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Ravens say they won’t reach deal with Lamar Jackson before the season

Lamar Jackson is entering the final season of his current contract. (Kevin Richardson/The Baltimore Sun/AP)
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The Baltimore Ravens said Friday they would not be able to reach an agreement with quarterback Lamar Jackson on a contract extension by Sunday’s season-opening game, postponing further negotiations with the NFL’s former most valuable player until after the season.

Jackson is set to play this season on the one year remaining on his current contract. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring, although the Ravens could use their franchise player tag to restrict his movement or keep him off the market entirely.

“Despite best efforts on both sides, we were unable to reach a contract extension with Lamar Jackson,” Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said in a written statement issued by the team. “We greatly appreciate how he has handled this process and we are excited about our team with Lamar leading the way. We will continue to work towards a long-term contract after the season, but for now we are looking forward to a successful 2022 campaign.”

There had been skepticism all week about the prospects for the two sides to strike a deal this week. The negotiations were complicated by Jackson’s decision to represent himself without an agent involved and, even more notably, by a standoff over guaranteed money arising from the fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract that quarterback Deshaun Watson signed with the Cleveland Browns in March.

Jackson had suggested that he would cut off negotiations by the season opener. He said Wednesday that he considered Friday the deadline for a deal.

“As of right now, we’re still talking,” Jackson said then. “The week’s not over yet. But soon. Soon [there will] probably be a deadline, probably [will] be cut off after this week.”

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Jackson said Wednesday he had “no clue” whether he and the Ravens were closer to a deal at that point than they had been previously, adding: “You have to ask the guy who I’m talking to.”

He is set to make $23.016 million this season under the fifth-year option in his original rookie contract previously exercised by the Ravens.

If the Ravens remain unable to reach a deal with Jackson on a long-term contract, they could use their nonexclusive franchise tag on Jackson after the season. That probably would cost them around $30 million for a one-year deal for the 2023 season. It would allow Jackson to negotiate with other teams and potentially sign an offer sheet with another franchise. But the Ravens would have the right to retain him by matching any offer, and the right to receive two first-round draft choices as compensation from Jackson’s next team if they allow him to leave.

For a higher price, probably at least $45 million, the Ravens could use their exclusive franchise tag and prevent Jackson from negotiating with other teams.

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Jackson, 25, is believed to be seeking a fully guaranteed contract like Watson’s, and the Ravens are thought to be unwilling to comply. The two major contract extensions signed most recently by prominent NFL quarterbacks — Kyler Murray’s five-year, $230.5 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals and Russell Wilson’s five-year, $245 extension with the Denver Broncos — are not fully guaranteed.

Jackson is handling the negotiations himself with help from his mother and input from the NFL Players Association. A person familiar with the situation expressed the view this week that it would take a dramatic last-minute shift in the negotiations for Jackson and the Ravens to reach an agreement this week. Such a breakthrough didn’t happen.

Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said he hasn’t been directly involved in the negotiations. But he had a conversation Thursday with Jackson, he said, about the arrival of the regular season.

“You’re hopeful,” Harbaugh said at a news conference Friday at the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills, Md. “Those things will work themselves out in the end. I’m confident of that. I think I said at the beginning: That’ll happen when it’s time. And when it’s time, it’ll happen. Lamar is playing quarterback. He’s going to be playing quarterback here for a long time. He and I talked about it [Thursday] a little bit, like, ‘Hey, man, let’s go be our best and go focus on football.’ And that’s what he’s been doing all along. So I know nothing will change with that.”

The Ravens open their season Sunday against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. They’ll face Joe Flacco, their former Super Bowl-winning quarterback who is filling in for Jets starter Zach Wilson while Wilson works his way back from a preseason knee injury.

The Ravens are attempting to rebound from an 8-9 season in which they lost their final six games and missed the AFC playoffs. They need a bounce-back season from Jackson, who was plagued by injuries and was limited to 12 games last season. He was the league’s MVP in 2019.