It’s been obvious since the ink dried on Deshaun Watson’s five-year, fully guaranteed contract that Lamar Jackson wants one. But per a single stray report from several weeks ago that Lamar never asked for such a deal, all said and done privately and publicly pointed to Lamar wanting the same structure from the Ravens that Deshaun got from the Browns.
The latest indisputable visual evidence to support this conclusion comes from a powerful and passionate article published this week by NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. In it, Smith takes aim at owners for using fully guaranteed contracts as the latest device to exert control over the player workforce.
“The NFL Draft and the franchise tag system exist because owners have conspired in the past to depress and restrict markets,” writes Smith. “This time, they are criminally playing the game themselves.”
Smith’s argument stems from the fact that Lamar Jackson is currently available for discussion, negotiation, and ultimately execution on a fully guaranteed offer sheet. However, no team has shown interest in speaking with him.
“We are all looking at the same answer to the obvious questions,” writes Smith. “Why [Kirk] cousins and [Deshaun] Watson got fully secured contracts while others didn’t? Or, to be more specific, why did the Baltimore Ravens and other teams publicly (at least initially) make a point of saying they won’t compensate Lamar Jackson with a fully guaranteed contract like Cousins or Watson? Let’s be clear, in my nearly 15-year career as an Executive Director, I’ve never seen teams so quick to publicly announce their lack of interest in an MVP quarterback, who is at his peak and will also have an injury guarantee, regardless of his contract.”
It’s still impressive, to say the least, that so many teams emerged as reportedly not interested in Lamar Jackson in the hours after the Ravens officially applied the non-exclusive franchise tag. Even if it was the product of persistent and aggressive reporters, the “NOPE” parade created the distinct impression of coordination – especially when the simplest and smartest response from the teams would have been: “We are keeping all options open”.
And as mentioned earlier in PFT live and other radio shows and probably written here (it’s been a long week; I can’t remember exactly), the seeds of collusion were planted a year ago with the league-wide reaction to Watson’s contract. This time, the teams know not to get too close to the fully guaranteed flame. They’ll never have to say no to a fully secured contract if they never involve Lamar in discussions about what he wants.
Smith believes the league is taking an even stronger stance on Lamar Jackson in order to prevent other quarterbacks from getting new deals any time soon (for exampleJoe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts) to get fully guaranteed contracts as well.
“The NFL wants to send a message to all of the aforementioned stars that they won’t get a fully guaranteed contract, simply because other first-ballot Hall of Famers didn’t get them and – if they can help it – because Jackson didn’t get one either,” writes Smith. “The message to the non-quarterback free agent market is equally stark: you have no chance of getting that kind of contract.”
The broader point, Smith believes, is about power.
“The league’s message is clear,” Smith writes, “WE will control you. Unions and players have been fighting this for years and will no doubt continue to do so.”
It will continue as long as players allow it. As long as they continue to attend voluntary training. As long as they continue to give the NFL and its teams free publicity and promotion on their own personal platforms.
Until players collectively take a stand and push back against those who control the sport, it ultimately comes down to how to withstand a lockout or stage a strike long enough to miss regular season games.
DeMaurice Smith accuses landlords of “criminally playing their own game” by refusing to make guaranteed contracts that originally appeared on Pro Football Talk