The slow pace of the NFL offseason can distort the perception of time for those living in the daily grind. Events that happened a few weeks or months ago seem deeply ingrained, creating a false sense of inertia that masks how quickly fortunes can change.
That dynamic came into play with the contract standoff between the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson. Negotiations for an extension with the 2019 league MVP once seemed like a mere formality, as no team voluntarily allows a true franchise caller in his mid-20s to approach the open market. However, that sense of inevitability quickly crumbled this offseason despite the momentum that had built up over the previous year.
A quick timeline of events:
Jan. 25, 2021 — Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta says he’ll “probably speak to Lamar in the next 10 days or so” regarding an extension, the team’s first opportunity to do so within the convention collective.
April 19, 2021 — DeCosta acknowledges that he and Jackson began to formally discuss a contract extension.
May 4, 2021 — DeCosta dismisses notion that Jackson’s choice to represent himself in contract talks would complicate the process.
Sept. 13, 2021 — With no deal in place and heading into Week 1, the Ravens and Jackson have put talks on the back burner to focus on the season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Jan. 9, 2022 — A loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers knocks the Ravens out of the playoffs, a drop precipitated by Jackson’s ankle injury that cost him the final four games of the season.
Feb. 4, 2022 — DeCosta says the Ravens will operate “at Lamar’s pace” regarding contract talks.
Feb. 10, 2022 — “It’s no longer a given” that the Ravens are extending Jackson ahead of training camp, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec.
March 29, 2022 — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti says the team will “pay him when he’s ready,” bolstering the notion that Jackson won’t be signing an extension in the near future.
April 8, 2022 — On reigniting contract talks with Jackson, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says “he’s not ready, you know?”
Beginning in the Ravens’ offseason, the discussion around Jackson’s future clearly shifts in a more ambiguous direction. One could read this change as a sign that Jackson wants to play out his rookie contract in a similar way to Dak Prescott, using the franchise tag as leverage but ultimately staying in Baltimore on a megadeal. Others might see these as tangible signs of discord between the team and its player franchise, ultimately leading to a divorce over the next 24 months or so.
[Discuss this article on the BSL message board]
But while the Ravens’ public statements may bolster either theory, their actions — especially those that have remained behind the scenes until recently — cast doubt on that binary.
In a move that surprised many, Baltimore traded Marchioness “Hollywood” Brown, Marchioness “Hollywood” Brown, to the Arizona Cardinals on the first night of the 2022 NFL Draft. The deal sent sending shockwaves through the league, especially after Jackson tweeted “wtf” in an apparent reaction shortly after. Had the Ravens risked straining their relationship with Jackson by secretly dealing with his best receiver?
No, as it turns out. As Cardinals general manager Steve Keim explained in a press conference, the two teams had been working on a deal for “a while.” Indeed, Brown had already been to Arizona in anticipation of the trade and appeared at his new team’s draft night. The exact degree of communication between the Ravens and Jackson on the matter remains unclear, but the quarterback knew about the trade long before the public.
The way the Ravens handled Brown — almost entirely out of public view — shouldn’t be ignored. Le Broad originally made a trade request last season, and the team worked with him to facilitate a deal that would benefit all parties. By all accounts, the situation has never boiled over in 2021 and highlights the softness the organization can apply when needed.
And that particular skill could come in handy when it comes to Jackson.
In the aftermath of the draft, the two teams seem no closer to signing a new contract than they did when Harbaugh admitted the quarterback wasn’t ready in early April. No deadline to spur action is approaching either, as organized team activities don’t start until the end of May and the obligatory minicamp won’t start until June 14.
At the same time, the way the Ravens handled Brown strongly suggests that any breakthrough would also happen behind closed doors. Jackson has every reason to maximize his value, but it can happen in concert with the team protecting both sides with a long-term deal. Even if such a deal doesn’t materialize until an offseason from now — new TV money hits salary cap in 2023 — Baltimore and its franchise caller can plan any deal around it.
So while Jackson probably won’t put pen to paper in the near future, there probably won’t be much forewarning when he and the Ravens strike a deal.
Jason B. Hirschhorn
Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sportswriter and member of Pro Football Writers of America. He has bylines on NFL.com, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated and other outlets.