No contract offer for Ravens QB Lamar Jackson yet, but Eric DeCosta knows what it might cost

By Jonas Shaffer
The Baltimore Sun/TNS

BALTIMORE - The Ravens’ most important player and the team’s top front-office official spent time together a few weeks ago. Lamar Jackson, the NFL’s 2019 Most Valuable Player, and Eric DeCosta, the Ravens’ third-year general manager, talked about a lot: the organization, Jackson’s family, their shared goals. They also discussed how one of the team’s most important contract negotiations might play out, and what a new deal might look like.

One topic that wasn’t broached, however: the hard numbers on a potential extension, one that would make Jackson one of the NFL’s highest-paid players.

“We haven’t really gotten into the actual contract proposals, negotiations, things like that,” DeCosta said during a virtual NFL scouting combine news conference Tuesday.

The Ravens are “confident and committed to trying to get a long-term deal done,” but DeCosta acknowledged that it “may take a little time.” There are variables to consider: The NFL still hasn’t finalized its 2021 salary cap, and with free agency set to begin next week, the Ravens have more pressing roster needs. It’s hard to win a Super Bowl without a reliable center, after all.

“There’s definitely some different moving parts that make this different from a lot of other negotiations we’ve done,” DeCosta said.

As if he needed a reminder, another record-breaking deal Monday night highlighted the cost of retaining young, impressive quarterbacks. Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys reportedly agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract, including $126 million guaranteed. Prescott’s signing bonus is $66 million, the highest in NFL history, according to ESPN.

Every year, the price for quarterbacks goes up. Last year, the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson signed a four-year, $156 million extension. In 2019, Russell Wilson got a four-year, $140 million deal from the Seattle Seahawks. Despite Jackson’s disappointing 2020 - his efficiency as a runner (6.3 yards per carry) and passer (64.4% accuracy, 7.3 yards per attempt) fell off in his third year, partly because of a diminished offensive line - there is always risk in waiting too long to sign quarterbacks.

DeCosta knows Jackson, who hasn’t spoken publicly since before a season-ending playoff loss in January, won’t come cheap. He’s owed just $3 million this year, the final year of his rookie contract, with an expensive team option for 2022 likely to be exercised this offseason.

“As an executive, when you’re talking about these kind of contracts, it’s like, if you go to the Bentley dealership or the Range Rover dealership, you know what the cars are going to cost,” DeCosta said. “You’re not going to get much of a discount. They all cost about the same, and you go in there, and you go in with the idea that you’re either going to buy the car or you’re not going to buy the car.

“So all of these contracts, there’s bells and whistles and they’re all different in some ways, and they’re all alike in some ways. … But in the end, they’re all very big contracts for outstanding players. They’re quarterback deals. They’re marquee players. And you know you’re going to pay a lot, but you’re going to get a lot in return.”

As the Ravens turn their focus to rebuilding their depth at edge rusher and upgrading their talent along the offensive line and at wide receiver, the question is seemingly no longer whether Jackson will get a deal. It’s when, and for how much, and over how many years.

“Lamar’s a really important part of the team,” DeCosta said. “He’s a leader. He’s an outstanding player. He’s a foundational type of guy for this organization. I really think he loves the organization. I think he’s very appreciative of the organization and our stance in different things, and we’re confident and committed to trying get a long-term deal done.”