A New Lamar Jackson Contract is a Bit Premature
Now that Patrick Mahomes has his record-setting contract signed, sealed and delivered, most expect a similar development for a new Lamar Jackson contract following the 2020 season. I’m not one of them.
First things first.
I love Lamar Jackson. He has off-the-chart athleticism. He’s hellbent on being the best and he puts in the work to try and make that happen. The reigning NFL MVP possesses outstanding leadership traits and if he makes the same positive strides in 2020 that he made in 2019, it would shock no one if he is the game’s most valuable player again.
And if that happens, his asking price will soar.
But the Ravens would be wise to not prematurely extend Lamar before his rookie deal concludes. His game is predicated upon his elite speed and uncommon change of direction skills, not necessarily his acumen as a passer.
No player gets faster or quicker with age so it’s safe to assume that if Lamar is to improve as a quarterback in the NFL, he’ll need to be a more accomplished passer. If that doesn’t happen and Mahomes’ new deal becomes the targeted benchmark for Jackson’s next contract, there will be tremendous pressure placed upon the team’s cap – pressure that will require the Ravens to exceptionally mine inexpensive talent through the draft and hope that other veterans outperform their contracts.
If they fail, mediocrity will ensue.
The Ravens have some other contract decisions looming with young players who have earned big paydays – Matt Judon, Ronnie Stanley, Marlon Humphrey, Mark Andrews and Orlando Brown, Jr. Chances are the Ravens can’t keep all of these players and jumping the gun to pay Lamar could place their futures in Baltimore in serious doubt.
Of course, there are exceptions, but a look at history suggests that Super Bowl Champions generally have a young quarterback performing well while on a rookie contract, or a veteran QB that has Hall of Fame cred or potential.
Why not milk the most out of Lamar’s rookie deal?
In 2020 his cap number is $2.583M; 2021 his cap number is $3.014M. In 2022, the team will exercise Lamar’s fifth year option which could be as much as $30M given the new CBA, according to RSR’s Brian McFarland. In 2023 they could franchise Lamar, if needed – probably at a number in the range of $35-40M. That’s 4 more seasons (2020-2023, should they franchise) for roughly $75M.
A few more seasons will undoubtedly give the Ravens a strong indication of the passer Lamar will become. They’ll see how the league responds to him. They’ll learn if opposing defensive coordinators are going to pinch in from the numbers to take away crossers and force Lamar to throw outside. It’s then that the Ravens can really determine if Lamar will be worth that record-setting, long-term deal or if time, wear and tear diminish his effectiveness.
Mahomes is a different kind of player with elite arm talent – a skill set that won’t diminish the way mobility can. And if the Ravens aren’t satisfied with Lamar’s progress as a passer after the next couple of seasons or if they’ve failed to make deep runs in the playoffs, they can implement a succession plan while not breaking the bank AND retaining several key players whose futures are a bit more predictable.
The hope here is that the Ravens found a long-term, franchise QB with Lamar and that he earns an upper echelon deal. But it makes no sense to rush to the bargaining table to hammer out a new Lamar Jackson contract. The team would be wise to give it a couple of seasons and make a more informed decision.
It may be the most important decision they will make since the record-setting deal that Joe Flacco signed in 2013.
And that one didn’t go so well.
What was the first thing that came to Lamar Jackson’s mind when he saw that Patrick Mahomes signed for a half-billion?
“I gotta win me a Super Bowl.”
— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) July 14, 2020