It’s no secret that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is gunning for a top-dollar contract, and after his knee injury in 2022, he ironically just might get one.
Injuries are not supposed to give NFL players leverage. Take Odell Beckham Jr., who is currently a free agent and may not sign with a team until next season. The former Rams wideout suffered his second ACL injury in last year’s Super Bowl, and while there are a host of different factors at play, that injury made him less desirable to teams thinking of bringing him on.
In 2022, Jackson suffered only a minor injury when he sprained his PCL in the Denver Broncos game, yet he’s been sidelined ever since and his Week 18 status is completely up in the air.
In theory, an injury like that should lower Jackson’s desirability at least a little, but it’s done the exact opposite: Jackson has become one of the most highly coveted pending free agents this year because of the catastrophic impact of his absence.
Over the last three weeks, the Ravens rank 31st in offensive points per game (11.0) and red zone touchdown percentage (25 percent), besting only the New York Jets. If those numbers don’t immediately jump out at you, that means for every four times the Ravens reach the red zone, they score a touchdown once. For a supposed postseason contender, this should sound a blaring code red alarm.
Jackson wasn’t even playing his best football when he got injured, only throwing four touchdowns from Week 7 to Week 13; however, his running ability, creativity, and general poise factors into why Jackson remains a top-10 — even top-5 — quarterback in the league per NFL analysts.
Ravens are finding out exactly how much they rely on QB Lamar Jackson
More important than Jackson’s unique set of skills is the fact that the Ravens simply need him.
This Ravens team was built around Jackson’s talent for the last five years and can’t function without him. That sentence embodies Jackson’s most air-tight argument and most effective bargaining chip in his future contract talks with Baltimore.
Multiple tight end sets, a stacked running back room, a perennial lack of a true No. 1 receiver — these are the hallmarks of Baltimore’s current offensive scheme that wouldn’t work with anyone else but Lamar Jackson.
As controversial of a talent that Jackson is, the proof is in the pudding: this year, the Ravens were set to wrap up the AFC North and claim a top playoff seed before Jackson got hurt. Since then, they’ve lost half their games and are hobbling into the postseason behind the indomitable Cincinnati Bengals.
Last year, the Ravens started 8-3 and were also on track to earn a top AFC seed when Jackson injured his ankle, and the team ended up missing the playoffs altogether.
Spot the similarities? For better or for worse, the Ravens sealed their fate by drafting Jackson back in 2018 and hiring coaches to construct a team around Jackson’s dual-threat abilities.
Changing to a new quarterback would equate to changing to an entirely new system.
According to Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox, the Ravens may have to invest an estimated $67 million in annual salary to transition to a Jackson-less offense, essentially rebuilding at every position.
Per multiple reports, Jackson seems to be looking for a contract similar to the precedent-setting deal Deshaun Watson received from the Browns last offseason, which comes in at roughly $230 million in guaranteed money.
The Ravens’ front office can grumble and gripe as much as it wants, pointing to Jackson’s injury-prone playing style as perhaps a justifiable reason for withholding a chunk of guaranteed money, yet after the last two seasons, Jackson’s leverage only grows stronger by the day.
Heading into the offseason, the Ravens only have one question to answer: Do they want to continue building a future with Lamar Jackson under center?
If the answer is yes, pay him.
Other franchises may not need to roll the dice like that with their star players, but that’s because they don’t have Lamar Jackson, and all-or-nothing is just Jackson’s brand.