It's looking increasingly unlikely that Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens will ink a long-term contract.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported people around the NFL are "skeptical" that a deal gets done before Jackson's self-imposed deadline of Week 1.
"Some of the people I'm talking to around the league are a bit skeptical this can get done because there's going to be a gap in guaranteed money," Fowler said Sunday on SportsCenter. "It's believed that Lamar Jackson wants a very strong guarantee structure. And he has a blueprint with Deshaun Watson and what Watson did with a fully-guaranteed $230 million deal. Now, I'm told the Ravens have been trying to bridge the gap in recent weeks ever since that Kyler Murray deal went down in Arizona. That sort of reignited the quarterback market. So, Baltimore certainly is trying, but there is a gap that has to be closed here and they got about three weeks to do it."
Jackson is set to make $23 million this season while playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Should the Ravens and the 2019 NFL MVP fail to reach an agreement on a long-term deal, it's a mortal lock Baltimore will use its franchise tag on him to ensure he does not hit free agency.
The two sides have been negotiating a contract extension for several months but do not appear close to a deal. Jackson told reporters Saturday he has no plans on negotiating once the season begins.
"Yeah, we coming up to it. It's coming up. Season's coming up," Jackson said. "We're going to be good for the season."
While there would be no obvious reason to halt negotiations under normal circumstances, Jackson serves as his own agent. It's unlikely he wants to have any focus shifting away from his on-field performance, where he'll try to atone for an injury-plagued and inconsistent 2021 campaign.
The baseline for Jackson's new deal should be a five-year deal worth over $230.5 million, which is what Kyler Murray received from the Arizona Cardinals. Jackson's resumè exceeds Murray's in every possible aspect, so there's no world in which the Ravens could justify offering a lesser deal.
The Cleveland Browns' decision to fully guarantee Deshaun Watson's five-year, $230 million contract may be the biggest monkeywrench in talks. Watson is on a same general tier as Jackson among NFL quarterbacks — not quite on the Josh Allen-Patrick Mahomes-Aaron Rodgers level but a small step below. That said, Jackson has an MVP on his mantle that Watson doesn't; it wouldn't be unfair for Jackson to expect a guarantee total that exceeds Watson's.
That's unlikely to happen. The Watson contract is an outlier almost wholly based on the Browns' desperation to finally lock in a franchise quarterback. Murray only got $160 million in guarantees despite reaching a deal several months after Watson.