The Baltimore Ravens can save some money and gain a little bit more cap flexibility this offseason with a handful of cap casualty cuts and short-term extensions with some players. However, the most significant way they can free up more funds to spend on potential free-agent acquisitions and make other moves is to ink their star quarterback, Lamar Jackson, to a new deal.
Until it gets done, his inevitable extension will continue to be a major talking point both around town and throughout league circles. In many ways, it could be the key to their offseason. A new deal could prove to be the difference between them being able to bring in a proven veteran player at a premium position and being forced to hope another young player can produce at a high level.
When Jackson last spoke to the media in his season-ending press conference earlier this month, he didn’t have an update on the negotiations of a new contract and said he isn’t dwelling on it. While that nonchalant approach to planning for the immediate future is acceptable for a player who knows he’s going to be paid the big bucks eventually, General Manager Eric DeCosta and Co. don’t have that luxury.
According to Over The Cap, when the new league year begins in March, the Ravens are slated to have the 12th fewest amount of cap space of any team at just under $9.8 million. Even if they were to release a handful of veteran players as cap casualties, that still won’t give them the wiggle room to swing a big trade or make a splash signing in free agency.
There is also the percentage of their expected cap that needs to be set aside to pay their rookie class; they currently have 10 total picks and six in the Top-125. Following the draft, there is the competitive bidding war known as undrafted free agency. Finally, there needs to be a rainy day fund that serves as an emergency cap. They can tap into this if one or more player(s) suffer a significant or season-ending injury, like what unfortunately unfolded in 2021.
Since the Ravens picked up Jackson’s fifth-year option last offseason, his base salary and current projected cap hit for 2022 is $23.1 million. That is chump change compared to what some of the other elite teams around the league are paying their young franchise quarterbacks. A extension at market value would drop his cap hit to just $10 million and free up $13 million in the process. That transaction alone would bring their projected cap space total to just under $23 million, which would be more than enough room to sign one of the top pending free agent safeties and make some other supplementary moves.
Agreeing to an extension sooner rather than later makes too much sense not to happen. It is mutually beneficial for all parties involved and will help the Ravens get better prepared to pursue their ultimate goal of a championship this fall. Jackson has already more than earned a new deal with his awe-inspiring accomplishments in such a short time at such a young age.
He further proved his tremendous value to the franchise during the time he was off the field missing games due to injury or illness. The Ravens were 1-5 in games without Jackson in the 2021 regular season. While they were competitive in almost every game down the stretch, his absence was noticeably felt during crunch time — where the team needed a play by the offense to win but couldn’t capitalize.
While I’m not suggesting that DeCosta just cuts a blank check and lets Jackson name his price, the electric 25-year-old signal-caller deserves to be paid on par with his contemporaries — who he’s proven he can compete with and best.