Like Aaron Rodgers a year ago, Lamar Jackson’s NFL future comes down to fixing one thing

A year ago, as the Green Bay Packers stared at their intersection with Aaron Rodgers, the standoff was presumably about everything but his contract.

Rodgers wanted more communication with the front office, more involvement in the team’s planning, and more respect for the core veterans who built the culture. All that, plus a huge perk for the league’s reigning MVP: a revised contract that made him Green Bay’s undisputed starter for at least the 2023 season and the distinction of being the highest-paid player in the NFL. When it was all over, the final score was undeniable.

Whatever short-term promises the Packers front office failed to guarantee were resolved with flying colors by the long-term guaranteed money.

This is the formula that will resolve the deadlock between Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Write it down. Laminate it. Revisit it in weeks, months, years, however long it takes to reach the inevitable number. That was the case last September. That’s what it’s about now. And that’s what matters when Jackson finally plays the 2023 season under a franchise label. Focusing on something else is a shell game that gets around the same problem.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (left) said on Thursday:

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (left) said on Thursday, “One hundred percent — you know, 200 percent. There’s no question about it. Lamar Jackson is our quarterback.” (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

That should have been the takeaway from Thursday’s press conference, when Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta reaffirmed what they’ve been saying since the start of this negotiation: They want Jackson as the Ravens’ long-term starting quarterback. ; they want to make a deal; and they are in no rush to publicly explain why this is all taking so long.

Somehow that was all treated as a revealing news story, despite being the exact attitude of the organization since the moment the negotiations started. How certainly is the team Jackson is the future as a quarterback? Let Harbaugh use some rhetoric to make the point again.

“One hundred percent — you know, 200 percent,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “There’s no question about it. Lamar Jackson is our quarterback. He’s been our quarterback. Everything we’ve done in terms of building our offense and building our team, how we think in terms of the people around him , is based on this incredible young man and his talent and his ability and his competitiveness.”

Yes, if you forgot the platitudes about hard work and communication and optimism, there was no shortage of those on Thursday. Just as there was no shortage of window dressing issues, from Jackson having input on the next offensive coordinator, to the depth chart investment for wide receivers, to the surrounding offensive pieces ready to compete.

Surely these are all good signs when it comes to the Ravens wanting Jackson back. Then again, the franchise never said it not wants Jackson back. What the Ravens have repeatedly said is that this is a tough negotiation. That the two sides have not struck a deal. And that some contract negotiations are more difficult and time-consuming than others.

Thursday was basically a one-sentence press conference that could have ended with DeCosta’s first line about his confidence in getting Jackson’s overtime: “It sure takes two to tango.”

Right there. That is it. That’s the message that this is in the same place as it was from the beginning, with two parties staring at each other trying to figure out the precise contract number and set of guarantees that will keep Jackson in the fold in the long run.

The ways to solve this are as simple as they were in August. Baltimore can meet Jackson for the total guaranteed money he’s looking for, or Jackson can soften his stance on how close he is to a fully guaranteed deal. If neither happens, Baltimore can seek continued control over Jackson’s future with franchise labels and can go along or decline and force a trade.

This has always been the way forward, with several bridges to cross along the way. This week, negotiations will pick up where they left off. Next month opens the window for the team to place either the exclusive franchise tag on Jackson (potentially resulting in a salary of about $45 million) or a non-exclusive tag (expected to make about $32.5 million). The exclusive label would mean that Jackson can only negotiate with the Ravens. The non-exclusive tag would result in Jackson being allowed to negotiate a free agent contract with other teams, after which Baltimore could match the deal or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

That tag window opens on February 21 and runs through March 7. If the two sides have not made an extension by then, Jackson will absolutely be tagged. That’s a foregone conclusion.

Once tagged, the burden shifts to Jackson who makes a decision about what the move means and how to respond. Would he refuse to immediately sign an exclusive label and stay away from the team in the off-season? Probably. Would he make a deal with another team if tied to a non-exclusive franchise label? Also probably yes. Is this all coming to a meaningful crossroads? Absolute.

Anyway, we’re about to find out just how insurmountable the gulf is between Jackson and the Ravens. Either through the use of a specific tag or how Jackson responds to it. The key out is no greater mystery than it was when negotiations broke down last September.

This goes down Rodgers Road. There will be plenty of side issues, resolutions, and platitudes about what’s important. The money remains the main attraction. Just as it always has been.

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