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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Hayes Gardner

‘Lamar Jackson is our quarterback’: Ravens leadership doubles down on star’s future in Baltimore

Lamar Jackson is not under contract with the Ravens for next year and many pundits have projected that he’s played his last game with the club that drafted him in 2018. But in an end-of-season news conference Thursday, Ravens leadership committed to pursuing a long-term deal with Jackson that would keep him as the franchise’s star for years to come.

“Lamar Jackson is our quarterback,” coach John Harbaugh said.

That’s easier said than done, though, as the Ravens and Jackson were unable to come to an agreement over a contract extension ahead of this season, the last of his rookie contract. While several other top quarterbacks across the league have been signed to extensions before their contracts expired, Jackson reached the end of his initial five-year deal without one in place.

General manager Eric DeCosta said he “spent some time” with Jackson on Thursday and that the two communicated during the season. DeCosta deflected questions about the specifics of their negotiations but demonstrated confidence that a deal would get done by March 7, the deadline for teams to place a franchise tag on a player. In Jackson’s case, the franchise tag would lock him in for next season at a cost of about $45 million.

“I told Lamar, ‘Hey, this thing has been a burden for both of us,’” DeCosta said, ‘”but when this thing is over, we are gonna feel like a million bucks.’”

In Jackson’s case, he could feel like more than 200 million bucks. That’s been the going rate for top quarterbacks, as Kyler Murray, DeShaun Watson and Russell Wilson have each signed five-year deals worth at least $230 million, or $46 million a year.

It remains a possibility, however, that the Ravens could trade Jackson to many willing suitors across the NFL, but DeCosta did not publicly entertain the idea. If the Ravens were to trade him, they would likely receive several draft picks in exchange.

“That’s something that we’re not going to talk about at this point,” DeCosta said. “Our focus right now is really to get a long-term deal done. That’s our singular focus.”

When asked if he wanted Jackson in Baltimore for years to come, Harbaugh said, “100%, 200%, there’s no question about it.”

In Jackson’s second year with the Ravens, he set a single-season NFL quarterback rushing record with 1,206 yards, led Baltimore to 14 regular-season wins and was named the 2019 Most Valuable Player. He had a strong campaign in 2020, too, but injuries cut short both of his past two seasons.

He suffered a knee injury in a Dec. 4 game against the Denver Broncos and did not play again the rest of the season, prompting speculation that he sat out games because he did not have the comfortability of a long-term contract. DeCosta said he didn’t believe the contract played a role: “I think Lamar was hurt.”

The Ravens agreed to a five-year deal with linebacker Roquan Smith earlier this month, reportedly worth $100 million, which leaves the franchise tag available for use on Jackson, if needed. But DeCosta spoke about Jackson’s contract with confidence.

“I was very happy to get Roquan done,” he said, “and I’ll be even more happy when we get Lamar done.”

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