On Thursday, at long last, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson became the NFL’s highest-paid player. It had taken two-plus years of negotiations — always unconventional, occasionally emotional, ultimately amicable — to finalize a five-year, $260 million extension, but Jackson and general manager Eric DeCosta had finally gotten there.
That left Jackson with a less pressing matter to figure out: What do you do with all that money?
“I got my mom something as my manager,” he said. “I feel like she deserved something because I saw she was getting her name called out a lot, getting her number called out a lot. So I felt like she deserved something, if anything. I’m cool. I’m cool — for now.”
With Jackson under contract, the Ravens are done with their most important piece of offseason business. The 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player will enter training camp as the centerpiece of maybe the team’s most talented roster since he arrived. There will be a new offense to learn and new teammates to bond with, but at least no new questions about his future in Baltimore.
It took a big deal to get that done, one with far-reaching consequences. Here’s a look at how the reported details of Jackson’s contract stack up across the league, as well as what’s next for the Ravens and their superstar over the next five years.
(To see the entire structure of the deal, head over to Over The Cap.)
1. Where does Jackson’s deal rank among the NFL’s richest?
Jackson’s contract was a record-setter.
- Highest average annual value: $52 million. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts’ deal, signed last month, was previously the most valuable ($51 million annually).
- Biggest signing bonus: $72.5 million. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s 2021 extension set the previous record ($66 million).
- Biggest first-year cash flow: $80 million. Jackson’s combined earnings in 2023, from his signing bonus and salary ($7.5 million), are $5 million more than the record $75 million Prescott made in 2021.
But Jackson’s deal fell short of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s historic 2022 deal in terms of fully guaranteed money ($230 million).
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $135 million. Jackson’s signing bonus, 2023 base salary ($7.5 million), 2024 option bonus ($17.5 million), 2024 offseason roster bonus ($750,000), 2024 base salary ($14.25 million) and 2025 option bonus ($22.5 million) are all fully guaranteed.
- Total guarantees: $185 million. In March, another $21 million — Jackson’s remaining cash flow in 2025 — becomes fully guaranteed. In March 2025, $29 million of his $51.3 million salary in 2026 becomes fully guaranteed. All of his so-called practical guarantees are guaranteed for injury.
2. What’s unique about Jackson’s deal?
The contract not only includes a no-trade clause, which means the Ravens can’t trade Jackson without his consent, but also a no-tag clause, which could set up a free-agent bidding war in 2028. Unless the Ravens sign Jackson to another extension, they will have no other means of keeping him under contract beyond the 2027 season. Jackson’s no-tag clause, which until last week was a privilege afforded only to Prescott, also weakens the Ravens’ leverage in future negotiations.
Jackson’s contract includes two option bonuses, which function as additional signing bonuses. His 2024 option bonus of $17.5 million adds another prorated cap charge of $3.5 million to his 2025 hit, and his 2025 option bonus of $22.5 million bumps up the prorated option charge to $8 million through the remaining three years of his contract.
While Jackson’s 2024 offseason roster bonus is guaranteed, the three remaining annual bonuses of $750,000 are contingent upon Jackson completing 80% of the workouts in the Ravens’ offseason training program.
Over the final four years of Jackson’s deal, four figures will factor into his cap hit: his base salary, prorated signing bonus, prorated option bonus and offseason roster bonus. For most players, just two figures determine their cap hit: base salary and prorated signing bonus.
Jackson’s deal also includes two voidable years (2028 and 2029), which help reduce the cap hits of the prorated bonuses. Until this offseason, the Ravens had been largely reluctant to add “dummy years” to contracts, wary of their long-term risks. But with the Ravens first needing to make space for Jackson’s potentially outsize cap hit this offseason, and then with the rising salary cap likely to take the sting out of a back-loaded cap hit in Jackson’s megadeal, the void years became sensible options.
3. How much flexibility do the Ravens have with Jackson’s deal?
Jackson’s extension makes his cap hit something of a bargain in 2023. Under the nonexclusive franchise tag, Jackson would’ve counted $32.4 million against the cap this season, or 14.4% of the $224.8 million cap overall. Under his new deal, his hit drops to $22 million, or 9.8% of the cap.
