Like Aaron Rodgers a year ago, Lamar Jackson’s NFL future will boil down to resolving one thing

Like Aaron Rodgers a year ago, Lamar Jackson’s NFL future will boil down to resolving one thing

A year ago, when the Green Bay Packers were watching their crossroads with Aaron Rodgers, the standoff was supposed to be about everything but his contract.

Rodgers wanted more communication with the front office, more inclusion in team planning and more respect for the grassroots veterans who built the culture. All of that, plus a gargantuan side item for the league’s reigning MVP: a reworked contract that made him Green Bay’s undisputed starter for at least the 2023 season and the accolade of being the highest-paid player in the league. NFL. When it was all over, the final tally was undeniable.

Whatever short-term promises the Packers front office couldn’t secure were met with flying colors by the long-term guaranteed money.

This is the formula that will resolve the impasse between Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Write it. Laminate it. Revisit it in weeks, months, years, however long it takes for the inevitable number to be reached. That’s what it was about last September. That’s what it’s all about now. And that’s what it will be about if Jackson finally plays the 2023 season under a franchise tag. Focusing it on something else is a shell game that revolves around the same problem.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (left) said Thursday: “One hundred percent – ​​you know, 200 percent. There’s no question about it. Lamar Jackson is our quarterback- back.” (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

That should have been the conclusion of Thursday’s press conference, when Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta reaffirmed the same thing they’ve been saying since the start of this negotiation: they want Jackson as the Ravens’ long-term starting quarterback. ; they want to close a deal; and they’re in no rush to publicly detail why it’s all taking so long.

Somehow this has all been treated as eye-opening news, despite being the exact position the organization has been in since negotiations began. How sure is the team that Jackson is the future quarterback? Well, allow Harbaugh to add some rhetoric to drive the point home again.

“One hundred percent — you know, 200 percent,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “There is no doubt about it. Lamar Jackson is our quarterback. He was our quarterback. Everything we’ve done in terms of building our attack and building our team, how we think in terms of the people around him, is based on this incredible young man and his talent and his ability and his competitiveness.”

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Yes, if you forgot the platitudes about hard work, communication and optimism, there was no shortage of them on Thursday. Just as there was no shortage of facade issues, from Jackson having comments on the next offensive coordinator, to investing in the wide receiver’s depth chart, to surrounding offensive plays ready to compete.

Surely these are all good signs when it comes to the Ravens wanting Jackson back. But again, the franchise never said they didn’t want Jackson back. What the Ravens have said — repeatedly — is that this is a tough ongoing negotiation. That the two parties have not reached an agreement. And that some contract negotiations are more difficult and time-consuming than others.

Thursday was really a one-sentence press conference that could have ended with DeCosta’s first line about his confidence in making Jackson’s extension: “It definitely takes two to tango.”

Just there. That’s it. That’s the message that it’s been in the same place all along, with two sides eyeing each other and trying to figure out the precise contract number and set of guarantees that keep Jackson in the fold for the long haul.

The ways to solve this problem are as simple as they were in August. Baltimore can meet Jackson at the full guaranteed amount they seek or Jackson can soften their stance on being close to a fully guaranteed deal. If neither happens, Baltimore can seek continued control of Jackson’s future with franchise tags and he can either accept the ride or refuse and force a trade.

This has always been the way to go, with various bridges to cross along the way. This week, negotiations are picking up where they left off. Next month, the window opens for the team to put either the franchise-exclusive tag on Jackson (potentially resulting in a salary of around $45 million) or a non-exclusive tag (projected at around $32.5 million). of dollars). The exclusive tag would mean Jackson can only negotiate with the Ravens. The non-exclusive tag would allow Jackson to negotiate a free agent contract with other teams, then allowing Baltimore to match the deal or receive two first-round picks as compensation.

This tag window opens on February 21 and runs until March 7. If both parties haven’t made an extension by then, Jackson will absolutely be tagged. This is an anticipated conclusion.

Once he’s tagged, the onus shifts to Jackson to make a decision on what the move means and how he reacts. Would he refuse to immediately sign an exclusive tag and stay away from the team all offseason? Probably yes. Would he negotiate a deal with another team if attached to a non-exclusive franchise tag? Also, probably yes. Does this all come to a meaningful crossroads? Absolutely.

One way or another, we’re going to find out just how impassable the gap is between Jackson and the Ravens. Either by the use of a specific label or by how Jackson reacts to it. The key is no greater mystery than it was when negotiations broke down last September.

This goes down Rodgers Road. There will be a lot of sideshows, resolutions and platitudes about what’s important. Money remains the main attraction. As it always has been.

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