On Friday, the Buffalo Bills gave quarterback Josh Allen a massive $258 million extension. For the Baltimore Ravens, that’s bad news.
Josh Allen is smiling this morning, rich beyond his wildest dreams. Lamar Jackson is also smiling, knowing his financial floor has been considerably raised.
On Friday, Allen signed one of the richest deals in NFL history, inking a six-year extension with the Buffalo Bills worth $258 million with $150 million guaranteed. Outside of Patrick Mahomes’ contract with the Kansas City Chiefs — 12 years and $503 million — it’s the largest in pro football.
Furthermore, Allen’s $43 million annual value becomes only the third pact to crack the $40 million AAV threshold, joining Mahomes and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, who got four years and $160 million this winter.
Despite the enormous cost, Bills general manager Brandon Beane was wise to sign Allen now. The NFL salary cap is set to explode for the 2023 season with TV money pouring in, and with both Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield eligible for extensions, the first contract was always going to be the best value.
Which brings us to the Baltimore Ravens.
While Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns will eventually hammer out an extension, Jackson is clearly next in line. At 24 years old, Jackson has one of the most impressive resumés in league history for such a young player. It’s adorned with a 30-7 regular-season record, two division titles, three playoff appearances, an unanimous MVP trophy, First-Team All-Pro, a Pro Bowl, two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and nary a game missed for injury.
In short, Allen had a tremendous 2020 campaign, but two mediocre seasons prior. Jackson has been electric since taking over at midseason in ’18, guiding Baltimore to the NFL’s best record since he stepped in.
At a glance, it appears an easy choice for Baltimore. Sign Jackson to an extension immediately and lock in your future for a half-dozen years or so. However, general manager Eric DeCosta hasn’t done so. Additionally, there’s been rampant talk out of Charm City about wanting to elevate its passing game, chatter buttressed by the additions of veteran receiver Sammy Watkins and rookie Reshod Bateman.
All of this begs the question: Do the Ravens feel they need to see more from Jackson, specifically as a pure passer, to pay him top dollar?
If so, they shouldn’t be chided for it. For all of Jackson’s brilliance, the Ravens have a single playoff win and in four tries, and they haven’t eclipsed 20 points. Last season ended with a 17-3 loss to the Bills, in which Jackson was completely shut down, limited to 34 rushing and 162 passing yards with a back-breaking interception in the fourth quarter.
In those four postseason affairs, Jackson has thrown three touchdowns against five interceptions, completing 55.9 percent of his attempts.
The passing game has also been limited in the regular season, as Jackson has never thrown for 3,200 yards.
In short, is Jackson worth what is assuredly going to be a $45 million per year investment, matching the new annual money in Mahomes contract? Should his legs slow down, will the Ravens continue to succeed with such meager numbers in the passing game?
It’s the question facing DeCosta, and one that grew more expensive with Allen’s new contract. The Ravens have time to evaluate, with Jackson controlled through the next two seasons. After that, the franchise tag becomes a looming possibility if need be.
Ultimately, smart money says the Ravens take care of their man. Finding a quarterback superior to Jackson won’t be easy, and while his cost will be high, the modern NFL will always lavishly reward a competent quarterback, let alone a terrific one.
Baltimore may be waiting to see if Jackson continues to improve as a passer, and fair enough. But for every second that passes, the cost is only growing.
And for Jackson, whether it’s in Baltimore or elsewhere, so is his eventual bank account.
Top 10 cornerbacks going into 2021
1. Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
2. Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
3. Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
4. Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins
5. Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
6. James Bradberry, New York Giants
7. Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
8. Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles
9. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
10. Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
“I don’t believe in subjectivity. I believe in, what’s your record? Every man’s got a record. What is it? You are what your record [is]. If you lose a lot but you have a lot of potential, that’s not real good.
“Just over the course of my career, I can give you example after example [of players who] maybe they’re a little slow, but they just never lose.”
– Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer on his method for determining the final roster
This space hasn’t been kind to Jacksonville’s hiring of Meyer, but this is an intriguing idea. Yes, it demeans players for losing a practice rep, but it also creates a competitive atmosphere. In Jacksonville, where the franchise has never reached a Super Bowl and only had one truly successful season in the last two decades, that’s not the worst thing.
Between 1973-2016, the Denver Broncos only suffered seven losing seasons and none consecutively. Since, they’ve endured four straight losing campaigns.
Info learned this week
1. Titans, Colts saw fortunes shift dramatically this past week
The AFC South took a few major turns last week. Both involving busted feet.
For the Indianapolis Colts, the news was unpleasant. Both quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson sustained foot injuries requiring surgery, putting each out 5-12 weeks from the time of operation. In theory, they could return for Week 1, or both be out through the end of October. Quite the timeframe.
Considering Indianapolis’ first five opponents are the Seahawks, Rams, Dolphins, Titans and Ravens — with the latter three on the road — the Colts are in serious trouble.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans have to be dreaming of higher ceilings. Instead of fighting with Indy for the division title, there’s a plausible scenario where Tennessee runs away with the crown for a second straight year. The Titans have the fortune of playing a quarter of their schedule against the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, while now possibly getting a banged-up Colts team as its main foe.
An area to watch for the AFC playoff picture? Weeks 6 and 7. Tennessee hosts the Bills on Monday night before welcoming in the Kansas City Chiefs six days later.
By then, the Titans might be focused on seeding, rather than the division.
