Agent’s Take: Lamar Jackson headlines 2018 first-round picks who could sign extension before 2022 season

Second- through seventh-round draft selections are more likely to be granted contract extensions after three NFL seasons, than first-round picks. Because teams have the option to add a fifth year with their first-round picks, the fourth year is not a contract year for first rounders. 

Only a few first-round picks sign new deals each year before the start of their fourth seasons. For 2018, this was true for the first round. After playing three seasons, only Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller, and Lions center Frank Ragnow signed extensions.

As the fifth season approaches, most extensions for first-round picks are granted. The option year is a contract-year for first-rounders.

Signings for 2018’s first-round picks have resumed. Jaire Alexander and Denzel were signed by the Packers and Browns to join the $20 million-per year cornerback club. They also received respective four-year and five-year extensions. Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers’ highest-paid safety, was recently promoted to that position.

There will be more 2018 first round picks available to sign new deals before regular season begins in September. Sept. 11 is the season opener. These are the most logical choices.

Jackson took part in the mandatory minicamp last week after missing Baltimore’s other offseason exercises. Jackson is one of few NFL players to have operated his entire career in the NFL without an agent. Jackson stated that he spoke with Eric DeCosta, Ravens general manager, about his contract during minicamp. It is not known if Jackson had substantive contract negotiations. He has not rejected a training camp offer, which many believe is a negotiating tactic.

Jackson would be right to insist on a fully guaranteed contract similar to Deshaun Watson’s. In connection with Watson’s trade from the Browns, the Texans gave Watson a fully guaranteed contract worth $230 million for five years. Watson’s sexual assault and misconduct allegations remain unresolved. Watson signed a four-year extension of $136 million that would have a total value of $136 million. He signed the extension in September 2020.  

Watson is less accomplished as Jackson. Jackson set a single-season record for quarterback rushing with 1,206 yards and led the NFL in touchdown passes with 36. He was also league MVP. Watson has never been All-Pro, nor was he the NFL MVP. Jackson’s off-the field behavior is not an issue.

Jackson is the greatest dual-threat NFL quarterback. Jackson was the first player to record at least 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season that he won MVP. 

If Jackson plays this season, he will be eligible for a franchise tag in 2023. Jackson would not be allowed to solicit offers from other teams, making the exclusive franchise designation most likely.

Jackson could negotiate with other NFL teams under the non-exclusive deal. The Ravens would be vulnerable if a quarterback-needy NFL team offers them a contract. This might not be possible to match. Two first-round picks will be the compensation if the offer sheet isn’t matched.

Jackson’s first two picks would be a good value relative the trade compensation for higher-echelon quarterbacks. The Texans traded Watson and a 2024 sixth round pick for 2022 and 2023 first-rounds picks, a twenty22 fourth-round selection, a twenty23 third-round choice and a twenty24 fourth-round choose. The Broncos also acquired Russell Wilson from the Seahawks in exchange for multiple players (tight end Noah Fant and defensive lineman Shelby Harris, as well as quarterback Drew Lock), 2022- and 2023-round first-round selections, 2022- and 2023-second-round choices, 2022- and 2023-second-round options, and a twenty22 fifth-round choice.

Jackson might find the idea of playing the franchise tag games more appealing than the Ravens. The 2023 exclusive franchise number for quarterbacks will be the average of five 2023 quarterback salaries (salary caps numbers with minor adjustments). It will be determined at the end next year’s restricted-free agent signing period, April 21. It currently projects to $45.648million. This number can change depending upon new quarterback deals, contract restructurings, pay cuts, and/or release between now and then.

A second franchise tag in 2024 would require a 20% increase over Jackson’s 2023 exclusive number. This would amount to just over $54.775million. Baltimore would not allow Jackson to be a franchise player in 2025, as it would be too costly. A third and final franchise tag would have a 44% increase on the 2024 figure, which would cost just under $79million. 

Jackson, who has made a little over $100 million on two franchise tags, would be well-positioned to test the open market for 2025. Jackson’s expectation that Jackson will play his entire career here could be disregarded if things get to this stage.

Nelson’s streak, which included three consecutive All Pro selections, was broken in 2021 due to back issues and an injury to his ankle. In each of his four NFL years, he was a Pro Bowl selection.

Nelson isn’t focused on his contract. There is a good chance that he will become the NFL’s highest paid interior offensive lineman before the regular-season begins. That would render his $13.754million fifth year option moot. Brandon Scherff holds that distinction. He signed a $39.5 million three-year deal with the Jaguars, earning an average of $16.5 million per season and as much as $52.5million through incentives.

Nelson has probably set his sights higher than Scherff. He is without doubt Indianapolis’ best offensive player, if not the best non-quarterback. Nelson would need to sign a contract that averages more than the $19.7million per year Darius Leonard, a three-time All Pro linebacker, to become the Colts’ highest paid non-quarterback. Leonard signed a $52.5 million, five-year extension worth $98.5 million, with $33 million guaranteed at signing.

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James and the Chargers are said to have begun discussions about a long-term agreement. James should be satisfied with the latest developments within the safety market. Fitzpatrick’s market-setting, 4-year extension from Steelers averages $18.247million annually and contains $36million fully guaranteed.

James has durability concerns, but Fitzpatrick doesn’t. After being limited to five games in the previous two seasons due to injuries, James didn’t miss any beat in 2021. He was back to the form that made him a Pro Bowler, and All-Pro in his rookie season. 

James is currently recovering from an offseason left shoulder operation. He is expected to be available for training camp. James will exercise his $9.052million fifth year option if no agreement is reached. 

Ryan Poles, the new general manger, has made it clear that he will sign Smith an extension. Smith will be able to use the Leonard deal as a data point. Leonard and Smith are the only players to have at least 500 tackles, 10sacks, and five interceptions since 2018. Smith has also led off-ball linebackers in the last two seasons, with 30 tackles for loss.

Smith will likely be eligible for free agency in 2023 if he plays this season with a salary of $9.735million. Since David Harris was signed by the Jets in 2011, an off-ball player has not been named as a franchise member.

Reports indicated that Payne, who was scheduled to play under a $8.529m fifth-year option, was not able to participate in organized team activities for a portion of the day because of his contract. Washington’s top priority is wide receiver Terry McLaurin. The Commanders used first round picks on defensive linemen in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2020. The Commanders will not extend the contracts to any of the four players. Payne’s fate in Washington may be sealed when Jonathan Allen, an interior defensive lineman and 2017 first-round draft pick, signed a four year extension at $18 million per annum at the beginning of training camp last.

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