What those inside the league believe Lamar Jackson’s value is as contract talks with Ravens seemingly hit a standstill, plus Kyle Hamilton’s meteoric NFL Draft rise, more
The saga surrounding Lamar Jackson’s potential contract extensions is one of the more bizarre in recent memory, and it carries nearly unprecedented stakes for both sides.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti insists the organization has reached out to begin talks on an extension, but Jackson has not engaged.
Meanwhile, Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, insists he wants to be in Baltimore.
“This is a unique and unprecedented situation to say the least,” an NFL pro personnel director tells FanSided.
It would seem that the Ravens have all of the leverage in any potential negotiations, especially because Jackson does not have an agent representing him.
Jackson will play under the fifth-year option this season, earning $23 million, and Baltimore could then use the franchise tag to keep him in a Ravens uniform in 2023 by paying him the average of the top-five quarterback salaries that season.
If that’s the path these sides go down, Jackson could collect upwards of $55 million over the next two seasons.
But, Jackson wouldn’t have any long-term security, and the Ravens wouldn’t be tied to him beyond a series of one-year commitments as he accounts for an increasingly large slice of their salary cap pie.
All of this is playing out with the Browns’ five-year guaranteed commitment to Deshaun Watson top of mind for teams such as the Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Los Angeles Chargers eye extending their brilliant young quarterbacks to extensions over the next 12 months.
From the sounds of it, Jackson isn’t ready to have those conversations.
“Looking at it from his perspective, he may be looking at it as if he can have another great year, maybe stack another MVP, and he could be looking at even more money on the back-end of these negotiations,” the personnel director tells FanSided. “What if he goes out, has a career year, and now he’s worth $300 million, setting a new precedent.”
So, what is Jackson’s value on the open market?
Do the Ravens have a breaking point where doing what was at one time unthinkable, trading Jackson, becomes the better option than continuing to pay Jackson under the high-priced franchise tag each season? FanSided spoke to multiple agents and executives across the NFL to find out.
“If they were shopping him today,” an NFC personnel executive tells FanSided. “Lamar would be worth two first-round picks. Easily.”
On the surface, it would seem highly unlikely the Ravens would reach that point.
Especially because as things currently stand, Baltimore has approximately $71 million in cap space next season and upwards of $130.8 million in spending flexibility in 2024.
But, in the immediate future of any contract talks, belief inside the NFL is Jackson is doing himself a significant disservice by allowing his mother, Felicia Jones to handle any contract negotiations.
“He’s hurting himself a lot,” an agent who represents multiple starting quarterbacks tells FanSided. “How do you negotiate with someone when you’re afraid something you might say may hurt their feelings?”
The agent says Jackson’s negotiations would start with the five years and $230 million commitment the Browns made to Watson.
“You’d just hit on Deshaun’s contract all day,” the agent explains. “That would be where you’d be. Period.”
Kyle Hamilton among NFL Draft’s highest risers
There has been a lot of smoke in recent weeks that Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton’s draft stock is sliding after a subpar time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine last month.
Don’t buy it.
Inside the league, Hamilton is as coveted and highly regarded as ever, viewed as the consensus top safety in this year’s class and a potential top-five pick later this month.
“He could legitimately go No. 1 overall,” an NFL scout tells FanSided. “His range and football IQ are easily his best traits, and I just can’t see how he would slide anywhere past No. 7 (Giants) or No. 10 (Jets).”
The basis for the notion that the NFL has somehow soured on Hamilton stems from his 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and some scouts clocking him a tick slower during the Irish’ pro day.
However, after producing 34 total tackles last season with three interceptions and four pass breakups at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Hamilton seems to be the kind of player that those inside the NFL are far higher on than those who cover the NFL.
“He is a legit Day-one starter,” an NFC personnel executive tells FanSided. “He can play multiple positions based on down and distance, has excellent instincts, and even better range. Don’t believe me, go watch his game against Florida State this year …”
In that contest, Hamilton intercepted two passes, finished with six total tackles and flashed an innate ability to read and react to the quarterback and make big plays whether lined up in the slot or deep in coverage at safety.
“Kyle’s one of the best defensive players in the entire draft,” Hamilton’s teammate, Notre Dame wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. told me, during a recent appearance on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “Going back to his first practice, he caught a few interceptions and everyone on the field was like ‘look at this freshman, just balling out.’
“You just knew he was different. He brought that in every practice and every game since. Whoever drafts him is going to show his versatility throughout the defense, and compete at a very high level.”
Austin credits those practice field battles against Hamilton in South Bend with putting him in his own position to be drafted later this month.
“Those were some battles,” Austin explains. “He’s very long, he’s very fast, and based on your alignment and what you’re about to do, he’s so smart that he can tell what route you’re about to run or eliminate some routes that he thinks he has to defend.”
Hamilton, though is up against a historical precedent of a league that doesn’t value safety as a premium position.
