Lamar Jackson contract: Ranking options for Ravens QB in NFL free agency from worst to best

Since Lamar Jackson received the non-exclusive franchise tag from the Ravens ahead of NFL Free Agency 2023, the biggest question has been whether he can still return to the Ravens on a long-term contract. Now that another team can acquire Jackson by agreeing to contract terms and sending two first-round picks to Baltimore, there are many options in play.

Whatever the acceptable deal for Jackson ends up being, it has to be desirable relative to what two other top QBs got after trading last season. The Browns signed former Texan Deshaun Watson to a five-year, $230 million deal. The Broncos have signed former Seahawk Russell Wilson to a five-year, $242.588 million deal with $161 million guaranteed.

Watson got unprecedented guaranteed money. Wilson’s average annual salary ($48.5 million) is surpassed only by Aaron Rodgers ($50.271 million), and his practical guarantees trail behind only Watson and Kyler Murray ($189.5 million).

These recent mega QB deals help set the parameters for Jackson’s new contract. Whether Ravens or any other team, it just has to be as team and Jackson friendly as possible. Given that the Ravens still stopped him from becoming a free agent by using the tag, here’s how we examine and rank his new contract options, from worst to best:

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5. Refuse to sign the one-year tender and stay away from the Ravens

Let’s hope it doesn’t matter. If the July 15 settlement deadline comes and goes and Jackson and the Ravens remain in a stalemate, it would be to our mutual disadvantage. Jackson would be able to miss the most valuable time in a new offense while the Ravens would stay in limbo for much longer. Jackson would also be stuck in Baltimore until the 2024 offseason.

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4. Sign the year-long tender and play for $32.4 million guaranteed

While there may have been an outside shot of Jackson accepting the exclusive tag with a guaranteed value of around $45.2 million, there’s no chance he could play at that well-below-market figure and risk injury without it there is a contract for 2024.

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3. Accept a full guarantee contract of $200 million or more

It’s not Jackson’s fault, representing himself, shooting for the moon (in this case Watson) and trying to earn at the top of the current market. In his view, he should also be considered an outlier given recent NFL MVPs Patrick Mahomes (total contract value) and Rodgers (average annual salary). Watson was an aberration based on different circumstances with a definite Texan divorce and the Browns’ absolute desperation to acquire him.

That means there should be a happy medium for Jackson if he can’t match Watson with the key contract number. That would require Jackson to have a lower number in terms of average annual salary, but overall guaranteed second only to Watson. The $200m builds on Murray’s guarantees while tricking the QB market into thinking Watson’s deal is less anomalous.

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2. Take a five-year contract worth $250 million with a $180 million guarantee

This would put Jackson on par with Rodgers in terms of average annual salary as a $50 million man per season (based on his current Packers contract versus how the Jets might restructure him). The total order value can offset more Murray guarantees compared to Watson’s guarantees. This deal, whether by the Ravens or another team, still shows they believe in Jackson’s great worth.

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1. Opt for a contract with a shorter term and more money guaranteed

Jackson should think more like Dak Prescott given his situation. Prescott did play on the franchise tag in 2020, but that was the higher exclusive number, so that doesn’t apply to Jackson. Then Prescott was tagged again in the 2021 offseason before agreeing to a four-year, $160 million deal with a $126 million guarantee. The length of Prescott’s contract should inspire Jackson the most that this is the best deal.

At that point, $40 million was the old $50 million. Prescott was guaranteed nearly 80 percent of his deal. Murray’s was 82 percent and Wilson’s was 66 percent for a larger total. If Jackson can’t get Watson’s 100 percent, the best solution may be here.

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By agreeing to 4 years at $200 million, Jackson would reach that average annual salary of $50 million. Of that $200 million, Jackson should be guaranteed 95 percent of it — or $190 million or more than what Murray got from the Cardinals.

Jackson would still be $40 million short of matching Watson’s number, but he would also brace himself for needing a new deal with a much higher market value in less time. Given that Murray is just under $190 million in a “non-deviation” contract, the Ravens or any other team should be fine with that, too.

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