With the last pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson. Just hours before the start of the first round five years later, they made a move to keep Jackson on the roster for the next half-decade. Jackson agreed to a five-year contract worth a reported $260 million with $185 million in guarantees, ending a stalemate between the star quarterback and the team that had dragged on for months. Jackson, who had even requested a trade out of Baltimore, is now under contract through 2027 and—at least for the time being—gets to call himself the highest-paid player in the NFL. Here are eight takeaways about the draft-day surprise for no. 8:
1. The Jalen Hurts deal set Jackson up for his payday.
On April 17, the Eagles and their quarterback, Jalen Hurts, agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $255 million. After seeing the terms of Jackson’s deal on Thursday, it seems clear that Hurts’s contract helped Baltimore and Jackson find common ground. Jackson’s deal looks like Hurts’s, with a little something extra—essentially a “You should have gotten this done first” tax that teams pay as the market rises. Jackson got $5 million more in total value and $5 million more in guarantees than Hurts did. Neither Hurts nor Jackson got a fully guaranteed deal in line with what Deshaun Watson received from the Browns in 2022.
Still, Hurts moved the overall QB market forward, just like Jackson now has for Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and the quarterbacks who will come next. Jackson can thank his Philadelphian counterpart for an extra few million in his pocket, but the Ravens can probably thank Hurts and the Eagles too for offering up the framework for a negotiation that had become contentious.
2. Not having an agent didn’t seem to hurt.
Of all the factors that could have played a role in the structure of this deal—Jackson’s only 26! He gets injured! He was a unanimous MVP! Collusion! Meek Mill!—it looks as though the simple, incremental march of the quarterback market won the day. That does mean that Jackson was not successful in getting a full guarantee like Watson’s $230 million from the Browns, which looks more and more like an outlier with each passing quarterback deal, but it’s hard to believe that the outcome would have been much different if Jackson had a certified NFL agent negotiating his deal. Jackson simply didn’t have that kind of leverage, agent or no agent. And beyond that, this looks like a perfectly well-negotiated deal! It’s a bit more than the last QB got, which is pretty much how these things go. Plus, Jackson saved a few million in fees. Not bad for a running back!
Assuming a 3% agent fee cap, and aside from whatever money he may have doled out to "consultants", Lamar Jackson stands to have saved at least $5.5M (3% of the $185M practically guaranteed) in this negotiation.— Spotrac (@spotrac) April 27, 2023
It's not for everyone, but it appears to have worked out well here.
3. The Ravens might not be done dealing.
Baltimore woke up on draft day with around $4 million in salary cap space, but that figure factored in a $32.4 million charge for Jackson to play on the nonexclusive franchise tag. That number will almost certainly come down because of Jackson’s new deal, which can be structured in a way that gives the Ravens immediate cap relief, meaning the Ravens will have additional money to spend.
Jackson reportedly told Baltimore earlier this spring to go get Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins before talking to him about a deal. After signing Beckham Jr., Baltimore would have struggled to find the cap room to take on Hopkins’s $19 million charge unless the Cardinals agreed to cover a significant portion of that figure. The Ravens also attempted to trade for Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton at one point this offseason, according to The Athletic, but saw that deal fall apart because Denver decided they didn’t want to deal. With more flexibility now, general manager Eric DeCosta can get back on the phones.
4. The AFC will be a gauntlet for years to come.
The start of the draft apparently functioned as a de facto deadline for star quarterbacks striking deals with AFC teams, with Aaron Rodgers officially becoming a Jet and Jackson staying in Baltimore. Neither of those events is exactly surprising, but they underscore just how stacked the conference is at the quarterback position. Consider the following list of 10 AFC quarterbacks:
- Josh Allen
- Joe Burrow
- Justin Herbert
- Lamar Jackson
- Trevor Lawrence
- Patrick Mahomes
- Aaron Rodgers
- Tua Tagovailoa
- Deshaun Watson
- Russell Wilson
Now consider the fact that there are seven AFC playoff spots! At least three of those quarterbacks will miss the playoffs in 2023. Also, of that list, only Wilson (34) and Rodgers (39) are over 27 years old. The AFC is set to be ultra-competitive for years to come.
5. You’re up next, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow.
Two of those young AFC quarterbacks, Herbert and Burrow, could also sign extensions this offseason. The deals seem to be getting done in loose order of player leverage, which would suggest that Herbert will be next, and the Chargers are reportedly planning to start negotiations with Herbert and his agents after the draft. It will be interesting to see if Herbert and/or Burrow try to do four- or even three-year extensions instead of Hurts’s and Jackson’s five-year deals in order to maximize their own control and career earnings. In any case, Jackson setting a new benchmark of $52 million per year in average annual value is a good thing for those players. It also has to have some quarterbacks whose deals are a few years old—*cough* Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott *cough*—wondering if there’s room to renegotiate.
6. We’ll never know what really happened with those other teams.
It still seems strange that a 26-year-old starting quarterback two years removed from a unanimous MVP with a .738 winning percentage did not generate a single offer when the Ravens gave him the nonexclusive franchise tag and let him test the market. It was odd how fast teams like the Falcons and the Commanders, which seemed like natural landing spots, rushed to declare their noninterest in a quarterback who is objectively better than Desmond Ridder or Sam Howell. We will probably never know whether the Ravens had a sense that there might be league-wide resistance to another fully guaranteed quarterback deal or whether that played a role in the Ravens’ use of the nonexclusive tag. But we should remember that something seemed a little off about how this all went down, even if it worked out for both Jackson and the Ravens in the end.
7. There’s one fewer name to watch on draft night.
With Jackson’s deal done, the Ravens are carrying a little less intrigue into their draft room. They were a long shot to work a trade anyway, but it would have been worth watching. You’re up, Mac Jones and Trey Lance.
8. Jackson’s story looks like a happy one.
There’s some symbolism in this deal being completed on draft day in a way that justly rewards Jackson for his remarkable abilities; Jackson’s own draft night in 2018 was defined by a slide through the first round and sad greenroom pictures of him and his mom, who has continued to be a close adviser.
Lamar Jackson signing a deal to give his family generational wealth, five years after he sat in the green room with his mom, watching the picks go by as he fell in the draft….hard not to get emotional. What a player. What a story. pic.twitter.com/C7olaL9bwy— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) April 27, 2023
It’s not right to say that Jackson’s story gets a happy ending, since his next chapter has yet to begin. Jackson and his family are financially set for many lifetimes, and the Ravens look like they’ll be more exciting offensively with new coordinator Todd Monken taking over for Greg Roman, with Beckham Jr. on the team, and with potential room for another impact player. Even wide receiver Rashod Bateman is healthy! After a dramatic few months, the future looks bright in Baltimore.