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NFL rankings and happenings: Lamar Jackson, Ravens face cutoff as season looms

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is entering the last year of his contract and seeking an extension with his team. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Lamar Jackson may or may not become the latest quarterback to cash in this year with a megadeal of a contract extension.

The deadline for such an agreement between Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens may or may not be this weekend.

And the relevant precedent for Jackson’s contract may or may not be the fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract Deshaun Watson signed with the Browns in March in conjunction with the trade that sent him from the Houston Texans to Cleveland.

Jackson’s negotiations with the Ravens represent one of the most significant subplots in the final days before the NFL’s regular season begins. The 2019 MVP is set to make just over $23 million this season under the Ravens’ fifth-year option in his rookie contract. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring.

The Ravens could use the franchise player tag to retain Jackson, 25, beyond this season, but both sides would prefer the certainty and security of a long-term deal. The negotiations are complicated, however, by guaranteed money and by Jackson’s lack of an agent. Jackson has suggested he will cut off deliberations by Sunday, when the Ravens open their season at the New York Jets.

There was pessimism Tuesday afternoon about the prospects of an extension being hammered out this week. One person familiar with the negotiations said it appeared likely that, barring a last-minute shift, Jackson would play this season under the one remaining year on his contract.

Watson’s fully guaranteed contract angered many team owners, especially given that the quarterback faced allegations of sexual misconduct that led to him being suspended for the first 11 games of this season. “There are plenty of people in that room very unhappy about that contract,” a person familiar with the NFL’s inner workings said at an owners meeting last month in Bloomington, Minn.

The Ravens’ preseason winning streak means absolutely, positively … something?

The two most recent major quarterback deals have not been fully guaranteed. Kyler Murray’s five-year, $230.5 million extension with the Arizona Cardinals, completed in July, includes $160 million in guaranteed money. Last week’s five-year, $245 million extension for Russell Wilson with the Denver Broncos includes $165 million in guaranteed money.

That makes for some interesting decisions for Jackson. He represents himself in negotiations, with help from his mother and input from the NFL Players Association.

Jackson probably could land a deal with the Ravens in line with Murray’s and Wilson’s contracts. If he is adamant about getting a fully guaranteed contract, like Watson’s, he risks going into the season — and perhaps through the season — without a new deal. This week’s negotiating deadline is artificial, of course. But without an agent involved, it might be wise for both sides to put negotiations aside during the season and focus on the on-field tasks at hand.

“My interactions with Lamar have been all football,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said at a news conference Monday. “He’s been focused and locked in on that 100 percent from a football standpoint.”

The most interested observers of all of this might be Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals and Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers. They become eligible for contract extensions after this season.

The top 6

1. Rams
The defending Super Bowl champs are No. 1 until someone proves otherwise.
2. Bills
They are perhaps the NFL’s most complete team, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Josh Allen is the league’s MVP.
3. Bengals
As long as Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase are around, they will be a contender.
4. Chiefs
Tyreek Hill is gone. But Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce remain. The Chiefs aren’t done.
5. Buccaneers
If this is Tom Brady’s final season, would anyone be shocked to see him walk away with another Super Bowl triumph?
6. Packers
Aaron Rodgers kept the offseason drama to a minimum this time.

Donald’s non-discipline

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is expected to be in the Los Angeles Rams’ lineup for the NFL’s season-opening game Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills in Inglewood, Calif. — even after his helmet-swinging participation in a brawl with the Bengals during a joint practice last month.

The league left the decision on any disciplinary action to the Rams, based on the policy that teams — not the NFL — are responsible for players’ behavior during practices, even joint practices. The Rams said they would handle the matter internally and declined further comment, never specifying whether the three-time NFL defensive player of the year was fined for his role in the incident. He was not suspended.

The episode will prompt the league and the NFLPA to rethink their handling of discipline based on players’ actions during joint practices. The NFL “absolutely” will consider taking control of that, a person familiar with the situation said Tuesday, adding that the issue is “already on the winter agenda.” The league could include such incidents in the framework of discipline imposed for on-field actions during games. If that becomes the case, the NFL would determine any penalties, and players could appeal sanctions to one of the appeals officers appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA.

No Labor Day reconsideration

The NFL has opened its season with a Thursday night game since 2002. It has avoided playing games on Labor Day weekend for more than two decades, believing that the unofficial end to summer and the public’s vacation plans are not favorable to television viewership.

Now that the NFL has adopted a 17-game regular season and shortened the preseason to three games per team, there is a longer break between teams’ preseason finales and regular season openers. But asked whether there are any thoughts of returning to scheduling even a game or two on Labor Day weekend, one person familiar with the NFL’s planning said, “None.”

The middle class

7. Titans
12. Raiders
17. Saints
22. Browns
8. Cowboys
13. Chargers
18. Cardinals
23. Ravens
9. Patriots
14. Eagles
19. Steelers
24. Giants
10. Colts
15. Broncos
20. Vikings
25. Jets
11. 49ers
16. Dolphins
21. Commanders
26. Bears

Covid issues

Coronavirus concerns are far from prominent for the NFL as the season arrives. The protocols that the league and union implemented over the previous two seasons have been suspended since March. But it’s worth keeping in mind that symptomatic players, coaches and team staffers remain subject to testing and five-day isolation periods for positive results. Murray, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll missed time during training camp and the preseason following positive tests.

Garoppolo’s deal

Yes, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s reworked contract cleared the way for the San Francisco 49ers to keep him as the backup to new starter Trey Lance. Garoppolo agreed to a revised deal that guarantees him $6.5 million this season, with bonuses and incentives that could push its value close to $16 million.

But the contract also could make it easier for the 49ers to trade Garoppolo at some point. There were no takers during the offseason, with Garoppolo coming off shoulder surgery and set to make $25.6 million. But now, if there’s an injury, a team might be interested. With a no-trade clause in the deal, Garoppolo has the ability to determine his destination.

The bottom 6

27. Falcons
Matt Ryan exits. Marcus Mariota takes over. That’s not an upgrade.
28. Panthers
Baker Mayfield didn’t have the benefit of an offseason to acclimate to his new team.
29. Lions
They could improve. That’s a decidedly low bar.
30. Seahawks
Russell Wilson leaves and takes the championship-contending hopes with him.
31. Texans
The rebuild is in progress, and patience will be required.
32. Jaguars
Doug Pederson has a long way to go to get this team back to respectability.

Steelers QBs

It was predictable when the Pittsburgh Steelers signed quarterback Mitchell Trubisky that the No. 2 pick in 2017 would replace the retired Ben Roethlisberger as Pittsburgh’s starter. The Steelers made that official, sort of, Monday when they released their depth chart and announced Trubisky would be a team captain, and Coach Mike Tomlin reiterated Trubisky’s status Tuesday.

“We’re just really comfortable with what Mitch has shown us,” Tomlin said at his weekly news conference.

But the superb preseason play of rookie Kenny Pickett, the only quarterback selected in the opening round of this year’s draft, has given Tomlin a seemingly viable alternative if Trubisky falters. The Steelers listed Pickett as their No. 3 quarterback, behind Mason Rudolph, in Monday’s depth chart, then switched that in a revised version Tuesday to identify Pickett as the primary backup.

“It’s good to come to decisions based on what people are doing,” Tomlin said of the preseason quarterback competition, “as opposed to what people are not doing.”