No one wants to say it, but it’s the truth. The Ravens are in a precarious situation in quarterback Lamar Jackson’s extension talks. The 2019 league MVP, Jackson has become one of the young ‘faces’ of the NFL, let alone the cornerstone of the franchise that selected him 32nd in the 2018 NFL Draft. Ever since then, the Ravens have turned into a team that opponents fear as their dual-threat athlete under center is a once-in-a-generational playmaker. Jackson is a pick-your-poison type of player, as he can burn teams with his cannon of an arm or his lightning quick feet. The only problem is, Jackson is going to “shoot for the moon” in terms of his new contract’s duration and – more importantly – his annual salary.

Per Ben Volin, the Ravens and Jackson are ‘far apart’ in contract extension negotiations so far. Because Jackson still has two years left on his rookie deal (avg. annual salary of $2.38m), it can sometimes be smart for teams fiscally to extend ‘star-players’ before their contract is up in order to avoid paying higher-market prices for said players. With contract prices increasing year-after-year – especially for quarterbacks – teams balance the risk of either paying more later or jumping the gun on perceived value for widely-sought after players. The former is nearly always chosen when it comes to quarterbacks though, as they are an essential position with considerable leverage. This option only pans out about half the time however, as teams can misjudge players – as with the Rams and QB Jared Goff or the Eagles with QB Carson Wentz – or tie-up their cap space and ultimately limit their ability to sign enticing free agents.

The Ravens have been in a quarterback contract predicament before, though it seemed like a much easier decision then. In the last year of his deal, former Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco took the Ravens to the Super Bowl and was named Super Bowl XLVII MVP. Shortly after, Flacco was awarded a 6-year, $120.6 million dollar contract, making him the highest-paid player in the NFL at the time. After signing that behemoth of a deal, Flacco took the Ravens to just one further playoff appearance until he was ultimately replaced by Jackson as the starter six years later. While the play-styles and play – for that matter – are completely different between Jackson and Flacco, there is still some concern to whether Jackson can keep playing to his level of stardom.

Lamar Jackson’s incredible speed forces many defenses to ‘spy’ him which creates mismatches that tend to leave at least someone open on the Ravens’ offense at any given time. With tremendous accuracy, Jackson has set himself apart from other running quarterbacks that came before him. But like those quarterbacks, Jackson’s play-style is both unsustainable and incredibly risky. Take for example past running quarterbacks Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III. While both quarterbacks had excellent success in the beginning of their careers, they ultimately downspiraled due to becoming either one-dimensional, injured, or both. Vick, who was and still may be the most well known running quarterback, became slower and stiffer with age, making him completely reliant on his arm. With minimal risk of running the ball, opposing defenses adjusted accordingly and his once-accurate passing turned dismal. Vick was simply figured out, and Lamar risks being figured out as well.

In his first full-year of starting, Lamar shocked the league with his abilities and took home NFL MVP Honors. One year later, Lamar’s numbers naturally declined but he still posted relatively strong stats with 2,757 passing yards, 1,005 rushing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, and 7 rushing touchdowns. The biggest knock against Jackson in present is his lackluster playoff performances. Whereas Mahomes contract is justified by his now multiple Super Bowl appearances, Jackson has been neutralized in post season games in back-to-back seasons. In 2020, Jackson was picked off twice as Baltimore was blown out by Tennessee 28-12 and just this season, the star quarterback was held to 162 yards passing, 34 yards rushing, and one pick six in the Bills 17-3 rout of the Ravens. Moreover, Jackson’s playoff career passer rating is a dismal 30.2 points lower (68.1 playoff RTG) than his regular season career passer rating of 99.3. All of this should be taken into account for the Ravens’ front office when Lamar inevitably asks them to make him one of the highest paid players in the league.

While it is a no-brainer to keep Lamar right now, the Ravens mustn’t jump the gun on an extension. Baltimore would be wise to wait-out the last two years of Jackson’s deal and go all-in to win the Super Bowl in that span of time. When Super Bowl contending teams pay quarterbacks record-breaking amounts – picture Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers – it becomes increasingly difficult for them to make it to the Super Bowl as they cannot afford to pay lucrative amounts to afford key players in other position groups. If history doesn’t repeat itself, and Lamar does pan out, the Ravens can always fall back on the ‘nuclear option’ that is the franchise tag. So instead of paying Jackson now, the Ravens should roll the dice on what Lamar could be worth in two years and load-up on talent to help push them over the hump in the AFC, and then the Super Bowl.