If you tuned into the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson’s news conference looking for clarity on the lengthy, protracted negotiations or the trade request-prompting discord or the much-debated non-exclusive franchise tag, you left disappointed.
Neither the Ravens nor their new highest-paid-in-the-league quarterback showed even the faintest interest in explaining the winding road that led to a five-year, $260 million deal with $185 million guaranteed.
They gave scant context on how requests for a fully guaranteed deal were ultimately set aside.
The trade request?
“Today we’re going to keep it about the future,” Jackson responded when questioned about that kicked off the news conference. “I’m not really worried about what happened in the past.”
The non-exclusive tag, which allowed Jackson to negotiate with other teams?
“I really didn’t care for other teams,” Jackson said, sitting between head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta at the podium. “I wanted to get something done here. I wanted to be a Raven.”
Jackson repeated multiple times that he “didn’t have a doubt in my mind” the deal would get done.
The blindly positive narrative starkly contrasted Jackson’s March 27 tweets.
“As of March 2nd I requested a trade from the Ravens organization for which the Ravens has (sic) not been interested in meeting my value,” Jackson tweeted 38 days ago. “Any and everyone that’s has (sic) met me or been around me know I love the game of football and my dream is to help a team win the super bowl. You all are great but I had to make a decision that was best for my family and I.”
Do those tweets sound like the stance of someone without a doubt?
The comments seem wholly incongruous from an onlooker’s perspective. And yet, Jackson might have explained to us from where that divergence stems.
Because as Jackson told it, the quarterback celebrating his generational money at the podium wasn’t the same person who negotiated his own contract.
And only one Lamar Jackson will spend the next five years in Baltimore.
Jackson on representing himself: ‘It’s different than playing football’
Jackson’s gesturing for his description was apt, as he raised his arms, placing a hand on either side of his face to indicate tunnel vision.
Jackson and his mother Felicia Jones, who doubles as his manager, did not hire an NFLPA-certified agent to negotiate this contract. So Jackson described a negotiating stance that essentially required him to fully compartmentalize his role as QB.
Discussing contract terms and structure in recent weeks, Jackson described himself as “just a business man — nothing more, nothing less.” He even referred to himself in third person at times, as if to accentuate the separation.
“It’s different from just playing football,” he said. “You’ve got to put the game outside, put the game in one part of your life and speak to a grown man with millions and billions of dollars, and understand terms and different language.
“If you’re going to represent yourself, you’ve got to have a strong mind. I wouldn’t say you can get out there and put your feelings into it.”
Anyone who’s watched Jackson play football knows he’s a player who embraces rather than suppresses his emotion. The unbridled joy Jackson has channeled in five professional seasons, including his 2019 MVP campaign, is integral to his playing style. Jackson looks like a quarterback playing with his friends in the yard in part because of the child-pure emotion he exudes.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson weighs in on the big SpongeBob mystery: "The SpongeBob message was definitely a message to the fan base — let them know we’re moving on up." https://t.co/w7N8OjYvqb
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) May 4, 2023
And he has to integrate innumerable pieces of information as he balances the dual-threat ability that has powered his 12,209 career passing yards and 4,437 rushing yards.
“He sees it in a snapshot,” Harbaugh said. “He doesn’t necessarily see it in a connect-the-dots progression. He takes a big picture view of the field.”
Jackson had to, in some ways, set aside that bigger picture to be his best advocate in negotiations.
A player’s agent is responsible first for their client, not the greater good of the football team. DeCosta insisted that the team felt it important to place a non-exclusive tag on Jackson so he could “get a sense of what was important to him.”
“He could have conversations if he wanted with other teams to see what his value might be,” DeCosta said. “He could talk to other coaches and GMs to get a sense for the landscape.”
Jackson the agent may have entertained those conversations. Jackson the player seems insistent on forgetting that.
“Teams reached out,” he confirmed, “but like I said prior: I really didn’t care about other teams. I wanted to be here.”
“It means a lot to have guys like your head coach and GM wanting you to be here and believing you can help your team achieve the ultimate goal in football. I wouldn’t want to go no other place.”
Expect Ravens offense to look different
With negotiations complete, Jackson now turns to the work necessary to advance toward that “ultimate” goal of a Super Bowl title.
He said Thursday that his knee — Jackson had tweeted Jan. 2 that he “suffered a PCL grade 2 sprain on the borderline of a strain 3” — has been healed for about a month now. When asked if he was medically cleared, Jackson said, “Yeah, I passed,” and when asked if all was good with his knee, he said, “I’m great.”
Next comes mastering new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme and developing chemistry with new receivers including three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. and 2023 first-round selection Zay Flowers.
Jackson said he had received his iPad with the new playbook a couple days prior. Expect a different offense, and likely one that more heavily emphasizes the passing game than Greg Roman’s system did.
“I heard from our guys the offense is looking pretty smooth,” Jackson said. “And from what I see, it looks different and I’m liking it so far.”
The celebrations will eventually fade, the return to work and pressure to meet the contract expectations gradually replacing the deal adrenaline. Extra scrutiny will follow Jackson’s health late in seasons and his lack of playoff success, the top knocks on his request for full guarantees.
Jackson will continue to operate then on the principles he said guided his negotiation tactics: “I didn’t really do this to prove anyone wrong,” he said. “If anything, I had to prove myself right.”
He longs to prove his 2018 declaration right and bring a Super Bowl victory to Baltimore for the first time since the 2012 season. Jackson has competed in four playoff games but lost three.
Well, Jackson the quarterback has. The only Jackson left in Baltimore.
“I really want to finish my career here,” he said. “I want to win a Super Bowl here.”