Four quarterbacks have higher cap hits this year: the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes ($39.7 million, 18.0%), Tennessee Titans’ Ryan Tannehill ($36.6 million, 15.9%), Detroit Lions’ Jared Goff ($31 million, 13.6%) and Prescott ($26.8 million, 11.5%). The New York Jets’ Aaron Rodgers and the retired Tom Brady also have higher dead-cap charges with their previous teams, the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively.
The relative value of Jackson’s escalating cap hits will depend partly on the cap’s growth itself over the length of his contract. The NFL’s $16.6 million increase from 2022 to 2023 was its biggest cap surge since 2006, and with the growing popularity of sports betting, revenues are expected to soar.
With only modest financial growth leaguewide, Jackson’s cap hits — $33 million in 2024, $43.5 million in 2025 and $74.5 million in both 2026 and 2027 — could quickly become an albatross. Mahomes, last season, became the first quarterback since 1994 to win a Super Bowl with a cap hit higher than 13.1%. If the cap grows only about $10 million annually, Jackson’s contract would leave the Ravens in historically daunting circumstances — his cap hit rising from a 14.0% share in 2024 (with an estimated $235 million cap), to 17.8% in 2025 ($245 million), to 25.3% in 2026 ($255 million), before settling at 18.5% in 2027 ($265 million).
4. What is the Ravens’ next move with Jackson’s deal?
Jackson’s contract makes him virtually untouchable. If the Ravens wanted to cut him before the 2026 season, they’d incur a $57.5 million dead-money charge. If they waited until 2027, they’d be left with $35 million on the books; even a post-June 1 designation that year would cost $22.5 million.
That leaves the Ravens with two realistic cap levers: contract restructures and a contract extension. Under a restructure, the Ravens could convert part of Jackson’s base salary in a given year into a bonus, easing their financial burden in the short term while shuffling more money into the long term. The Ravens could also add void years to open up cap space.
An extension would likely have to be finalized before 2027, the final season of Jackson’s contract. Because of his no-tag clause, Jackson could test his value on the open market as an unrestricted free agent in 2028 — and this time, teams wouldn’t have to compensate the Ravens with two first-round picks if he left Baltimore.
While a third contract would likely push Jackson’s cap hits even higher, a new deal could effectively restructure the final years of Jackson’s deal, making them more team-friendly, just as DeCosta did with the early years of his new extension.
5. How soon could Jackson’s deal be surpassed?
It could take a couple of weeks. It could take a couple of years. Maybe the only certainty is that the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow are the favorites to do it.
Both quarterbacks are eligible for contract extensions this offseason. Both have lifted their franchises out of relative obscurity. And both have agents who, unlike Jackson, will probably look to sign sooner rather than later, accelerating the timetable for a potential third contract and likely far greater payday.
“Anytime there’s a contract signed at that position, yeah, it’s going to come up in conversation,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said on SiriusXM NFL Radio last week. “I wouldn’t say there’s any quarterback contract out there that’s a blueprint. I wouldn’t say that at all. But like anything else … there’ll be contracts that are talked about, and we’ll cherry-pick some things out of that contract we like. The agent will cherry-pick some things out of that contract that he likes. But in the end, we’ll get to a compromise at some point, something that works for everybody.”
Jackson’s record-setting deal could be safe for a while. With the one-upmanship commonplace in top-of-the-market contract negotiations, Herber and Burrow could find themselves in a staring contest, waiting to see who sets the next baseline first.
Neither franchise is known as a big spender, either, another potential complication. Under NFL rules, teams must place all fully guaranteed money due in a player’s contract in an escrow fund at the time the deal is finalized. If the Chargers’ or Bengals’ ownership can’t find the money, they can’t go forward with a contract.
There’s also the possibility of a hometown discount. Brady’s team-friendly deals helped New England’s front office build the Patriots into a perennial Super Bowl contender. Burrow hasn’t indicated that he’s open to a similar team-building plan — “I think it’s an exciting time for quarterbacks in the league because the market is getting higher and higher,” he said in March — but Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase suggested he might be open to the possibility.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think Joe’s really too worried about how much money he’s going to make, because he’s already making a tremendous amount,” Chase said in February. “But it’ll work out for itself. It will all work out. I think Joe knows what he wants and how he wants to set up his contract to keep some of his weapons around him. And I think that’s the biggest part for him.”