PHOENIX — Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll can relate to the predicament Ravens coach John Harbaugh is in.
Last March, the Seahawks released star linebacker Bobby Wagner after a season in which the then-31-year-old earned second-team All-Pro honors and an eighth Pro Bowl selection. It was the 10th straight year that Wagner, a second-round draft pick by Seattle in 2012, had at least 100 tackles, something only Ray Lewis and London Fletcher have done since 1987.
Cutting Wagner freed up more than $16 million in salary cap space for Seattle, but the split was messy. It came hours after the team dealt star quarterback Russell Wilson in a blockbuster trade with the Denver Broncos, and a lack of communication from the Seahawks infuriated Wagner, who has represented himself in contract negotiations since 2015.
“Crazy part about all this,” Wagner tweeted in the wake of his release, “I played there for 10 years & I didn’t even hear it from them that I wasn’t coming back.”
When Wagner signed a five-year, $50 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams a few weeks later, he lamented the process he went through in Seattle, telling reporters at the time, “I don’t think it had to be that difficult.” (He has since returned to the Seahawks on a one-year deal after he and the Rams agreed to part ways.)
[ What’s next for the Ravens and Lamar Jackson after quarterback requests to be traded? ]
Enter star quarterback Lamar Jackson, who on Monday dropped a bombshell tweet one minute before Harbaugh met with the media at the NFL owners meetings that he requested a trade earlier in the month. Harbaugh said all the right things in the moment, praising Jackson and reiterating the team’s plan for the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player to be the quarterback this season, but the move at the very least created some discomfort for both sides, who at this point have been negotiating a contract for more than two years.
The Ravens perhaps hold the advantage in this poker game with Jackson, especially with no team having offered the quarterback a contract after Baltimore issued a $32.4 million nonexclusive franchise tag for the 26-year-old March 7 — five days after Jackson said he requested to be traded. Yet there’s an awkward precedent when it comes to players negotiating their own deals without an agent.
“I thought Bobby [Wagner] did a great job; the first time he took a negotiation he did well by himself, but it’s difficult,” Carroll told The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday. “It’s not a format that sets yourself up to talk to the player as the agent and then have to talk to the player as well. The conversations that go on with agents, it’s not necessarily the same as it is with the player. There’s a level of depth and understanding and freedom that’s different when you’re talking to a player — particularly guys that you know and care for.”
Harbaugh and Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta have repeatedly stated their fondness for Jackson and their desire for his return.
That was the case again Monday in the wake of Jackson’s tweet, with Harbaugh saying, “You’ve got two sides that appreciate each other; Lamar believes in us and we believe in Lamar. It’s a monetary thing that can be figured out, that can be worked out. That’s just a matter of negotiating.”
It might be more than that.
Jackson tweeted, in part, that the Ravens have “not been interested in meeting my value,” and that he “had to make a business decision that was best for my family and I.” The 2018 first-round pick has earned $27.5 million in his first five NFL seasons, a significant bargain for the Ravens when star quarterbacks are being paid more than $40 million annually.
While Harbaugh fielded questions about Jackson — 36 of the 46 he faced were about the quarterback, The Athletic noted — DeCosta was nowhere to be seen. Team president Sashi Brown spoke with a small group of local reporters but answered only one question about Jackson, echoing what Harbaugh said.
“We love Lamar,” Brown said Monday. “We want Lamar back. We’ve seen the tweet today. We’ve been in good communication with him. ... These are hard circumstances.”
Circumstances made harder in the view of some at the NFL meetings by the fact that Jackson does not have an agent.
Things also got messy when the NFL issued a memo instructing teams not to speak with Ken Francis, a business partner of Jackson’s on a home gym product, because Francis isn’t certified by the NFL Players Association. Per league guidelines, teams can negotiate a contract only with the player or a certified representative.
Then there were the teams lining up to say they have no interest in Jackson, with the Washington Commanders, Atlanta Falcons and now the Seahawks — who signed breakout star Geno Smith to a three-year, $75 million deal with $27.3 million fully guaranteed at signing — among them.
“We’re not interested [in Jackson],” Carroll told The Sun.
Commanders coach Ron Rivera also explained Washington’s decision not to pursue Jackson, despite having only 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell, veteran Jacoby Brissett and 2020 fifth-round pick Jake Fromm at the position. Only the 30-year-old Brissett has significant NFL experience.
“When you bring in a player with a big number, it impacts you; you have to now [say] what do you have to give up,” Rivera said Tuesday. “That’s a big thought for us and something we didn’t want to have to do in terms of letting specific players go that we brought in for a specific reason.
“It was something we didn’t want to do. We feel like we’ve roster-built. We really feel like we’re really taking advantage of our cap situation.”
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Likewise, the Falcons have been bullish about their lack of interest in Jackson, despite their quarterback room having unproven 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder, former Commanders starter Taylor Heinicke and journeyman Logan Woodside.
“We expect Desmond to take the next step,” Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said Tuesday. “We’re going to talk about our own players.”
Smith also said Jackson’s negotiating on his own didn’t play a factor in their decision.
“Everybody’s gotta do whatever they think is best for them,” he told The Sun, adding that he respects Jackson’s decision to operate without an agent. “I don’t have some fixed model that you have to do it one way because that’s what Johnny Unitas or Dan Marino did. To each their own.”
Rivera’s comments also shed light on why more teams haven’t emerged for Jackson, who is reportedly seeking a deal in the neighborhood of the five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract Deshaun Watson received from the Cleveland Browns. The next highest-paid players at the position after Watson in terms of total guaranteed money are Wilson ($165 million), Kyler Murray ($160 million), Aaron Rodgers ($150.7 million) and Josh Allen ($150 million), according to Over The Cap. There’s also the possibility that if a team does make an offer to Jackson, the Ravens can simply match it.
Also complicating matters is Jackson acting as his own agent, something that even Wagner previously conceded was challenging.
“I can see why this has been difficult,” Carroll told The Sun. “It’s such an extraordinarily [big] impact on the negotiation that affects so much and so many players. It’s a real challenge.”