If you listen closely, you can hear a sound emanating from Owings Mills.
A loud, long sigh of relief.
Well, wait. That sound is coming from all around the state, too.
Lamar Jackson will be a Baltimore Raven this season, next season, a few more seasons after that — ensuring the most important piece of the franchise’s future is in place and making that future quite a few shades brighter after a tumultuous start to the offseason.
Is it a holiday? We didn’t even need to wait for one to get this family spat reconciled.
The Ravens have been signaling for weeks, if not months, that they wanted to mend fences with Jackson, the 26-year-old streak of lightning that transformed the Ravens from a perennial ground-and-pound, grinding offense to can’t-blink TV. Their consistent public pleas that they wished for Jackson to return gained a little more heft when they signed Odell Beckham Jr. earlier this month.
Beckham said he had no assurances that he would play with Jackson this fall — but come on, what good is a shiny new spoiler without the Lamborghini? It was a hint, at minimum, that cooler heads were prevailing.
When Jackson and Baltimore reached their most acrimonious point last month — when Jackson upstaged John Harbaugh in Arizona and announced he had made a trade request — rather than a breaking point, it seems to have been a turning point.
Stranded without a competing offer from another team, Jackson had a lot of time to wonder if he could do any better than the place where he has a 45-16 record as the starting quarterback. If for some reason the Ravens had previously assumed they could find an adequate replacement, the looming threat of a holdout or worse might have swayed them to solid ground: Franchises go decades searching (and not finding) a quarterback as game-changing as the 2019 MVP.
One way or another, whatever the number was, Baltimore had to lock down the NFL’s most elusive playmaker. And that number looks a lot closer to what Jackson might have envisioned when he boldly started negotiations without an agent: Multiple media outlets reported he’ll make $260 million over five years, notably putting him ahead of Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts to be the new highest-paid player in the entire NFL.
He’s not going to match Deshaun Watson’s $230 million in fully guaranteed money that he was said to covet — NFL owners circled the wagons much too effectively to let him have that — but a report from CBS Sports puts his guaranteed bag at $185 million, third-highest in the league.
It’s naive to think that the wounds of a protracted negotiation that got ugly in the public eye will heal without scar tissue. Jackson appropriately had reason to think that NFL owners were sharing notes on what kind of contract they would allow him to get. The laugh-out-loud moment of the offseason was when the Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera said the franchise “never considered” pursuing Jackson. Chances are Jackson will run roughshod over our luckless neighbors for years to come for their hubris.
But Jackson also clearly rubbed the notoriously buttoned-up Ravens the wrong way, too. After all the jams that Jackson has helped Harbaugh get out of for the past few seasons, he had to have felt awkward twisting in the wind when Jackson took to Twitter to voice his displeasure, leaving his coach to get picked apart like an opposing secondary, facing unanswerable questions about his future. It’s probably best to shelve the debacle about whether a gym salesman was trying to negotiate on Jackson’s behalf and let it be forgotten.
It was not a perfect, tidy process. But this is big business. The NFL has had more uncomfortable reunions than Jackson, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. What brought them back to the table? A mutual desire to win.
Bottom line: The Ravens have never had a quarterback like Jackson, and had many who couldn’t even polish his cleats. Even in his best years — which include a Super Bowl MVP — Joe Flacco was the poster boy of straddling the line between competent and “elite.” With Jackson, there’s no question which camp he falls into. After the 2021 win down 19 points against Indianapolis, Jackson demonstrated definitively that if he is healthy and under center, the Ravens are never out of a game.
How apt: When it looked like getting an extension was on the rocks, Baltimore wasn’t out of the game, either. The Ravens can focus on the draft with their central pillar in place, figuring out how to complement their top-of-the-line quarterback than wondering if they need to look to replace him.
All’s well that ends well, let’s hope. All the Ravens had to do for this happy ending was sign the check.