INDIANAPOLIS — Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Wednesday that he remains optimistic about reaching a long-term deal with star quarterback Lamar Jackson, but acknowledged that the team is planning for several contingencies ahead of looming NFL deadlines.
The Ravens have until Tuesday to designate Jackson, a pending free agent, with the franchise tag. DeCosta declined again to say whether Jackson would receive the exclusive tag, which would be worth a projected $45 million in 2023 and extend the Ravens’ negotiating window, or the non-exclusive tag, which would be worth $32.4 million and allow Jackson to take offers from other teams. If the Ravens declined to match another team’s offer sheet, they would receive the team’s next two first-round picks.
That tag decision will affect their spending plan for free agency. The negotiating window for free agents opens March 13, and players can officially sign March 15. The Ravens have about $26.5 million in salary cap space, all of which would almost certainly be wiped out by their next deal for Jackson, whether it’s a one-year tender or a five-year extension.
“There’s a couple different situations where that can go,” DeCosta, speaking at the NFL scouting combine, said of negotiations with Jackson. “You know, there’s a couple different franchise tags. We’re hopeful that we’ll get a deal done with Lamar before that [the deadline] happens, but sure, they’re big numbers. We’ve known their big numbers, we’re prepared for that. And we’ve got four, five or six different plans based on what happens over the next 10 days.”
DeCosta’s comments come just days after the latest public relations volley in the Ravens’ negotiations with Jackson. Amid reports from ESPN that Jackson’s contract proposals included terms guaranteeing more money at signing than Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million extension, and also that the Ravens were not willing to offer more than $133 million guaranteed, DeCosta said that “all I really care about” is Jackson’s perception of negotiations.
“Lamar knows the truth, and I know the truth,” he said. “I guess it bothers me if there’s false information out there, but in the end, it’s not going to affect my ability to get a deal done with Lamar. Once I get that deal done, then I look at it as, it all goes away. I mean, it bothers me when I see things that are simply not true, but Lamar and I, I think, remain resolute, and so that’s why I don’t speak about the negotiation. That’s why you’ve never seen any contract proposal that we’ve ever offered, because our agreement was that it would be between Lamar and myself. And so because of that, when I see a report like that, it’s not like I can clarify, because our agreement was that we would keep everything between the two of us.”
DeCosta acknowledged that the holdup with contract talks has thrown a “wrench” into his long-term planning, but said resorting to the franchise tag would only give the Ravens and Jackson more time to reach an agreement. DeCosta said he’s spoken recently with Jackson, and that the two had “good meetings.” He said he doesn’t “want to live in a world where there’s no optimism” for a satisfying resolution.
“By franchising Lamar, that doesn’t exclude us getting a long-term deal done. That’s been done 1,000 times in the league,” DeCosta said. “I’ve seen a lot of deals happen when things look bleak. ... It takes two people to do it, it takes communication, it takes respect, it takes appreciation for each other and it takes an understanding of the greater good and how this thing is going to fit together. I remain positive. I have no reason not to remain positive.”
Head coach John Harbaugh also spoke to reporters Wednesday and said he had confidence that the sides would reach a resolution — and expressed relief that he is not a direct part of the negotiation process. But he reiterated his desire to keep Jackson.
“200%, we want Lamar,” Harbaugh said. “And I believe that, 200%, Lamar wants the Ravens. I’m going to keep believing that.”
DeCosta said he “loves” Jackson and recognizes the importance of having a franchise quarterback under contract. “We understand that living in a world without a quarterback,” he said, “is a bad world to live in.” But as the deadline for a decision on their future approaches, DeCosta indicated that there would have to be compromise on both sides.
“A negotiation, a true good-faith negotiation, means both sides have to understand the other side’s position and make concessions,” he said. “Every negotiation that I’ve been a part of — there’s been quite a few over the past four years, as you guys know — it’s been a give-and-take. And that’s what good faith means. It means you respect the other’s position, you give up something to give other things. Both sides will typically move in a negotiation to some degree and find a common ground, and that’s what it’s all about.
“So, whatever we move to, sometimes there’s different things we want, we don’t want, ideas we have — we’re throwing out different ideas, Lamar’s throwing ideas to me, I’m throwing ideas to him. We have to appreciate the position of the other person, we have to respect the other person’s position and where they’re coming from and we have to be willing to consider that this might be really important to them, and if it is, what are we willing to give up, basically, in exchange for something that’s really important to you? So it’s a negotiation, but it has to be a good-faith negotiation based on trust, respect and listening to the other person. Otherwise, it won’t work.”
The process has dragged on for years, though. Harbaugh hopes it will come to a conclusion soon.
“He’s my quarterback. He’s my guy,” he said of Jackson. “I love him and, as a coach, I’m just looking forward to seeing it get done, but it’s not easy. It’s never easy. It’s the business part of it. But I’m really hopeful and excited, fervently hopeful and can’t wait for it to get done.”