It was previously impossible to determine whether Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson should have accepted the best long-term contract offer the team made, rather than playing out the final year of his rookie contract for $23 million. There is now hard evidence that he rejected the deal.
According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com, Jackson turned down a six-year contract (i.e., a five-year extension) worth $133 million guaranteed at signing. That is more than Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray ($103.3 million) and Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson ($124 million) received in full guarantees on longer (seven-year) contracts signed in recent weeks.
Over the course of six years, Jackson “could have earned” more than $290 million. According to Mortensen, the new-money average would have exceeded the $48.5 million paid to Wilson by the Broncos.
(Wilson’s contract was reported to have a new-money average of $49 million; however, as explained here, failing to include the value of the 17th-game checks for 2022 and 2023 in the old/new-money comparison reduced the average to $48.5 million.)
It’s unclear how much of the $290 million would have been considered Jackson’s base contract. He’ll earn $24.35 million this year, including the 17th-game bonus. Subtraction from $290 million and division by five yields a total of $53.13 million.
Thus, Jackson would have had to meet certain criteria in order to earn the kind of money that would have propelled him to $290 million.
According to Mortensen, the agreement also included massive de-escalators ($2.5 million per year) contingent on Jackson participating in the majority of the offseason program. Jackson missed the team’s voluntary April-June sessions and practices in 2022, despite being mostly, if not entirely, present in his first four seasons.
The reporting contains some gaps that make a thorough evaluation of the offer impossible. What would the cash flow have been in the first year? How much of the contract would have been guaranteed in the event of an injury?
How much of the injury guarantee would have converted to a full guarantee in March 2023, given that they would never have cut him after only one year, given what they would have paid him in 2022?
None of this appears to matter, as Mortensen makes it clear that Jackson desired a fully guaranteed contract in the style of Deshaun Watson. Mortensen also reports that Jackson received “active counsel from the NFLPA at the highest levels,” as one might expect.
According to Mortensen, the union advised Jackson that “based on performance and age (25) he was justified in demanding a fully guaranteed contract if that’s what he wanted.”
He has every right to demand it, but the Ravens, like the Cardinals and Broncos, have every right to refuse. Remember, the union has stated unequivocally that it wants more fully-guaranteed contracts.
It’s fair to wonder whether the NFLPA’s agenda in this regard clouded the advice Jackson received, leading him to gamble on a potential Kirk Cousins-style, year-to-year strategy that entails playing under the franchise tag in 2023 and 2024, becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2025, and attempting to land a fully-guaranteed contract on the open market.
If Jackson remains healthy and effective enough to be tagged twice, he could earn more than $125 million (including the seventeenth game check).
However, if he had accepted the Ravens’ offer, he would have $133 million fully guaranteed right now, plus an unknown amount in injury guarantees that would have flipped to full guarantees at some point in the next year or two.
Perhaps most importantly, he would have earned significantly more than $24.35 million in 2022. The precise amount is still unknown. Lamar Jackson turned down $133 million It’s an important consideration when evaluating the deal.
What if he walked away with more than $50 million in cash in 2022? What, more than $70 million? More than a hundred million dollars? The pursuit of a fully guaranteed contract must eventually yield to the size of the bird in hand.
We’ve always said that Jackson needs someone who can fully and objectively evaluate the team’s best offer in comparison to a three-year quest for unrestricted free agency, Lamar Jackson turned down $133 million which may or may not lead to the white whale of a fully-guaranteed contract.
To be honest, the union isn’t objective; it wants players to fight for fully guaranteed contracts so that the dynamic becomes a trend and, Lamar Jackson turned down $133 million eventually, standard practice. Jackson requires advice from someone who has no agenda or bias.
And if Jackson suffers a serious injury or his play deteriorates over the next three years for any reason (including an accumulation of minor injuries caused by his physical playing style that leaves him not the player he was when he won the MVP award three years ago), he will only have himself — and his union — to blame for betting on himself and losing.