Lamar Jackson bet on himself this season and so far it's paying off. After his highly publicized decision not to sign a $250 million dollar extension because it was not fully guaranteed, Jackson might be playing himself into the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history and with it a new level of leverage for NFL players.
Through three games his statistics are downright absurd. Jackson has 749 yards passing with 10 touchdowns to only two interceptions. He is also tied for fourth in the league in rushing yards. In the game clinching drive of the Ravens' win over the Patriots, Jackson accounted for all 73 yards on the ground including rushing the last nine for a TD. It's been utter domination.
Now, Lamar Jackson is no stranger to individual success, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and the NFL MVP in 2019. But winning MVP for a second time this year could mean more to all the other players in the league. A big part of that quest relies on Jackson's performance against Buffalo in Week 4.
Let's take a former Baltimore quarterback as precedent on how an individual's success in a contract year impacts the whole NFL QB market.
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In 2012, Joe Flacco and the Ravens made their run to a championship, eventually defeating Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco entered the season in the final year of his contract, with many questioning if he was the major weakness on the Ravens roster and if he was worth a long term financial commitment. However, his playoff run included 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, this unbelievable 70 yard bomb with 44 seconds left against the Broncos, and a Super Bowl MVP performance of 287 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. The Ravens were left with no choice but to happily sign him to a six-year deal for $120 million dollars the following offseason.
The deal at that time made Flacco the highest paid quarterback in league history and completely reset the market, eventually leading to similar contract increases for all of the best signal callers in the league like Brady, Manning and Rodgers. A rising tide in the NFL lifts all boats.
In today's NFL, the largest debate surrounding a quarterback's salary isn't about how much they are being paid, but how much of it is fully guaranteed. We can see why there is hesitancy by NFL organizations when we look at the fully guaranteed investment made by the Browns in Deshaun Watson, which certainly hasn't paid off so far. The Broncos were more cautious with Russell Wilson who's new contract was massive but still wasn't fully guaranteed.
We've seen as recently as this week with Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa about the fragility of playing in the NFL. We also have more historic examples of players like Alex Smith or as far back as Joe Theismann, that one play can basically end a quarterback's career. Making a fully guaranteed commitment with that type of risk is not something owners or GMs are excited to make. By the same token, players are getting more frustrated about playing a violent game without complete financial security.
This all brings us back to Lamar Jackson this Sunday afternoon against the Bills. Vegas gives Lamar Jackson the third best odds (5.5-1) to win MVP behind current leader Josh Allen. He started the season at 20-1 odds, which to me was a disrespectfully low assessment of a player who is only 25-years-old and one who Tyrann Mathieu called "the most dangerous player in the league with the ball in his hands."
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We've heard about college players having a "heisman moment" but in the NFL "MVP moments" exists as well. Jackson himself had this incredible spin move against the Bengals as his "moment" during his MVP season in 2019.
The Bills finished last season as the top rated defense in the league and are the current Super Bowl favorites. A superstar caliber performance against Buffalo (and Josh Allen) could be the MVP moment that pushes Jackson to become the odds on favorite. If you are a quarterback (or any NFL player) you should absolutely be rooting for that type of performance. It could very well reset the entire QB market and make advocating for fully guaranteed contracts in the future a much more status quo option. It could shift the primary narrative from Deshaun Watson as a negative reminder of the risks of this commitment, to Jackson as a staple in proving why the best players in the league should EXPECT to receive the full financial dedication of their teams.
So while Sunday's game in Baltimore might have major playoff implications, it may very well have even bigger meaning in the race for MVP and even larger still, it could shift the dynamics of power in the NFL toward the players and their contracts. Because like we saw back in 2012, a rising tide can lift all boats.
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