Pundit Isn't Sold on Extending Lamar Jackson's Contract This Offseason
In his first press conference of the offseason yesterday, General Manager Eric DeCosta said he will engage Lamar Jackson in contract extension talks sometime in the next 10 days. DeCosta said his intention is to have Jackson in Baltimore for "many, many years."
As Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week, it's just a matter of whether it happens this year or next.
Seems like a good idea to lock up one of the game's most dynamic young players, but Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams said the Ravens should wait on extending their star quarterback.
"I want to see more from Lamar Jackson in the postseason," Williams said. "[He's] 1-3 in the postseason, three touchdowns, five interceptions. He's been great in the regular season, we know that. Nobody has more wins in the regular season since he became the full-time starter than Lamar Jackson does. He's been terrific. He has an MVP award … I want to see more from Lamar Jackson if I'm the Ravens before I commit that kind of money and that kind of length of contract to Lamar Jackson."
As is often the case with Jackson, he seems to be held to a different standard than his peers. For example, I don't recall anyone saying the Houston Texans should take a wait-and-see approach with Deshaun Watson, who signed a long-term deal after his third season.
Watson is an elite player, but for the sake of comparison, Jackson is 30-7 as a starter; has taken his team to the playoffs three seasons in a row; is the second unanimous and youngest MVP in NFL history; set the single-season rushing record for a quarterback and is the only quarterback to post two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He also led the league in touchdown passes in 2019.
Watson is 28-25 as a starter, has been to the playoffs twice (he's 1-2) and hasn't received an MVP vote. In head-to-head meetings, Jackson is 2-0 against Watson, with the Ravens outscoring the Texans, 74-23.
It's true that Jackson hasn't been able to duplicate his regular-season success in the postseason thus far, but it's also true that last month he joined Dan Marino and Patrick Mahomes as the only players in league history to capture an MVP award and win a playoff game by their age-23 season. And as has been written previously, Jackson shouldn't shoulder all the blame for Baltimore's playoff exits.
Here's another comparison: Peyton Manning lost his first three playoff games and didn't play well in any of them, including a 41-0 loss to the New York Jets. In those games, Manning threw a total of one touchdown pass. He didn't win his first playoff game until he was 27, and was 3-6 in the postseason before leading the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl championship.
Rather than questioning whether Jackson will get the extension, a better conversation is if it makes more sense, financially for both sides, to do it this offseason or next.
Most players want their guaranteed money sooner, but with a depressed salary cap this offseason, it might make more sense for Jackson to wait, while also giving the Ravens more flexibility to sign his teammates or add more in free agency.
"Any signing bonus Jackson gets will immediately impact the Ravens’ salary cap in 2021. The Ravens have a projected $26 million in space, but they will want to save as much for improving their roster as possible. Therefore, any extension Jackson signs may not carry a big signing bonus. Mahomes' deal had just a $10 million signing bonus, while Watson got $27 million," wrote Pro Football Network's Ben Rolfe.
"Instead of a lucrative signing bonus, look for the Ravens to guarantee a large portion of Jackson's contract. This may be in the form of regular roster bonuses in each year of the deal from the second season on. That way, Jackson gets a lump sum of money each season and is protected by the guarantees if he gets cut.
"A similar style of contract as Mahomes' should be what the Ravens and Lamar Jackson work towards. This would include a system where future money guarantees on the contract are a year or two in advance. Right now, a projected contract extension for Lamar Jackson should look something close to five years at around $212.5 million. The value would be $42.5 million per year, clearly ahead of Watson, but enough below Mahomes. The fifth-year on the deal would serve as a nod to Jackson having been the league MVP in 2019."
Looking at DeCosta's Comments About Signing a No. 1 Receiver
The other big headline coming out of DeCosta's press conference yesterday focused on his comment that improving the Ravens' passing game "is not all about getting the 'No. 1' receiver that everybody likes to talk about."
That's probably not what a lot of Ravens fans wanted to hear, especially considering talented wide receivers such as Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chris Godwin are set to hit free agency next month.
Having a true No. 1 receiver has long been an obsession for fans in Baltimore, so should they be discouraged by DeCosta's remarks?
The short answer is no. Anyone expecting DeCosta to tip his hand about the Ravens' approach in free agency and the draft should know better.
DeCosta may very well covet a big-name free-agent receiver. He also could have been speaking frankly when he said there are other ways to make the passing game more efficient.
"In the past, DeCosta has explained that he might use public comments to cloak his actual offseason intentions," Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "The Ravens' front office finds an advantage when other teams can't guess their desires.
"Downplaying the idea of signing a big-ticket free agent wide receiver could be a smokescreen. It might also point to DeCosta' true belief that the team should not overextend to sign a player like Robinson, who had more than 1,100 receiving yards each of the past two seasons. No Ravens receiver has topped 800 yards in a season during [Lamar] Jackson's three years as a pro."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec had a similar take.
"DeCosta has an acute understanding of Ravens fans' obsession with the receiver position. The last thing he was going to do was put even more fuel on the fire and make any promises," Zrebiec wrote. "He obviously understands that the Ravens need to upgrade at the receiver position, but he also knows that attracting a No. 1 receiver to play in a run-heavy offense when you have limited cap space will be quite challenging."
Ravens fans can be certain of DeCosta's understanding of where the Ravens need to improve and his commitment to addressing those areas in the offseason.
"So if the Ravens identify a capable receiver at the right price whom they want to sign, they won't be afraid to make an inquiry," Kasinitz wrote.
Pittsburgh Writer Says Steelers Should Pursue Mark Ingram II
Before signing with the Ravens in 2019, Mark Ingram II played in the black and gold uniform of the New Orleans Saints. Could Ingram end up in black and yellow next season?
Sam Ouhaj of Still Curtain, a Steelers fan site, made the case for Pittsburgh signing the veteran running back, who was released by the Ravens last week.
Not only would Ingram boost a running attack that was last in the league this season, but he also would bring intangibles to the organization, Ouhaj wrote.
"He could become a favorite in the locker room, which increases the team's chemistry and encourages others to do the right thing," Ohjaj wrote. " … While his character may be one of the most significant intangibles he possesses, Mark Ingram is a great mentor. James Conner and the running back room could all learn from Ingram, who has helped to mentor Alvin Kamara, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards."
Pro Football Focus Mocks Wide Receiver to Ravens in First Round
The Ravens have invested in wide receivers in their recent drafts, including selecting Marquise "Hollywood" Brown in the first round in 2019. Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo believes the Ravens could take a wide receiver in the first round this year as well.
In Palazzolo's mock draft, he has the Ravens selecting Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore.
"Look for the Ravens to add more weapons to their passing attack, and Moore is just what they need to put defensive coordinators in a bind," Palazzolo wrote. "Moore has the speed and after-the-catch skills to win on the outside or in the slot, and his presence on the field combined with QB Lamar Jackson and Baltimore's rushing attack will add even more uncertainty for opposing defenses. Moore forced 37 missed tackles after the catch in 2018, most by a Power 5 receiver since 2014."