OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The first link in Lamar Jackson‘s social media bios is an email address for “business inquiries.” It has been there for years, but at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, the inquiries into Jackson’s business will take an intriguing turn.
That’s when the Baltimore Ravens quarterback can start negotiating with other teams. This is unprecedented territory, because the 26-year-old Jackson is the first NFL MVP quarterback under 30 to receive the nonexclusive franchise tag, which pays him $32.416 million for one season and allows him to engage in contract negotiations with the rest of the league. If he accepts an offer, the Ravens have five days to match or get two first-round picks as compensation.
The Ravens chose this option over the exclusive tag, set at $45 million, which would have prevented Jackson from talking to other teams and let Baltimore control the trade terms.
What makes the situation even more unique is Jackson doesn’t have an agent. Instead, Jackson has leaned on a tight inner circle of family and advisers and the NFL Players Association.
It is this dynamic that makes Jackson’s future difficult to predict. While other teams have been busy reaching deals with free agent quarterbacks the past two days, or trading draft capital that will lead to selecting a quarterback, Jackson has had to wait to find out his market value.
Some agents and former general managers believe too much is being made of Jackson not having an agent, and that it might even have worked in his favor. But others believe the lack of representation will make a complex process even more complicated and could make teams hesitant.
“I was trying to put myself in the shoes of a GM who might have interest. Now what do I have to do? Do I have to call Lamar himself?” said Randy Mueller, a former NFL general manager who is now the director of player personnel for the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons. “It’s definitely unorthodox. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it sure complicates things.”
Even though Jackson doesn’t have an agent, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have help.
“We can provide to him the same kind of assistance we would to any certified agent,” an NFLPA source said. “We can review a contract and look it over. We can tell him whether a deal sounds good or whether it’s the market value for a player like him.
“If he has any questions during the process, he can come to us and we can address those with him.”
But the NFLPA does have limits.
“[Teams] can call his mom, who has been handling a lot of these matters. Or they can call him directly, too,” an NFLPA source said. “We cannot talk to teams directly and negotiate directly on his behalf. We can’t go back and forth with teams.”
Two agents, both of whom have negotiated NFL quarterback deals, believe Jackson is already a step behind. If Jackson had an agent, they said, his representative could have been his advocate at the NFL combine earlier this month and spoken to teams about their interest to formulate his market.
“He’s put himself so far out there, he can’t go back on his word,” one agent said. “That takes tremendous humility to say, ‘I tried, it didn’t happen, I’m going to go hire an agent now and get the best deal I can.'”
Jackson’s list of prospective teams dwindled before he had a chance to make a call. The Carolina Panthers traded up to the No. 1 overall pick to draft a quarterback. The Miami Dolphins gave a vote of confidence in Tua Tagovailoa by exercising his fifth-year option. The Las Vegas Raiders signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a three-year, $67.5 million deal.
Other teams, however, seem like potential suitors, such as the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Washington Commanders.
An agent suggested Jackson should target a handful of teams and contact them immediately about whether they would be willing to give up two first-round picks for him. Then, the work begins on devising a contract the Ravens would be unwilling to match.
Last September, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen that Jackson turned down an offer from Baltimore that included $133 million guaranteed at signing, $175 million guaranteed for injury and $200 million in total guarantees if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the 2026 league year. The $200 million would rank second among all quarterbacks to Deshaun Watson (five years, $230 million guaranteed) and surpass deals signed by Kyler Murray ($103.3 million guaranteed at signing) and Russell Wilson ($124 million guaranteed at signing) last year. Schefter and Mortensen reported in September that Jackson wants a fully guaranteed deal similar to Watson’s.
Jackson seemed to refute the report about $200 million in guarantees on social media Tuesday.
“I think this is doable for Lamar, but frankly, I don’t think it’s doable if he’s just waiting for the phone to ring,” one agent said.
