Lamar Jackson has a reputation, on and off the field, for being a hard man to pin down.

But to hear the 26-year-old quarterback tell it on Thursday, his phone has been blowing up.

As Jackson went through weeks of rehab from the PCL injury that shut him down for the end of last season, he would finish grinding workouts and check his phone to comb through a litany of messages: from teams who wanted to negotiate with him; from agents who wanted to represent him; and from fans who sent him tearful videos in his direct messages, begging him to come back to Baltimore.

But to reach Jackson’s inner circle, trust is paramount. That’s why his manager is his mother, who Jackson described as a “superhero” for raising him and his three siblings. That’s why he is his own agent: “I wouldn’t put my trust in anyone else but myself.”

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That’s also why Jackson is still a Baltimore Raven: There are only a few people Jackson trusts, and Eric DeCosta is one of them.

On Thursday, the Ravens spiked the football on their record-setting five-year, $260 million deal with Jackson, celebrating pen to paper with what DeCosta called a “great” press conference before a question was asked. For all the angst that Jackson’s uncertain future caused over the last few months, the three central parties — Jackson, DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh — were ready to look forward and paint that saga in the most flattering possible light.

A month removed from making a public trade demand, Jackson claimed that he never saw himself in any other jersey but Baltimore’s purple and black. Though his nonexclusive franchise tag allowed him to deal with other franchises — and Jackson acknowledged conversations had taken place — according to him, he had tunnel vision on his future.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson does an interview with an NFL Network reporter following a press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center on Thursday, May 4. Jackson and the Ravens recently came to an agreement on his contract extension, a 5-year deal worth $260 million. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“To be honest with you, I really didn’t care for other teams,” he said. “I just really wanted to get something done here. I wanted to be here. I’m like, OK, other teams [are] cool, but I wanted to be a Raven.”

Some skepticism is required here: If another team had swooped in with a Deshaun Watson-sized contract, it’s reasonable to think Jackson would have zipped out of Baltimore like he does from a collapsing pocket. DeCosta came the closest of the three to acknowledging the tumultuous journey to getting a deal done.

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“There were some dark days,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie to you that every day was great. It’s been a long stretch. But we know Lamar, we know the kind of person he is.”

Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta takes questions from reporters during a press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center on Thursday, May 4. Jackson and the Ravens recently came to an agreement on his contract extension, a 5-year deal worth $260 million. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

That was always the Ravens’ advantage: Lamar Jackson marches to the beat of his own drum. The Ravens, and perhaps the Ravens alone among NFL teams, knew his eclectic rhythm.

They could roll with dealing with Jackson, communicating through texts and emails over terms and language of his contract. When Harbaugh got blindsided in Arizona by Jackson’s tweets, he was persistently on message: He hoped for and expected Jackson to be a Raven this fall and beyond. DeCosta said the key thing for the team was persevering through the ups and downs of negotiating: “The worst thing you can do in any situation is just shut off from anything, and not engage and just give up.”

Throughout the process, Jackson was inundated by third parties, but seemed to pay attention to very few of them. A number of agents reached out in an effort to represent Jackson, but they all got shut down.

“I don’t know how they was getting my number — I guess they were sending it to each other,” Jackson recounted. “[Agents said] Like, ‘Man, you know I got this client here.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I do not care about your client.’ ”

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It was also intriguing how the Ravens’ pursuit of Odell Beckham Jr. — who Jackson acknowledged “asking” about, but not demanding the team acquire — prompted his use of “we,” even though at the time his status was uncertain: “We can improve our receiving room and we can go somewhere. So I was definitely hyped about that.”

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A seemingly low interest level, leaguewide, in acquiring Jackson stirred accusations of collusion between NFL owners, who are wary of giving out another contract like the Cleveland Browns gave Watson with $230 million all in guaranteed money.

When asked about the specter of collusion and the NFLPA’s concern about it, DeCosta characterized the negotiations with Jackson in a much more simple light: “In the end, it was really two people.

“There’s no collusion when it’s me and Lamar speaking together,” DeCosta added. “I think the conversations were great. I always understood where he was coming from. And I think he understood where I was coming from. Certainly we always didn’t agree necessarily, or otherwise we would have gotten a deal done a lot sooner. But the respect has always been there. The appreciation has always been there.”

From left: Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Lamar Jackson and General Manager Eric DeCosta laugh together as they take questions during a press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center on Thursday, May 4. Jackson and the Ravens recently came to an agreement on his contract extension, a 5-year deal worth $260 million. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

It’s naive and reductive to think that NFL owners’ shared unwillingness to allow another QB to get a guaranteed deal wasn’t a factor in the Ravens keeping Jackson, but DeCosta’s one-on-one relationship with the quarterback still mattered. Jackson said he dealt almost exclusively with DeCosta as sides finally came together. From the start of talks two years ago, to the fateful text exchange last Tuesday, Jackson understood DeCosta through and through.

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“I knew what I was gonna be going through with Eric,” Jackson said. “There was nothing to learn. He’s a business guy. He meant business through the whole time and process. He was professional through the whole process. I was cool with it.”

Only Jackson can say what other teams were willing to offer, or how much he entertained their interest — and on Thursday, he wasn’t going to let out any of those details: “Today we’re gonna keep it on the future,” he said at the outset.

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The key to being his own agent, Jackson said, was separating the emotions from the business. And the Ravens, to their credit, knew to keep talking and dealing when prospects looked bleakest. They saw that Jackson’s tactics, as unconventional as they seemed from the outside, had to be separated from the brilliance of Jackson the quarterback — and that they had to keep him in Baltimore no matter what.

“There’s nobody like him,” Harbaugh said. “There never will be as a player.”

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hugs coach John Harbaugh at the end of a press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center on Thursday, May 4. Jackson and the Ravens recently came to an agreement on his contract extension, a 5-year deal worth $260 million. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

There’s nobody like Jackson as a negotiator, either. The Ravens were close enough to understand that, to embrace the idiosyncrasies, and earn enough faith from Jackson to keep him in-house.

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That circle of trust? The Ravens are in it. They’ve been in it for a while. And with a deal locked in and a Super Bowl in their sights, it’s looking like a tight one, indeed.

kyle.goon@thebaltimorebanner.com

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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