It should come as no surprise that a man who basically announced he had reached a five-year contract extension with a SpongeBob meme was tuned into the soap opera that had unfolded on social media surrounding his contract negotiations.
Lamar Jackson saw the direct messages and social media posts from Ravens fans, pleading with him to sign a deal, vilifying him, his manager mom, and the Ravens for taking so long. He felt their anguish during the past 27 months of negotiations.
On Thursday, after inking the richest contract in NFL history, Jackson said he wanted to tell Ravens fans what he felt in his heart. But business is business, and Agent Lamar kept his cards close to his chest.
But privately, Jackson said he wasn't trying to go anywhere else and knew he eventually would get to this day, back in the Under Armour Performance Center.
"I can't even explain it, like how much I love the fan base," Jackson said. "I was getting messages from them, like people crying and sad in the DMs. And I'm like, 'Man, they got me sad. You all don't know what's going on, just calm down. We're making progress. … Be patient with me because I'm not trying to go anywhere. No matter what you see, the final say is what's going to be printed out when I'm signing.'"
Jackson inked his deal on May 4, two months and two days after he requested a trade. In an appearance on The Lounge podcast Thursday, Jackson said the trade request was "nothing serious."
"That was just getting the ball rolling. That's part of business," he said.
After the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, he was free to negotiate with other teams. He didn't name names, but said other teams were poking around. Jackson just wasn't very receptive.
"I wouldn't want to go any other place," Jackson said. "To be honest with you, I really didn't care for other teams, really; I just really wanted to get something done here. I wanted to be here.
"I thought we would get the process done. I didn't have a doubt in my mind because – like they said – they love me, I love being here, I love my teammates and I love the fan base. I really love the fan base and my teammates, so I didn't have a doubt, really."
Though the intent never wavered on either side, negotiations still weren't easy. General Manager Eric DeCosta said there were some "dark days."
"I was dealing with Lamar Jackson the agent," DeCosta said. "[He was] very impressive, patient, demanding, honest, straightforward. It wasn't always easy. I'd rather deal with Lamar Jackson the player."
Asked how he would describe himself as an agent, Jackson said "just a businessman."
"If you're going to represent yourself, you have to have a strong mind," Jackson said. "I wouldn't say you get out there and put your feelings in it because it's not about feelings."
Jackson said things changed on the night of April 25. It was then that DeCosta emailed over a new contract proposal and texted Jackson to check his inbox.
The deal was for five years, $260 million – an average of $52 per year that would be the highest in NFL history, surpassing the contract extension signed by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts eight days prior. Jackson's deal also reportedly included $185 million guaranteed, with $135 of that fully guaranteed.
DeCosta, a diehard Celtics fans, was reeling after watching Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young drill a dagger 35-foot three-pointer to cap a huge playoff comeback win. When Jackson texted him back saying he thought they could get something done, both men's nights were made. That's when Jackson sent his SpongeBob tweet, at 9:59 p.m.
"The SpongeBob message was definitely a message to the fan base to let them know that we were moving on up," Jackson said.
Jackson said he had never focused on being the highest-paid player. He told The Lounge that he knew his worth and wanted what he believed to be fair. Outside factors weren't game-changers in his mind.
He said he didn't worry about the Hurts deal. While he was "hype" about the Ravens landing Odell Beckham Jr., Jackson also didn't indicate that it altered his outlook.
So what ultimately got the deal over the finish line? Basically, Jackson was feeling the same way as the rest of Ravens fans, and beyond. He was over the whole thing.
"I absolutely wanted to get it done, because I was just tired of going back and forth about it," Jackson said. "We've been doing it for years, but the time had come, and the numbers were right, and we were all satisfied."
Mostly, Jackson wanted to look forward at Thursday's press conference. He talked about his excitement about the direction of the offense, and wanting to throw for 6,000 yards with his new receivers. He talked about fulfilling the promise he made when the Ravens drafted him in 2018, to bring a Super Bowl to Baltimore. He feels there's unfinished business, and that means something to him.
What was a long contract negotiation now turns into an extended runway for the Ravens' championship hopes. They've been knocking on the door in Jackson's first five seasons. Now they're banking on him to help get them there.
"I'm not going to lie to you and say every day was great. It's been a long stretch, but we know Lamar," DeCosta said.
"We know the kind of person he is. He's a phenomenal football player, but you don't make a phenomenal football player the highest-paid player in the league. You make a phenomenal football player who's also a phenomenal person the highest-paid player in the league. We had a lot of conviction that this was the right thing to do. It made a lot of sense. It just took a lot of patience."