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No contract offer for Ravens QB Lamar Jackson yet, but Eric DeCosta knows what it might cost

“We haven’t really gotten into the actual contract proposals, negotiations, things like that,” DeCosta said.

The Ravens’ most important player and the team’s top front-office official spent time together a few weeks ago. Lamar Jackson, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2019, and Eric DeCosta, the Ravens’ third-year general manager, talked about a lot: the organization, Jackson’s family, their shared goals. They discussed how one of the team’s most important contract negotiations might play out, and what a new deal might look like.

One topic that wasn’t broached, however: the hard numbers on a potential extension, one that would make Jackson one of the NFL’s highest-paid players

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“We haven’t really gotten into the actual contract proposals, negotiations, things like that,” DeCosta said during a virtual NFL scouting combine news conference Tuesday.

The Ravens are “confident and committed to trying to get a long-term deal done,” but DeCosta acknowledged that it “may take a little time.” There are variables to consider: The NFL still hasn’t finalized its 2021 salary cap, and with free agency set to begin next week, the Ravens have more pressing roster needs. They already have a quarterback for 2021, after all, but it’s hard to win a Super Bowl without a reliable center or disruptive edge rusher.

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“There’s definitely some different moving parts that make this different from a lot of other negotiations we’ve done,” DeCosta said.

As if DeCosta needed a reminder, another record-breaking deal Monday night highlighted the cost of retaining young, impressive quarterbacks. Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys reportedly agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract, including $126 million guaranteed. Prescott’s signing bonus is $66 million, the highest in NFL history, according to ESPN.

Every year, the price for quarterbacks goes up. Last year, the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson signed a four-year, $156 million extension. In 2019, Russell Wilson got a four-year, $140 million deal from the Seattle Seahawks. Despite Jackson’s disappointing 2020 — his efficiency as both a runner (6.3 yards per carry) and passer (64.4% accuracy, 7.3 yards per attempt) fell off in his third year, partly because of a diminished offensive line — there is always risk in waiting too long to sign quarterbacks.

DeCosta knows Jackson, who hasn’t spoken publicly since before a season-ending playoff loss in January, won’t come cheap. He’s owed just $3 million this year, the final year of his rookie contract, with an expensive team option for 2022 likely to be exercised this offseason.

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“As an executive, when you’re talking about these kind of contracts, it’s like, if you go to the Bentley dealership or the Range Rover dealership, you know what the cars are going to cost,” DeCosta said. “You’re not going to get much of a discount. They all cost about the same, and you go in there, and you go in with the idea that you’re either going to buy the car or you’re not going to buy the car.

“So all of these contracts, there’s bells and whistles and they’re all different in some ways, and they’re all alike in some ways. … But in the end, they’re all very big contracts for outstanding players. They’re quarterback deals. They’re marquee players. And you know you’re going to pay a lot, but you’re going to get a lot in return.”

Coach John Harbaugh, who also took questions Tuesday, said he’s spoken several times with Jackson since the end of the season, but that he leaves contract talks to the Ravens’ front office. Harbaugh’s offseason focus has been on the big picture, from retooling his coaching staff to developing a passing game that can match what he called “probably the most creative run game in the history of the National Football League.”

“I try to include a lot of players, especially veteran players, but especially your quarterback, in the team-building process, for sure,” Harbaugh said. “And that’s very important, I think, for him to be on board and understand what we’re trying to do with the offense, what we’re trying to do with the personnel, how we’re building things schematically, those kind of things. I want his input all the time. So that’s what we talk about.

“I’m very confident that the other part of it, the business part of it, will be worked out in the best possible way for everybody. Lamar and his people and Eric, they’ll figure all that stuff out. That’s not the nature of our relationship.”

As the Ravens turn their focus to rebuilding their depth at edge rusher and upgrading their talent along the offensive line and at wide receiver, the question is seemingly no longer whether Jackson will get a deal. It’s when, and for how much, and over how many years.

“Lamar’s a really important part of the team,” DeCosta said. “He’s a leader. He’s an outstanding player. He’s a foundational type of guy for this organization. I really think he loves the organization. I think he’s very appreciative of the organization and our stance in different things, and we’re confident and committed to trying get a long-term deal done.”

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