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Baltimore Ravens

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti: Contract negotiations with QB Lamar Jackson are ‘unique as hell’

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, in his first meeting with reporters in four years, acknowledged Tuesday that the team’s negotiations with star quarterback Lamar Jackson could result in a series of escalating one-year contract offers.

Speaking with a group of local reporters at the NFL owners meetings, Bisciotti cast doubt on a long-term extension being signed this year. The Ravens would pay Jackson, who’s entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, “when he’s ready,” Bisciotti said.

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General manager Eric DeCosta “can’t keep calling him and say, ‘Hey, Lamar, you really need to get in here and get this thing done,’ ” Bisciotti said. “That’s not a GM’s job.

“[Minnesota Vikings quarterback] Kurt Cousins did it that way. What if Lamar says that? ‘I’ll play on the fifth year, I’ll play on the franchise [tag], I’ll play on another franchise and then you can sign me. And that gives me three years to win the Super Bowl, so you can make me a $60 million quarterback, because that’s where it will be four years from now.’ That might be the case, but I don’t talk to Lamar. It’s not my role. I don’t know the answer.”

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Before the 2020 season, Cousins signed a two-year, $66 million contract extension with the Vikings. Earlier this month, he signed a fully guaranteed one-year, $35 million contract extension through the 2023 season.

Jackson, the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, will make $23 million this year. If the Ravens designate him with the exclusive franchise tag next year, effectively keeping Jackson from free agency, he would be in line for an offer sheet worth over $40 million. A second consecutive franchise tag would guarantee Jackson a salary 120% of his first franchise tag salary, and a third would cost even more.

A fast-rising quarterback market could make a long-term deal increasingly attractive for Jackson. Asked about the Cleveland Browns’ fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal for Deshaun Watson, Bisciotti said the Ravens would have to “stake out [their] way” as they pursued a deal with Jackson.

“Acknowledging that it could have an impact is different than me worrying about it, because my competitors have always done things differently than us, you know what I mean?” Bisciotti said.

He added: “So I’m trying to answer that when I had a reaction to it. And it’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract.’ I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to play that game, you know? We shall see.”

A day after coach John Harbaugh told reporters that a contract extension is “not really in the forefront of [Jackson’s] mind whenever I talk to him,” Bisciotti reiterated that Jackson’s focus is elsewhere.

“It’s unique as hell because everybody expects you to say, ‘I’ve got to get mine now,’ " Bisciotti said, referring to players’ desires for financial security. “The kid is so obsessed with winning a Super Bowl that I think, deep down, he doesn’t think he’s worthy. I think he wants that [title] to say, ‘Now I deserve to be on top.’ People can speculate any way they want. I don’t think he is turned on by money that much, and he knows it’s coming one way or the other.”

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Jackson is coming off his most disappointing season as a starter. In addition to struggling with turnovers and sacks after a torrid opening month, Jackson missed four games because of a late-season ankle injury and another because of illness. Bisciotti said the notion that Jackson, as a dual-threat quarterback, is more prone to injuries is “a bunch of … talk” without any empirical proof.

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While a short- or long-term extension for Jackson would change the Ravens’ salary cap math — over his first four years, Jackson’s cap hit rose only as high as $3 million — Bisciotti isn’t worried. He pointed to the number of Super Bowl-winning teams led by veteran, high-salary quarterbacks and said the Cincinnati Bengals’ path to another Super Bowl appearance with third-year star Joe Burrow is “not guaranteed.”

“It’s a zero-sum game,” Bisciotti said. “You have a great quarterback in this little window that everybody brags about. It’s like, it’s over before you know it. By the time they’re there, it’s time to pay them. …

“I don’t really look at Lamar becoming more expensive because of the route that he’s chosen to go, though the numbers don’t bear out my theory. I just don’t view that as a negative. I think without a QB that you believe in, life sucks as an NFL owner and a fan base.”

Bisciotti knows how hard it is to acquire a franchise quarterback — and the cost of retaining one. The Panthers have cycled through a carousel of mediocre quarterbacks since Cam Newton’s best days in Carolina, while the Chicago Bears traded two first-round picks last year to move up in the draft and select Justin Fields No. 11 overall.

In Baltimore, Bisciotti’s only a decade removed from handing Joe Flacco, fresh off a Super Bowl title, a six-year contract worth $120.6 million, then the richest deal for a player in NFL history. In 2022, the value of quarterbacks is still skyrocketing.

“I don’t think that you guys can look back at Joe becoming the highest-paid quarterback and go, ‘Oh, that’s when their roster fell apart,’ ” Bisciotti said. “That’s the implication — that when Lamar gets the money, you can’t afford all of these people. And yet, I don’t think we have this memory of Joe becoming the highest-paid guy, and then our roster fell apart. I don’t really remember that. We’ll pay [Jackson] when he’s ready.”


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