Why Lamar Jackson’s Case Feels Familiar and Unsettling

If your salary isn’t aligned with your resume, you might understand the predicament of star quarterback Lamar Jackson.

If you’ve ever seen someone less accomplished than you earn more money, you could fathom the palpable frustration around Jackson’s situation.

Now, when it’s time for Jackson, an elite, record-setting player, to cash in at one of the most visible positions in professional sports, matters have gone sideways for no good reason. 

The Baltimore Ravens, the team Jackson has spent his entire career with, placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on him. The contract guarantees him a one-year salary of $32.416 million. 

Jackson currently can negotiate with other teams, but no club has stepped forward with a better deal as of this writing. 

Of course, that contract alone would be fantastic for regular folks like us. Who in their right mind would complain about getting paid $32 million to play a kid’s game? 

But given the tortured history of the Black NFL quarterback, Jackson’s arc this offseason seems tinged with a familiar frustration: Despite notable exceptions like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, when it comes to opportunity and money, Black QBs are often given short shrift.

Why Lamar Jackson Deserves to Be Among the Highest-Paid QBs

Jackson wants a fully guaranteed, long-term deal like the one the Cleveland Browns gave Watson last year. Given his lofty accomplishments, Jackson deserves the difference-making money his peers have received. 

That’s why he demanded a trade. 

The hard facts demonstrate that he deserves to be one of the top-paid players at his position:

  • Since Jackson entered the NFL in 2018, he has led the Ravens to a 45-16 regular season record, winning 74 percent of the games he has started. 
  • In 2019, his second year in the league, Jackson became the second-youngest player in NFL history to be named NFL MVP.
  • His 2019 season is among the 10 best statistical seasons ever for an NFL quarterback. 
  • Jackson also has the most 100-yard rushing games by a QB ever. 
  • He has six games where he has 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing, twice as many as any other QB in NFL history.
  • Injuries have cut short his last two seasons, but he has still managed to lead the Ravens to a 15-9 record. 

Why Lesser Players Make More Than Him

While Jackson is arguably the best player to emerge from his 2018 draft class, he has earned less money than higher-drafted players who are now backups. 

Baker Mayfield, the top pick in that year’s draft, has amassed a 31-38 record, a winning percentage of 45 percent. 

Even more egregious is that Mayfield, now signed to his fourth team as a potential backup, has earned almost $16 million more than Jackson throughout their careers before this year – $48.4 million to 32.7 million. Sam Darnold, set to play for his third team as a backup quarterback, has earned over $16 million more. 

Mayfield and Darnold earned more than Jackson because they were drafted higher than him. 

Mayfield went 31 slots higher, and Darnold 29. Players are paid four-year deals based on their draft slot, so if you went number one like Mayfield, you would make more than a player drafted with the very last pick in the first round, like Jackson. 

Why His Team is Not Playing Fair

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, selected 25 slots higher than Jackson and perhaps equally accomplished, makes substantially more than him and undoubtedly any player from the 2018 draft class. 

Instead of being pulled into “dog-eat-dog” salary negotiations, the Bills rewarded Allen with a six-year, $258 million contract extension in 2021. As a result, Allen got paid after his third year in the NFL. 

“We’re committed to Josh. So that shows there’s no trepidation on our part of, oh, let’s just extend it a year or two or anything like that. We believe in Josh,” said Bills GM Brandon Beane then.

By the Ravens’ actions, they don’t seem to believe in Jackson, who enters his fifth year with no long-term deal or security. 

There are reports that Jackson has turned down multiple deals, including a three-year, fully guaranteed contract. There’s also a belief that because Jackson does not have an agent, it has impeded his ability to get a deal done.

On Sunday night, the Ravens signed the talented and flamboyant wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. to a one-year contract, which Jackson seems to endorse

A reconciliation between the two sides could still occur.  

Yet, Jackson’s case echoes a truth that many of us are familiar with: No matter your resume or level of accomplishment, not everyone is willing to pay you your true worth.

 

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