Since 2000, only eight safeties have been chosen in the top-10 picks. Hamilton aims to be the ninth, and very well could be the ninth.
Might the Lions pluck Hamilton with the No. 2 pick and drop him into a secondary that features former top-pick Jeffrey Okudah? Could the Giants be overwhelmed by Hamilton’s versatility and instincts, and eye him with the No. 5 pick to be Wink Martindale’s latest Swiss-Army knife?
“He’d be a fit in any scheme,” the executive explains.
The problem for the vast majority of teams in the NFL, it doesn’t sound like Hamilton will be on the board when they go on the clock.
Pre-Draft visit takeaways as draft weekend looms
The NFL Draft is now just 22 days away, but the pre-draft process has offered plenty of clues about the prospects teams are interested in and the positions they might prioritize during draft weekend.
Here are five takeaways from the visits and moves that we have seen in recent weeks, and what they might mean once the draft gets underway.
1) Jets clearly coveting speedy receivers
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday that the Jets, who narrowly missed out on acquiring speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs last week, hosted Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave on a pre-draft visit.
Clearly, Jets GM Joe Douglas is doing everything in his power to set quarterback Zach Wilson up for success in his second season. New York has already signed tight end C.J. Uzomah and running back Tevin Coleman to bolster Wilson’s supporting cast.
However, Olave is one of the fastest receivers in this year’s class, running the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.26 seconds, and could be the Jets’ answer for Hill choosing the Miami Dolphins. It would seem highly unlikely the Jets choose Olave with either pick No. 4 or No. 10 later this month, but in a trade-back scenario or a move back into the back-half of the first-round could lead to Olave donning the Kelly green this fall.
2) The Cowboys love Virginia TE Jelani Woods
Last month, the Cowboys tagged tight end Dalton Schultz, in hopes of striking a deal on a long-term contract, but might have sights set on adding another potentially elite pass-catching tight end to Dak Prescott’s arsenal.
Dallas hosted Jelani Woods on a pre-draft visit, and multiple sources tell FanSided the Cowboys are enamored with the University of Virginia product. Especially because of his size-speed combo, after running a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-6 and 259 pounds.
“He’s a really talented tight end in a really talented class at the position,” an AFC scout tells FanSided. “Most teams have him as a fifth-round pick, I don’t think he makes it past Round 3, or Round 4.”
It has been a rough offseason for Prescott, who saw the Cowboys trade Amari Cooper away to the Browns, but Dallas might wind up dropping Woods into a system that makes heavy use of the tight end position, especially down near the red zone, and could create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
3) Howie Roseman, Eagles authoring a masterclass on asset acquisition
When the Eagles and Saints agreed on a trade that sent Philadelphia the Saints’ first-round pick in 2023, a second-round pick in 2024, along with picks No. 101, No. 237, and swapping the No. 18 pick for the No. 16 and No. 19 pick this year, Howie Roseman pulled off almost the unthinkable; maintaining a pair of top-20 picks this spring while adding a second first-round pick in next year’s class that is universally believed to be stronger and deeper than this one.
Roseman and the Eagles entered this draft with three first-round picks, thanks to moves made last offseason, including the trade that sent Carson Wentz to the Colts.
Philadelphia now for the second consecutive season will have at least two first-round picks to either continue building around quarterback Jalen Hurts, or, if he fails to take a significant step this fall, be among the best-positioned teams in the NFL to trade up to draft his replacement.
New Orleans has that same flexibility now this season, if they believe Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis has franchise quarterback potential and are worth mortgaging multiple picks to go and get their preferred passer.
But, smart general managers will study what Roseman has done over the past two years in terms of creating maximum flexibility and adding maximum value in the early rounds.
4) The Steelers aren’t done at quarterback
The Pittsburgh Steelers struck early in free agency, coming to terms with Mitchell Trubisky on a two-year deal worth $14.25 million but can escalate as high as $27 million based on incentives.
But, the Steelers are by no means done at quarterback.
Currently scheduled to pick No. 20 overall, Pittsburgh has had top quarterback prospects Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral, Carson Strong, Chris Oladokun, and Pitt alum Kenny Pickett in for top-30 visits.
The feeling inside the league is the Steelers are going to do everything they can to come out of this draft with one of the top passers.
“They’ve had the same type of quarterback for decades, and they want a more athletic quarterback like Malik Willis,” a veteran AFC scouting director tells FanSided. “But, watch for Kenny Pickett, because he would fit what they do now. Matt Corrall is the perfect mix of athletic and toughness that the Steelers have always liked.”
If nothing else, Trubisky could serve as a bridge to the quarterback of the future in Pittsburgh. And if he thrives this season, and the Steelers somehow compete in a loaded AFC North, if Pittsburgh does take a quarterback later this month they could be sitting on a pair of premium assets in the trade market next offseason.