Jackson isn’t the first high-profile NFL player to talk to teams without an agent. Over the past six years, Richard Sherman, DeAndre Hopkins, Bobby Wagner and Russell Okung have all represented themselves in free agency.
Even Jackson’s teammate, middle linebacker Roquan Smith, negotiated a five-year, $100 million extension with the Ravens in January without an agent. Smith’s deal — which tops all inside linebackers in average per year ($20 million), signing bonus ($22.5 million) and total guarantees ($60 million) — was hammered out in six days over the course of a month.
“Everyone has their opinions about how they think things should be run, but I don’t think anyone knows as a player that’s actually in it,” Smith said. “I think nowadays players want to be at the table for 100% transparency. If you have respect for the guy you’re talking with and you have help from your advisers, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
The difference between Jackson and those other players is Jackson is dealing with a franchise tag, which comes with the additional hurdles of draft compensation and the ability of Baltimore to match. The tag came after the sides were unable to get close to a deal after 25 months of negotiations. Ravens officials have acknowledged that it has been difficult at times to reach Jackson and conduct negotiations.
After Baltimore placed the franchise tag on Jackson on March 7, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said he would continue to work toward a long-term deal with the quarterback.
“Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come,” DeCosta said in a statement.
The threat of the Ravens matching any offer could dissuade teams from pursuing Jackson. If Jackson signed an offer sheet and Baltimore matched it, the other team essentially did the Ravens’ negotiations for them.
“It was genius of Baltimore to put the low franchise tag on him and say, ‘Go figure out your market and come back to us. We’ll pay it,'” one agent said.
If Jackson finds a team willing to give up two first-round picks for him, it will likely be up to Jackson and his inner circle to devise a contract that would be difficult for Baltimore to match. It might have to include a record signing bonus of $75 million to pry Jackson from the Ravens, one agent suggested.
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Jackson hasn’t spoken publicly about his contract situation since Week 1 of the 2022 season, so it has been difficult to discern what the quarterback wants. It’s unknown whether Jackson is seeking to go elsewhere because of his contract stalemate with the Ravens or if he’d be happy to return to Baltimore if he doesn’t get a better offer elsewhere. A recent video on Jackson’s Instagram story showed him wearing a Ravens gold chain and his team’s hooded sweatshirt, which sparked optimism among the fan base.
Joe Banner, who was an executive with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, isn’t among those criticizing Jackson for not having an agent.
“I do think it’s being overblown, and I actually think so far it’s served him well,” said Banner, who is a contributor to the NFL news website “The 33rd Team.”
If Jackson had an agent, he might have been encouraged to sign a deal when he became eligible for a contract extension in January 2021. Since Jackson has waited, the top average per year for a quarterback has increased by $5 million ($45 million to $50 million), and four quarterbacks have signed deals for which the total guaranteed money has exceeded $150 million.
Mueller, who was GM of the Saints and Dolphins, said he would be reluctant to deal with a player who didn’t have an agent.
“It would be in the back of my mind for sure, because it is a long, hard, arduous road to get to consummating a deal,” Mueller said. “I would do right by whatever the team wants and by the player, but it’s just a lot of bridges that you’d have to cross that normally you would not in a really hectic time for decision-makers.”
Since Jackson became the Ravens’ starting quarterback midway through the 2018 season, he has produced the second-best record (45-16, .738 winning percentage) among active quarterbacks behind Patrick Mahomes, and he has recorded the third-best Total QBR (64.8).
But Jackson has failed to finish the past two seasons because of injuries, missing a total of 11 games in 2021 and 2022 including a playoff loss at Cincinnati.
“Do you want the player? Do you trust he’ll stay healthy? Are you willing to agree to the terms that he’s made a priority?” Banner said. “You have got to be able to say yes to all of those questions as opposed to just some of his questions — or you should just find some other solution to your quarterback problem.”
ESPN Colts reporter Stephen Holder and Bears reporter Courtney Cronin contributed to this article.