DeMaurice Smith hasn’t seen anything that compares to Lamar Jackson’s looming contract situation in nearly 15 years as the NFL Players Association’s executive director
He blasted NFL owners in a statement regarding fully guaranteed contracts published on the NFLPA website Thursday, writing that owners “hate fully guaranteed contacts [sic] because they are better for the players than they are for the owners.”
Smith continued, “As such, these contracts shift control to the player, allow them to benefit the most from the arrangement, and limit the control of the owner and the team.”
According to Smith, a pivotal moment in the history of guaranteed contracts in sports dates back to 1983, when Larry Bird signed a contract with the Celtics that took incentives — which a New York Times article from that year outlined as the defining factor of Moses Malone’s deal — and turned them into guaranteed payments.
Smith then questioned why a process similar to the NBA, where Bird’s contract turned into a framework that still defines present deals, hasn’t yet materialized in the NFL.
Kirk Cousins has helped shape discourse with his three-year, $84 million guaranteed contract in 2018, making him, at the time, the first NFL quarterback to sign that type of deal.
DeShaun Watson’s five-year, $230 million extension with the Browns — that was fully guaranteed — emerged as another example for Smith and the NFLPA in March 2022.
“The NFL Draft and the franchise tag system exist because owners have colluded in the past to both depress and restrict markets,” Smith said. “This time, they are criminally gaming the game itself.”
Smith, who was elected the NFLPA’s executive director in 2009, wrote that he’s also worried about the quarterbacks nearing the end of their rookie deals, like the Bengals’ Joe Burrow, the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert.
During a January interview on the “Pivot Podcast”, Smith echoed a similar tone and called the situation for Jackson — who represents himself — a “pivotal moment” for the NFL’s players.
“A fully guaranteed contract in Jackson’s instance means that all quarterbacks on expiring rookie contracts will (and should anyway) demand them in the next cycle,” Smith wrote in his NFLPA post. “Make no mistake, what is occurring right now is their effort to block the same cycle that ushered in fully guaranteed contracts in other sports, and it is exactly what we are seeing in the NFL in the aftermath of both the Cousins and Watson contracts.”
The Ravens officially gave Jackson the non-exclusive franchise tag on March 7, and that started a sweepstakes that strangely featured more teams that said they weren’t interested in Jackson — like the Falcons, Commanders, Dolphins, Panthers and Raiders — than those who were.
Other teams can negotiate with Jackson, but the Ravens would have the opportunity to match any offer sheet.
But if Jackson can’t finalize a long-term deal with Baltimore or another team, the non-exclusive franchise tag number has been set at $32.4 million for the 2023 season.
In 12 games last season, Jackson threw 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions, guiding Baltimore to an 8-4 record while on the field.
He suffered a sprained PCL in December, which sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season and the Ravens’ loss to the Bengals in the AFC wild-card round.