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Preston: Nearly a month after announcement he'd return, Ravens' John Harbaugh still has no new contract

The last time the Ravens made a statement about head coach John Harbaugh’s contract status was Dec. 21, the night before the team played the Los Angeles Chargers in California.

It was a bizarre announcement, especially since it came at 7 p.m. on a Friday night when virtually the entire country had turned off that day’s news cycle. But the Ravens said Harbaugh would be their coach for the 2019 season, when his current contract ends, and said the two sides were involved in negotiations on an extension.

And now mum is the word.

The Ravens have said nothing since then. Team officials have yet to bring Harbaugh, 56, out for his end-of-season news conference even though it ended Jan. 6, and there have been no updates about owner Steve Bisciotti’s annual end-of-season news conference.

This is starting to become almost as strange as the announcement almost a month ago.

The Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals and even the Cleveland Browns have already named new head coaches since their seasons ended, but the Ravens haven’t said a word about Harbaugh.

The assumption here is that the two sides might be hung up over the length of the deal. The Ravens probably want to offer a two- or three-year extension after the end of next season and Harbaugh might want a longer agreement, like several of the new head coaches have received.

For the Ravens, a shorter extension makes practical sense. Harbaugh just finished his 11th season and even though the team won the AFC North title and made a playoff appearance for the first time in four years, his regular-season record since winning Super Bowl XLVII is 50-46.

That puts him only slightly better than average. In fact, the one-and-done performance in the 2018 playoffs confirms the Ravens are just at the top of many average teams in the NFL.

A head coach’s message gets stale after about 10 years in one city, so Bisciotti has to be concerned about overpaying Harbaugh as he did when he signed former Ravens head coach Brian Billick to a four-year extension in 2006 and then fired him after the next season.

Bisciotti ended up paying Billick $15 million for the remaining three years. He doesn’t want that to happen again.

And then there is the Lamar Jackson factor. As a rookie quarterback this past season, he played well enough to push the Ravens into the postseason, but there are numerous questions about his passing ability.

The Ravens have to give Jackson, a first-round draft pick out of Louisville, the 2019 and 2020 seasons to prove he can play quarterback in the NFL. But if he doesn’t, then the Ravens will have to blow up this team and Harbaugh might get fired as well.

The Ravens probably want to offer Harbaugh a similar three-year extension to the one signed by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll in December. Carroll’s deal is worth $11 million per season.

Harbaugh probably wants more security. He is aware of the Jackson factor as well. As one of the better coaches in the NFL, Harbaugh would command a salary worth $8 million to $12 million per season, or something in line with the five-year extension signed by New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton in 2016, which was worth $9 million a season.

Harbaugh has an impressive resume. He won a Super Bowl title at the end of the 2012 season. His Ravens teams have been to the playoffs in seven of his 11 seasons and the Ravens are one of the toughest, competitive and most respected teams in the NFL.

Harbaugh is one of the top 10 head coaches in the league and has had only one losing season.

Bisciotti knows all of this but also that the risk might outweigh the reward. It makes sense for him to offer Harbaugh a short-term extension and pay him as one of the top coaches in the NFL.

Right now, though, the negotiations have gone underground.

The Ravens have a new general manager and offensive coordinator, which shows they want to go in a different direction, but they have said nothing about Harbaugh.

It’s strange. Almost as weird as their announcement nearly a month ago.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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