Lamar Jackson Has a $150 Million Stake In the Ravens’ NFL Draft Decision

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The Baltimore Ravens face an expensive negotiation with Lamar Jackson on his next contract.

The idea of giving up on a quarterback producing 8,095 yards of total offense over the past two seasons sounds ludicrous. After all, Lamar Jackson earned the MVP award in 2019 and is 30-7 as a starter.

And yet the Baltimore Ravens have not picked up Jackson’s fifth-year option yet. There’s a school of thought that the NFL team should try a radical approach to the most important position on the field.

Call it the Carson Wentz effect. Or the Jared Goff effect.

Lamar Jackson was a first-round steal for the Ravens

Lamar Jackson scrambles against the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs on Jan. 10, 2021. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Lamar Jackson scrambles against the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs on Jan. 10, 2021. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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General managers were stubborn ahead of the 2018 NFL draft. Though Jackson was a dynamic performer at quarterback for the University of Louisville, many GMs saw him as a wide receiver at the next level. So, while four quarterbacks came off the board in the first 10 picks, led by No. 1 Baker Mayfield, Jackson lasted until the first round’s last selection.

His numbers since that day – 68 touchdown passes and 2,906 rushing yards – have been outstanding. The only knock is Jackson’s 1-3 record in the postseason, but he did win his first playoff game last season.

As the No. 1 draft pick, Mayfield signed a four-year contract worth $32.68 million. Josh Allen, picked by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh spot, is on a $21.18 million contract. Jackson’s salary slot commands only $9.47 million over the same duration.

The Bills appear intent on signing Allen to an extension after the draft, and the Browns just committed to picking up Mayfield’s fifth-year option. As for Jackson, the Boston Globe reported the quarterback and the team are far apart on a deal that probably can’t be done for less than $150 million over four years.

Buyer’s remorse over Wentz and Goff

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If the Ravens are reluctant to offer Jackson the fifth-year option or an extension, he can fault Wentz, Goff, and Deshaun Watson. Each received a huge new contract early in his career. Wentz and Goff suddenly stopped performing at franchise-QB levels, and Watson wanted out even before his legal problems.

With that as the context, Bucky Brooks of the NFL Network has floated the idea that the Ravens can make immediate use of the draft picks they acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs in the trade for offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Baltimore picks 27th and 31st in the first round and is blocked from any of the big five quarterbacks in Thursday’s draft.

But Brooks thinks the Ravens could maneuver into the second round or the top of the third to take one of the QBs on the next tier. Kellen Mond of Texas A&M might be the closest to a dual threat along the lines of Jackson. Or, more plausibly, they could push all their chips to the middle of the table if Justin Fields slips out of the top 10.

Why would the Ravens move away from Jackson?

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Under Brooks’ theory, the new QB would sit behind Jackson in 2021 and then become a cheaper alternative than the $23 million or so for Jackson’s fifth-year option. Jackson would leave as a free agent, and the compensatory draft pick awarded to the Ravens would be of some consolation.

But money is the driver. Every dollar not spent on the quarterback can go toward improving elsewhere, which theoretically makes up for the production at quarterback.

Four years later, the Ravens would go down the same path as a salary-cap measure. College coaches go through a comparable process all the time.

“The Ravens are the one team that could utilize this approach because they’re systematic on offense,” Brooks wrote. “They’re like Army, so they can plug-and-play with a dynamic dual threat at QB with similar success. No disrespect to No. 8 (Jackson) but college supplies plenty of QBs that fit the bill.”

Are the Ravens likely to make an aggressive move for a quarterback? Honestly, no, not after winning 25 times over three years. On the other hand, trading Brown is a signal that anything could be in play.

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