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Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens appear headed for a breakup after trade request

There are many reasons few other teams may be interested in partnering with the star quarterback

For the Baltimore Ravens, the worst-case scenario regarding Lamar Jackson has occurred: The star quarterback wants out.

In taking to Twitter on Monday to reveal he has requested a trade because of the long-running impasse in his contract negotiations with the franchise, the 2019-20 Associated Press NFL MVP made it clear he’s unhappy. Throughout the previous season and into this offseason, Jackson’s true feelings had been unclear about the status of contract talks as well as his outlook on the organization that drafted him and went all-in to help him realize his full potential.

Emphatically, Jackson ended the guessing.

“Let me personally answer your questions,” it was written in a post on Jackson’s Twitter account.

“As of March 2nd I requested a trade from the Ravens organization for which the Ravens has not been interested in meeting my value, any and everyone that’s has met me or been around me know I love the game of football and my dream is to help a team win the super bowl.

“You all are great but I had to make a business decision that was best for my family and I. No matter how far I go or where my career takes me, I’ll continue to be close to my fans of Baltimore Flock nation and the entire State of Maryland. You’ll See me again.”

And with that, things could soon get messy between Jackson and the Ravens.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson drops back to pass against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 4, 2022, in Baltimore.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

With Jackson having left no doubt that he and the Ravens’ top decision-makers are at loggerheads about his value, he for the first time displayed a willingness to put the organization on blast. By crossing that line Monday, Jackson also served notice he’s comfortable with applying more pressure in hopes that the Ravens would rather avoid an ugly public fight by meeting his trade demand.

Reality is, the sides have been headed here all along.

From the moment the Cleveland Browns rewarded quarterback Deshaun Watson with a fully guaranteed, record-setting $230 million contract, the Ravens knew they had a big problem, because Jackson has accomplished more than Watson. When standout players negotiate new contracts with clubs, the deals of comparable players, generally, are used as a starting point.

Objectively, Jackson is entitled to an even bigger contract than Watson. The Ravens are aware of that as well.

After failing to complete a long-term extension with Jackson, the Ravens placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on the two-time Pro Bowler to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. Unlike the exclusive tag, the nonexclusive one permits Jackson to negotiate with other NFL clubs, though the Ravens could match any offer Jackson receives.

If the Ravens decline to trade Jackson and he remains on their roster next season, he would be paid about $32 million. After Jackson made his displeasure known Monday, however, the Ravens should brace for the possibility of Jackson sitting out if he’s not traded and the team still declines to meet his multiyear contract demands.

Other NFL team owners were downright apoplectic after the Browns’ owners acquiesced to Watson’s demands to acquire him, multiple league sources said. Potential suitors for Jackson have already let it be known they don’t plan to pursue him. The supposed lack of interest in Jackson has spurred speculation of collusion among team owners in an effort to suppress the burgeoning market for franchise quarterbacks.

Regardless of whether collusion has actually occurred (and good luck to the NFL Players Association in proving that claim without a smoking gun), it’s fair to say that club owners would prefer Watson’s contract to remain an outlier. They’re as in favor of fully guaranteed contracts as they would be in refunding money to their television partners if ratings dropped. It wouldn’t be surprising if club owners remained in lockstep and declined to offer Jackson a contract that matched Watson’s deal, let alone surpassed it.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson runs the ball for a touchdown during the AFC wild card playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on Jan. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

So what’s the trade market for Jackson? Well, it’s probably not as big as Jackson and his legions of fans would believe.

To be sure, Jackson is a major talent at quarterback in a quarterback-centric league. Jackson and Tom Brady are the only unanimous winners of the AP MVP award. You know you’ve done something significant when you’re the only other passer in a category with the most successful signal-caller in league history.

At only 26, Jackson is on the right side of 30 (he won’t turn 27 until January 2024). Both as a passer and a runner, Jackson has produced dazzling statistics. And when Jackson has played during the regular season, the Ravens have thrived: He’s 45-16.

But the rest of Jackson’s story isn’t as impressive, which could give pause to some teams considering entering the bidding for him.

After Jackson’s rookie season, Baltimore dismantled its offense and rebuilt it to fit his unique skill set. To say that worked out well for the Ravens would be an understatement. The question is how many other teams would be as willing to scrap their offensive approach and make potential personnel changes to accentuate what Jackson does better than any other active quarterback.

Also, while Jackson – arguably the greatest dual-threat quarterback in NFL history – has improved as passer, he’s still a work in progress in the dropback game. There are durability concerns with Jackson as well, NFL talent evaluators say.

Jackson had finished the last two seasons injured. He missed 11 games, including Baltimore’s AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in January.

The postseason hasn’t been Jackson’s best time of year, which is another major factor for other teams to consider. In four playoff starts, Jackson is only 1-3 and his production has declined from the regular season.

None of this is offered to disparage Jackson or to diminish his significant accomplishments. But general managers deal in data. Jackson’s numbers don’t all add up in favor of many teams making a blockbuster offer for him.

Undoubtedly, the Ravens are expecting a bounty in exchange for Jackson. Even if the Ravens agree to terms with a potential trade partner, the issue of negotiating an extension with Jackson figures to remain a thorny one because of Watson’s contract.

While it’s true that Jackson could be a game-changer for the right franchise, how many general managers believe that Jackson, who hasn’t delivered in the playoffs, is the last piece needed to lead their team to the top of the NFL? Because to give up the combination of high-round draft picks and players it would likely take to trade for Jackson and then pay him, the return on such a massive investment must be at least a Super Bowl championship. Anything less would be a failure for the team that acquired Jackson.

For now, Jackson and the Ravens remain together. And perhaps there’s still a chance the sides will resolve their differences. But Jackson signaled they’re irreconcilable, and that’s usually when a breakup becomes inevitable.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.