Baltimore Ravens ‘optimistic’ Lamar Jackson stays, have contingency plans

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are less than a week from the deadline to use the franchise tag.

But Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine he met with Jackson recently and left optimistic there’s still time to iron out a long-term deal and keep Jackson in Baltimore.

“Lamar and I are talking,” DeCosta said. “We met recently. It’s an ongoing discussion. Both understand the urgency of the situation. It’s been a good dialogue, a good discussion. I’m optimistic as I’ve continued to be optimistic, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Jackson, 26, reportedly asked for a fully guaranteed deal that follows the precedent set by the Cleveland Browns with Deshaun Watson. That deal, worth $230 million, is an anomaly in the NFL where few contracts are guaranteed for the entire length of the agreement. In part because of the Ravens’ cap situation — they’re well over the $224.8 million cap for 2023 with the league year set to begin March 15 — a full guarantee isn’t plausible without the deepest of roster cuts.

“We want Lamar here. We think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he’s certainly one of our best players, and we want him back,” DeCosta said. “Living in a world without a quarterback is a bad world to live in. I think there’s a lot of GMs and coaches who would probably say that.”

While other teams resisted following the Browns’ lead, Jackson represents himself without an agent or negotiating attorney, adding an element of unfiltered dialogue directly between management and the franchise quarterback.

DeCosta said “Lamar knows the truth and I know the truth” in response to questions about whether the Ravens felt reports they “low-balled” Jackson were merited.

Barring progress, the Ravens are faced with a March 7 deadline to use the franchise tag. A non-exclusive franchise tag for quarterbacks results in a cap charge and salary of $32.416 million, but opens the door for other teams to negotiate with Jackson and potentially offer the super-sized guarantees he’s seeking. An exclusive franchise tag ups the ante to $45 million but protects the Ravens from poaching by other QB-needy teams. By using the franchise tag, the Ravens and Jackson can still negotiate toward a long-term deal with a deadline of July 17.

DeCosta said the Ravens are preparing for every possible outcome with Jackson and their other free agents.

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“We’ve got four, five, or six different plans based on what happens over the next 10 days,” he said.

Head coach John Harbaugh rated the chances of Jackson coming back at “200 percent” in January. He said on Wednesday that he’s still expecting Jackson to play for the Ravens, but admitted there’s nothing easy about getting a deal to the finish line with a franchise quarterback.

“We’ve been texting back and forth ever since the season was over. Lamar’s doing really well,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just what it is, part of the business. When you have a great quarterback, when you make a great decision in the draft and I think Lamar has done a great job in terms of developing as a quarterback, winning football games, competing and doing all the great things that he does. I feel like we’ve done a great job in terms of bringing out the best in Lamar over the years. It’s evident in the way he plays.

Harbaugh will focus this week on prospects and other free agent decisions, but there’s no doubting where his priority remains until the Jackson deal gets across the finish line.

“He’s my quarterback. He’s my guy. I love him,” Harbaugh said. “As a coach I’m looking forward to seeing it get done. But it’s not easy. It’s never easy. It’s the business part of it. But I’m hopeful. Really hopeful and excited. Fervently hopeful.”

–Field Level Media

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