publicly broadcast that he asked to be traded in March, according to general manager Eric DeCosta, he got a text from Jackson early on Thursday telling him he thought they could get a deal done.
It was the culmination of several days’ worth of intensive negotiations, the full details of which we still don’t know, short of the fact that it’s not the deal Jackson was supposedly looking for—a fully-guaranteed deal. This doesn’t come anywhere close to that. But it’s the largest per-year average in NFL history at $52 million. And it’s the culmination of a trying experience.
“It was a very unusual, unique negotiation, so it just took time”, DeCosta told Baltimore reporters yesterday. “And hopefully, honestly, I have to say I hope I never have to be a part of that type of negotiation again because of the time, because of the emotional aspect”.
It’s rare for a franchise quarterback to even be put in a position where he might be given the franchise tag, and that typically comes with a late-developing talent. But Jackson became the youngest league MVP in NFL history in his second season. That wasn’t the issue.
No, the issue, almost undoubtedly, was the Cleveland Browns. You already know where this is going. Their decision to bet the future, risk blowing up the league’s contract structure, and sign Deshaun Watson to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million deal put a bug up Jackson’s butt. He wanted to not just reset but blow up the market.
When push came to shove, he caved, if it can be said for something that was not going to happen in the first place. We are still awaiting word on how much of his $260 million contract is fully guaranteed, but it should challenge for the second-most full guarantees at signing. Russell Wilson got $124 million last year. Jalen Hurts’ $255 million contract earlier this year included $110 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Jackson’s deal does reportedly include $185 million guaranteed for injury, which is a not insignificant fact for a player who has dealt with significant injuries the past two years. And that no doubt hindered any hopes he might have had of actually getting the deal he wanted.
Either way, the Ravens have their quarterback for the next five seasons, and they’ve given him some new toys to play with, drafting Flowers and having previously added Odell Beckham Jr. as a free agent. At least on paper, this should be the best group of weapons Jackson has worked with in his NFL career. Baltimore had better hope that is the case.