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Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson gets paid and accepts the reality of the NFL

Star quarterback is now the highest-paid player in the league, but not at the fully guaranteed deal he was reportedly seeking

Finally, star Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson accepted the cold reality of his situation and agreed to terms Thursday on a massive new five-year contract.

It’s about time.

And now, Jackson must redouble his efforts on the field. He still has a lot to prove there.

In the end, Jackson accepted a deal that makes him the highest-paid player in Ravens history. He earned that status. Reportedly, the 2019-20 Associated Press NFL MVP also tops the NFL’s all-time list with a $260 million package, which eclipses the $255 million contract Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts signed recently.

Here’s the thing, though: In NFL player contracts, the practical guarantees are what matter most. At signing, Jackson will be guaranteed $185 million. On that all-important list, Jackson still ranks considerably below Cleveland Browns signal-caller Deshaun Watson, whose record-setting $230 million deal is fully guaranteed. And Jackson isn’t even No. 2. Arizona Cardinals passer Kyler Murray holds that distinction with $189.5 million guaranteed in his contract. Jackson and Hurts ($180 million guaranteed) round out the top four.

For months, the Ravens’ top decision-makers made it crystal clear to Jackson that they would not offer him a contract that’s fully guaranteed. They also had no interest in having a player with at least $200 million guaranteed on their roster.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson celebrates a win over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sept. 26, 2021, in Detroit, Michigan.

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

It seemed that even if the Ravens had put it all on a billboard in downtown Baltimore, Jackson still wouldn’t have gotten the message. Jackson’s previous stubbornness prompted the Ravens to place the non-exclusive franchise tag on him to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, in turn angering Jackson to the point that he revealed publicly he wanted out of Baltimore.

Jackson has accomplished more than Watson. Had Jackson succeeded in receiving a bigger guarantee than Watson, well, Jackson could have struck a blow for player empowerment that would have reverberated throughout pro sports’ most successful league.

But from the outset of Jackson’s negotiations with the Ravens, things were never headed in his direction. That was as clear as the lack of production from the Ravens’ wideouts to this point in the Jackson era.

The Browns needed Watson to waive his no-trade clause as part of a proposed trade to acquire him from the Houston Texans, and their desperation showed in their willingness to accept Watson’s unprecedented contract demands. Jackson had no such leverage, said N. Jeremi Duru, a professor of sports law at American University and a longtime observer of the NFL’s hiring and contract practices.

“Deshaun Watson was an outlier,” Duru said on the phone. “But the question was, ‘Might this be the beginning of a new normal?’ What we saw, quickly, was that a bunch of folks in power, owners, expressed real concern about [Jackson’s deal] and what it might portend.

“What you’ve seen since then is we haven’t had those sorts of massive guarantees. And I think it will be a while before contracts head in that direction again.”

Still, Jackson is in the top three all-time in guaranteed money, which isn’t bad.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left) and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (right) greet each other at the end of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 28, 2020, in Baltimore.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

In going to a new level for their franchise, Ravens senior leaders demonstrated a strong commitment to Jackson, who despite his numerous accomplishments, has much room for growth in the most important area for quarterbacks: his playoff performance.

There’s just no way to sugarcoat this: Jackson hasn’t shined in the postseason. He has a 1-3 record in four playoff starts, and his production has declined from the regular season.

It won’t be enough for Jackson to merely make dazzling plays during the regular season as a runner and a passer. Not at the money the Ravens will be paying him.

Consistently, Jackson must lead Baltimore deep into the postseason. He needs to burnish his rep with those signature playoff moments that Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals have accumulated in bunches already. Heck, Hurts joined the list last season while leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

Then there’s the issue of Jackson’s durability.

Fact is, he has finished the last two seasons injured. Jackson missed 11 games, including Baltimore’s AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Bengals.

After no bidders emerged publicly for Jackson throughout his contract battle with the Ravens, many NFL observers on social media declared that team owners must be colluding in an attempt to squash players’ hopes of getting the Watson treatment. Well, maybe. But good luck finding any evidence to support that theory of the case.

Here’s a counterargument: Perhaps most NFL general managers were reluctant to pursue a quarterback aggressively, even one as gifted as Jackson, who has spent much of the previous two seasons sidelined and who hasn’t yet proven he’s capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl.

The Ravens drafted Jackson, scrapped their offense and rebuilt it around him to maximize his unique skill set. He’s their guy. Even without fully guaranteeing Jackson’s contract, they reiterated as much.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.