5) Chiefs targeting specific profile wide receiver
Coming full circle, the Kansas City Chiefs are intent on coming out of the early rounds of the draft with a wide receiver.
“They’re looking for speed and someone who is a big-time Yards After the Catch guy,” a long-time personnel executive tells FanSided. “If Chris Olave is on the board, he could be their guy.”
After trading away Tyreek Hill, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach is seemingly aiming to replace him with a player with similar traits. Veach is armed with the No. 29 and No. 30 overall picks in the first round.
The executive also suggests Penn State’s Jahan Dotson could fit the Chiefs’ mold, if Olave is already gone or the Chiefs can’t move up high enough to select the Ohio State standout. If Olave is the apple of Veach’s eye, Kansas City may need to jump the Washington Commanders at No. 11 or the Dallas Cowboys at No. 24, as both NFC East rivals have hosted Olave for a pre-draft visit, so far.
“Not everything is a storybook ending.”
– Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich, on Carson Wentz, via Peter King’s Football in America.
Carson Wentz’s fall from heralded top quarterback prospect, to franchise quarterback, twice, to getting kicked to the curb by the Indianapolis Colts has been fascinating to watch unfold in real-time.
Just 15 months ago, Reich and Wentz essentially chose one another as the Colts dealt a third-round pick in 2021 and a conditional pick that became a first-rounder this spring to the Philadelphia Eagles, in exchange for the quarterback Reich helped mold into a Super Bowl winner.
However, Wentz’s second-half collapse this past season was an epic fall from grace as the Colts lost their final two games of the season, falling out of postseason contention after losing a win-and-get-in Week 18 game against the lowly Jaguars, 26-11. Over those final two games, Wentz completed just 58.9 percent of his passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, and one fumble lost.
It sure sounds like the same issues that dogged Wentz in Philadelphia; reticence to hard coaching, shrinking in the big moments as a leader and alienating himself from a portion of the locker room, followed him to Indianapolis.
The Colts were able to salvage a 2022 second-round pick, a 2022 third-round pick, and a conditional 2023 third-round pick from the Washington Commanders in exchange for Wentz and a 2022 second-round pick.
For Wentz, it’s yet another fresh start. But, if he’s unable to rise to the occasion in Washington, where he’ll get two cracks at the team who drafted him, it might be his last before tumbling onto the veteran backup circuit for the rest of his career.
Bruce Arians has passed the baton.
Having climbed the summit, and having the opportunity to secure something even more valuable than a second Lombardi Trophy, Arians chose it; leaving a legacy.
That didn’t stop the onslaught of speculation in the moments immediately after the news was broken by Hall of Famers Peter King and Sam Farmer that Arians was retiring from head coaching and being elevated to a front-office position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that Arians was forced out by Tom Brady following some sort of rift with the quarterback.
Arians, a two-time cancer survivor, seized the opportunity to hand the reigns to the franchise that he elevated to championship heights, around the most diverse coaching staff by gender and race by a wide margin in the NFL, to his long-time pupil, Todd Bowles.
Bowles’ second chance at being an NFL head coach comes long overdue, and it was a bit puzzling as to why he was passed over last offseason after guiding Tampa’s ferocious and No. 6 overall and No. 7 ranked scoring defense in 2020 to a Super Bowl title, but he inherits a Super Bowl Ferarri champing at the bit to make a run at another championship.
Sometimes reality is truly as simple as it appears.
Arians was Bowles’ college coach at Temple, back in 1986, and Bowles was Arians’ defensive coordinator for two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before the duo reunited in Tampa Bay.
If you don’t think Arians cares that Bowles has the infrastructure and talent to succeed this time around with the Buccaneers, after being let down during his tenure as Jets head coach, you’re severely undervaluing the 69-year-old’s character and how much he values Bowles.
As for Brady, he sat in the front-row for Arians’ press conference discussing his retirement and announcing Bowles’ promotion. That doesn’t seem to jibe with the notion of any animosity between Hall of Fame quarterback and head coach leading to such an abrupt change of course.
Further, a high-ranking Buccaneers official told FanSided that any reporting of a feud between head coach and quarterback leading to Brady’s brief retirement was “Complete B.S.,” back in February.
If Brady truly pushed Arians from the head coaching role, would he be so diabolical to position himself as one of the first people Arians would see when he stepped to the podium announcing his departure?
From here, that feels like a stretch.
Bowles now, with an offense featuring Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, and the greatest quarterback to play the game, Tom Brady, is just the XX African American head coach in the NFL but will lead a coaching staff that employs 16 minorities and two women.
You don’t find a more diverse staff in the NFL. By the way, it should be the model.
Keeping that staff together, and positioning them to succeed, with Brady, clearly mattered significantly more to Arians than risking that all falling apart if the pewter and gold confetti doesn’t fly in Arizona next February.