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NFL warns teams not to negotiate with noncertified agent for Lamar Jackson

The Ravens used their nonexclusive franchise-player tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The oddity and contentiousness surrounding the free agency of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson intensified Thursday when the NFL warned teams not to negotiate an offer sheet for the former league MVP with a noncertified agent supposedly representing Jackson.

The memo from the NFL’s management council to teams’ chief executives, presidents, general managers and contract negotiators said the NFL Players Association, which is in charge of certifying agents to negotiate players’ contracts with teams, had raised the issue.

“The NFLPA has informed us that a person by the name of Ken Francis, who is not an NFLPA certified agent, may be contacting Clubs and attempting to persuade Club personnel to enter into negotiations with or concerning Lamar Jackson, who is currently under a Nonexclusive Franchise Tender with the Baltimore Ravens,” the memo said. “As an uncertified person, Mr. Francis is prohibited from negotiating Offer Sheets or Player Contracts, or discussing potential trades on behalf of any NFL player or prospective player or assisting in or advising with respect to such negotiations.”

Jackson is not represented by an NFLPA-certified agent and mostly has handled his own negotiations, with help from his mother and input from the union. Earlier this month, the Ravens used their nonexclusive franchise-player tag on him, limiting his mobility in free agency but not taking him off the market entirely.

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“Clubs are reminded that, under Article 48 of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, an Offer Sheet, which may result in an NFL Player Contract, may only be negotiated with the player, if he is acting on his own behalf, or with the player’s NFLPA certified agent,” the management council wrote in Thursday’s memo, a copy of which The Washington Post obtained. “To be clear, Mr. Jackson is not currently represented by an NFLPA certified agent. Violation of this rule may result in disapproval of any Offer Sheet or resulting Player Contract entered into by Mr. Jackson and the new Club.”

In a previous memo the management council sent to teams on March 15, the league warned that a team could be fined $54,409 for knowingly negotiating a contract with a noncertified agent or failing to make a “reasonable inquiry” with the NFLPA as to whether an agent acting on a player’s behalf is properly certified.

Neither Jackson nor Francis was available to comment. Jackson wrote a message Thursday on Twitter making a reference to his “business partner Ken.”

Jackson also wrote on Twitter: “Stop Lying that man never tried to negotiate for me.”

By using their nonexclusive franchise tag on Jackson, the Ravens left him eligible to negotiate with other teams on a possible offer sheet. They could retain him by matching any offer sheet he might sign with another franchise. They also have the right to receive two first-round draft picks from Jackson’s new team as compensation if they were to opt against matching a prospective offer sheet and allow him to depart.

Jackson will be paid $32.4 million for next season if he remains with the Ravens on his franchise-player deal. The Ravens could have taken him off the market entirely — and made him ineligible to negotiate with other teams — by using the more expensive exclusive franchise-player tag.

He also remains eligible to negotiate a new contract with the Ravens. Jackson played last season on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract after he and the Ravens failed to agree to a long-term deal before the opener.

Jackson is believed to be seeking a deal at least comparable to the fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract quarterback Deshaun Watson signed last offseason with the Cleveland Browns. But fully guaranteed contracts have been difficult to come by for NFL players. Two prominent quarterbacks — the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray and the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson — signed lucrative, non-guaranteed contract extensions following Watson’s deal with the Browns.

The Indianapolis Colts have been mentioned as being possibly interested in signing Jackson to an offer sheet. But after several teams initially were reported not to be interested in attempting to sign Jackson, DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA’s executive director, raised the possibility that teams might be acting improperly, in violation of the CBA.

“Why did [Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk] Cousins and Watson get fully guaranteed contracts while others didn’t?” Smith wrote in an essay on the union’s website. “Or to be more specific, why have the Baltimore Ravens and other teams publicly (at least initially) made such a point to say they are not going to compensate Lamar Jackson with a fully guaranteed contract like Cousins or Watson? Let’s be clear, in my nearly 15-year career as Executive Director, I have never witnessed teams being so quick to publicly announce their lack of interest in an MVP quarterback, who is in his prime and who is also going to get an injury guarantee, regardless of his contract.”

Smith wrote that team owners “have colluded in the past to both depress and restrict markets” and said that “[t]his time, they are criminally gaming the game itself.”

The CBA, however, says that teams can be found guilty of collusion only with evidence of them conspiring improperly, not based merely on a lack of contract offers and the skill of the player involved.