Why Does Nobody Want Lamar Jackson?

Lamar Jackson

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is a former All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowler, and one-time NFL MVP with a 45-16 record as a starting quarterback. Since the 2019 season, Jackson ranks 5th among 35 eligible quarterbacks in EPA/play, ahead of notable names like Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Joe Burrow, and Tom Brady. Yet, despite all this, nobody appears to be interested in making him their franchise quarterback.

On Tuesday, the Ravens used the non-exclusive franchise tag to retain Jackson for at least one more year. Using this version of the franchise tag saves the Ravens a few dollars, but it also allows Jackson to negotiate with other teams. If he finds a suitable contract, he can sign an offer sheet, and the Ravens have a chance to match that offer. If they don’t, then Jackson goes off to a new team, and Baltimore gets two first-round picks for his service.

Quarterback is the most important position in football, and every quarterback-needy team in the league should be happy to part with two first-rounders for a chance at a franchise quarterback. After all, less than two years ago, the San Francisco 49ers gave up three first-round picks for the right to select Trey Lance. However, as of this posting, there isn’t a single quarterback-needy team that has publicly expressed interest in Lamar Jackson.

4 Possible Reasons Why Nobody Wants Lamar Jackson

According to various reports, the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, and Washington Commanders have all leaked that they are not interested in pursuing Lamar Jackson. There are conflicting reports about the Raiders interest in Jackson, so for the time being, we’ll leave them out of the conversation. Additionally, we can’t blame the Dolphins for not joining the Lamar Jackson Sweepstakes, as they don’t have a first-round pick this year, and are therefore incapable of acquiring him this year.

The Falcons, Panthers, and Commanders, however, have no excuse for not even showing interest. Sure, maybe the Panthers want to draft a quarterback, but they should at least do their due diligence. Bringing Lamar Jackson in for a visit doesn’t mean the team is going to make him the highest-paid quarterback in football, it just means they’re doing research on a former MVP. So, what reasons could these teams have for having no interest?

Reason 1: Jackson’s Contract Demands

One year ago, Deshaun Watson received a fully-guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. At the time, some believed that this would set a precedent for star quarterbacks moving forward. However, this hasn’t been the case. Russell Wilson signed an extension with the Denver Broncos a few months later, in which “only” $161 million of the $242.5 million contract was guaranteed.

Several big-name quarterbacks like Kyler Murray have signed deals over the past year, but Watson’s deal still remains the ultimate outlier. Nobody can know exactly what Jackson is asking for, but if he wants a similar contract to Watson, it’s understandable why a team wouldn’t want to give him that.

This might prevent a long-term deal, but it wouldn’t prevent a visit. Jackson has every right to ask for a fully-guaranteed contract, but the Falcons, Commanders, and Panthers all have the right to counter with a different deal. After all, Jackson needs to agree to a potential contract before any trade goes down, so these teams have nothing to lose by bringing the quarterback in for a visit. After all, the worst that could happen is that the quarterback and team can’t come to terms, which puts them all right back in their current situations.

Reason 2: Collusion

The NFL is a business at the end of the day and, like all businesses, the owners want to make as much money as physically possible, often at the expense of the players that create the product. As mentioned earlier, Deshaun Watson received a contract quite unlike any other in football, and the league probably wants to keep it that way. The quarterback is set to make a guaranteed $46 million in each of the next four seasons. By comparison, Patrick Mahomes is only guaranteed to make $37.95 million in 2023, and has no guarantees beyond the upcoming campaign.

It’s safe to assume that NFL owners do not want fully-guaranteed contracts to become the norm. Football is a violent sport, and every single player is just one hit away from a career-ending injury. So, if Lamar Jackson is after a fully guaranteed contract, then there is no better way to shut him down than by getting all the owners to essentially tank his market. This is highly illegal per the NFL rules, but we’ve seen owners, coaches, and players alike do whatever they can to gain a competitive advantage, so this would be no different.

This argument has some merit, but there are a few glaring holes in this theory. First off, this wouldn’t benefit the Panthers, Commanders, or Falcons in any meaningful way. Ultimately, if this theory were true, all it would do is lower Jackson’s value and let the Ravens get a top quarterback at a bargain rate. In a league where everyone is competing for a singular goal, it’s not in anyone’s interest to let Baltimore get a discount at the game’s most important position. If NFL owners really were colluding, the best thing to do would be for each team to bring in Jackson for a visit, but only offer an incentive-laden contract. This way, the Ravens won’t get Jackson for pennies on the dollar, and the owners wouldn’t have to give out another Watson contract.

Secondly, if the owners are trying to stop handing out guaranteed contracts, then they probably would have had an issue with the deal Daniel Jones just signed. The New York Giants quarterback is not nearly as good as Jackson, yet he just earned a four-year, $160 million deal with a staggering $82 million fully guaranteed through the first two seasons. While this deal isn’t nearly as massive as the one Watson signed, it still comes out to $41 million guaranteed in each of the first two seasons.

Option 3: Injury Worries

Lamar Jackson is the most dangerous running quarterback in the league, but that style of play comes with some serious injury risk. Over the past two seasons, the former MVP has played in just 24 of a possible 34 games, as the hits have started to take a toll on the Louisville product. It’s astonishing how similar each of the past two seasons was for Lamar Jackson: he starts out on fire for the first 4-6 weeks, slows down dramatically while playing hurt, and then ends up missing the final five games of the season.

Chances are, these injuries will only get worse as Jackson gets older. These hits have a way of adding up and unless Jackson completely changes his style of play, he’s going to be at advanced risk of missing time.

Jackson’s injury history explains why teams don’t want to hand out a fully guaranteed contract, but it still doesn’t explain why teams won’t even do their due diligence. The three aforementioned teams should still be willing to bring Jackson in, do a physical, and see if there’s anything overly worrisome about their potential franchise quarterback.

Option 4: Everyone’s Lying

Actions speak louder than words, and there is a chance that the teams are just saying they aren’t interested in Lamar Jackson as some type of 4D chess move to manipulate the market. Jackson is acting as his own agent, so perhaps owners believe they can use these reports to lower the quarterback’s self-evaluation.

For what it’s worth, this appears to be what Benjamin Allbright is implying in the Tweet above. Allbright is one of the more connected NFL insiders on the web, and while nobody has a 100% hit rate, Allbright generally has a good idea of what he’s talking about.

From where I’m standing, this is easily the most likely theory. There are plenty of genuine reasons to not move heaven and earth to sign Lamar Jackson, but there is no other way to justify not even meeting with the former MVP.

Main Photo: Tommy Gilligan – USA Today Sports