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In the Lamar Jackson 'Haze,' Ravens' Offseason Business Is Slowed

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Ravens fans yearning for resolution on Lamar Jackson's future in Baltimore aren't alone.

Talk about a Jackson extension has gone on for two years. The Ravens' stance was unchanged Wednesday as General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh reiterated their desire for Jackson to remain in Baltimore. They both continued to say they're optimistic that a deal will eventually be hammered out.

But until it happens, DeCosta is perhaps feeling like the rest of the Ravens Flock – unsettled and unsure of what the future holds not only for Jackson, but what it means for the rest of the roster.

"It is a wrench [in the plans]," DeCosta said Wednesday at the Combine. "You don't know. It slows you up a little bit. It does kind of create a little bit of a haze as to what the future is going to look like with your roster.

"There are some things that we're not going to do right now that maybe we would try to do [if the deal were done]."

DeCosta said the Ravens have "four, five or six different plans based on what happens over the next 10 days." Teams can officially begin speaking to free agents on March 13.

The first domino will fall by Tuesday's deadline to apply the franchise tag. DeCosta said the Ravens haven’t decided yet on which they would use – exclusive or non-exclusive – but if they have not reached a long-term agreement by then, the Ravens will apply one. That will, at least, give the Ravens a working knowledge of how much salary-cap space they would have if Jackson plays under the tag.

However, negotiations toward a long-term deal can continue even after the franchise tag is applied. That deadline for signing a tagged player to an extension isn't until mid-July.

So while DeCosta said Wednesday that he and Jackson "both understand the urgency of the situation," it's less of an impending hard deadline so much as a soft deadline so DeCosta and the Ravens can operate the rest of their offseason business. Free agency opens on March 15, less than two weeks, and the Ravens don't know how much money they're bringing to the table.

"I don't know how you really conduct business if you are Baltimore right now until you get an answer kind of one way or the other whether or not you're going to be able to come close on a deal," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said last week.

Without knowing what Jackson will cost, the Ravens don't know how many of their own pending free agents, such as cornerback Marcus Peters, they can bring back. They don't know how many veterans they may need to release to create salary-cap space. They don't know how much money they have to spend to augment other areas of weakness, such as the wide receiver corps.

Planning for a team with Jackson on a long-term contract would give the Ravens the most flexibility in 2023 and ability to plan for years beyond. Having Jackson on the non-exclusive tender (about $32.4 million) would mean some trimming in accordance with how many additions they want to make. Carrying him on the exclusive tender (about $45 million) would mean deep cuts and restructures this offseason just to get under the cap.

"There's no bigger question, no bigger decision, no bigger challenge for this organization moving forward than this contract," DeCosta said. "Most of my effort is focused on this. The rest of it is focused on the draft and free agency. But it's hard to really have a clear vision of what the future is going to look like until we can get this contract done."

Whether the two sides have come any closer to a deal than they were when talks were tabled at the start of the 2022 season is unclear. They're still in communication and DeCosta said "we've had good meetings recently." In the end, they'll likely have to meet somewhere in the middle to get over the finish line, and it remains to be seen whether that will happen.

"A true good-faith negotiation means that both sides have to understand the other side's position and make concessions," DeCosta said. "Every negotiation that I've ever been a part of, which has been quite a few over the last four years, it's been a give and take. That's what good faith means.

"I've seen a lot of deals happen when things look bleak. I haven't seen deals when I would have thought it's a slam dunk. It takes two people to do it, it takes communication, it takes respect, it takes appreciation for each other, and it takes understanding of the greater good and how this is going to fit together. So, I remain positive. I have no reason not to remain positive."

DeCosta has eschewed questions about the possibility of trading Jackson, even as rumors and speculation swirls about what other cities he could land in. On Wednesday, DeCosta pointed out that the Ravens are no strangers to trading, but said discussions of dealing Jackson "has not factored in one time with me." Still, DeCosta said the Ravens are "always preparing for every contingency."

"If you are this far apart and it's a philosophical difference in terms of guarantees, then you have to start at least thinking about the possibility and planning for a future where he wouldn't be there," Jeremiah said. "Whether that entails seeing what the value is on the trade market -- and I think you would have to do your due diligence to at least see what it is. As well as potentially planning for the future if there's a quarterback that you like at some point in the draft, whenever that is, you might start having to plan for that as well. So it's a tricky spot that Eric is in right there, but I think clarity one way or the other is going to be your friend."

When DeCosta, Harbaugh and other members of the Ravens brass met at Owner Steve Bisciotti's home in Jupiter, Fla. about a month ago, DeCosta said they went through "all the different contingency plans that we can: risk management, looking at all the different opportunities that might arise."

While it was likely sunny then, DeCosta feels the Jackson "haze" now with free agency opening in 12 days. They're still in Indianapolis for the Combine, going through the annual march of interviewing and evaluating prospects just like any other year. But until there's resolution with Jackson, the rest of it feels like a holding pattern.

"I'm ready for normalcy. I'm eager for normalcy," Harbaugh said.

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