2. Kirk Cousins gives absurd answer about COVID vaccine, but he’s not alone
Want to make money? Buy plexiglas stock.
The most ridiculous quote coming from the NFL this week belonged to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who stated he’s considering sitting in a plexiglas box during team meetings to keep from going on the COVID-19 list as a close contact. This was said with a straight face.
Frankly, this is insane. We keep hearing about freedom of choice, including from Dolphins tight end Adam Sheheen over the weekend, who is also refusing vaccination.
At some juncture — a juncture we reached long ago — this rhetoric becomes both ignorant and dangerous. The reality, which is based in science and not politics, is vaccinations both protect the person who is vaccinated, and help protect those who can’t get vaccinated for heath reasons, from getting infected with COVID-19.
Eventually, the vaccines will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When that happens, private companies will be allowed to mandate the vaccine for their employees or seek termination. The guess here? The NFL will be one of the first companies to take such a step.
3. Seahawks dealing with contract issues for multiple stars
Duane Brown and Jamal Adams are Seahawks, but they aren’t happy ones.
While Adams’ frustrations over wanting a new contract have been well-documented, Brown’s ire became news over the weekend. The star left tackle reportedly wants an extension, with his current deal expiring after this season. Brown, who slated to make $13.3 million in 2021, is also 35 years old. Over his first four years with Seattle, he’s only missed four games, all coming in ’19.
For general manager John Schneider, the decision is a matter of age against talent. Schneider could look at the Los Angeles Rams and see they were rewarded by extending aging left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has retained a high level of play approaching 40. And, without the first-round pick they sent to the New York Jets in exchange for Adams, maybe a two-year extension with almost all the guaranteed money coming in 2022 makes sense for both sides.
As for Adams, he’s a 25-year-old All-Pro safety playing out his fifth-year option. Seattle could use the franchise tag on him after this season, but considering it gave up a pair of first-round picks to acquire Adams, not signing him to a lucrative extension — and it will top the safety market — would be absurd. Expect Adams to be paid handsomely in short order.
4. Giants’ retirement rash cuts both ways for Joe Judge
The New York Giants are not only running guys our of camp. They’re running them to a rocking chair.
Already, an astonishing three veterans have left Giants camp and retired including offensive linemen Joe Looney and Zach Fulton. There was also the infamous blowup with tight end Kelvin Benjamin during the first on-field practice, which led to Benjamin’s release.
Some have speculated Judge’s insistence on running as punishment for fighting has forced players out. Don’t believe it for a second. While Judge’s methods may seem antiquated, nobody is giving up millions of dollars because they had to huff through a few up-downs and wind sprints. In reality, the Giants are building a culture of consequences and accountability.
Now, it only works if you win. Should New York struggle to a disappointing second season under Judge, the discontent will quickly grow. However, if the Giants win, the angst of August will turn into acclaim, with Judge being seen as a Bill Parcells type.
The key, as always, is to win. By any means possible.
5. Hall of Fame weekend highlighted by Peyton Manning’s call to action
If Peyton Manning desires to become the NFL’s commissioner, it’s tough to imagine he won’t be.
During his Hall of Fame speech on Sunday, the legendary, two-time champion quarterback talked at length for his passion for the game. After noting the issues it’s facing, Manning launched passionately into why everyone who played the sport is responsible for keeping its flame, before finishing with “God bless you, and God bless football.”
Most speeches are a mix of thanking those chiefly responsible for the athlete’s success, stories about their childhoods and eventually, talking briefly around their playing days. Manning did very little of that.
Instead, Manning chose to make the moment about football, which considering his long career and actions during it, was perfect.
When does Jon Gruden start feeling heat?
Gruden, who is entering the fourth season of a 10-year, $100 million contract, has done little to improve the Las Vegas Raiders over his tenure. In three campaigns, the Raiders haven’t enjoyed a winning season.
To date, Gruden’s biggest win in his second tour with the Raiders is beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5 last season before taking a victory lap around Arrowhead Stadium. Las Vegas then failed to reach the postseason for the fourth straight year, while Kansas City went to its second Super Bowl after winning a fifth consecutive AFC West crown.
While Raiders owner Mark Davis is one of the more cash-poor men in the league, he has to be miffed with the results so far.
Gruden has a major hand in personnel alongside general manager Mike Mayock, and despite having ample first-round picks as a result of the former’s infamous Khalil Mack trade, Las Vegas has netted little game-changing talent.
Since Gruden arrived in January 2018, the Raiders have spent 32 draft picks. Not including this current class, the Raiders have plucked 25 men from the college ranks, and only running back Josh Jacobs has been honored as a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro. Additionally, recent first-round choices in edge rusher Clelin Ferrell and corner Damon Arnette — both seen by many within the league as a reach at the time — have been fighting for their playing time this summer. Not ideal.
Considering his contract and the owner he plays for, Gruden likely has a few more years in Las Vegas regardless of the results, but he’s burning through plenty of good will.
Inside the league
After last season, opinions from decision-makers around the league regarding then-New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold varied. One general manager FanSided spoke to believed he was worth a Day 2 pick. Another thought a first-round pick was a possible return.
Ultimately, the Carolina Panthers acquired Darnold for a 2021 sixth-round choice, and second- and fourth-round picks in ’22.
This week, we’ll get our first look at Darnold in game action with the Panthers, as he tries to revive his wilting career. Only 23 years old and entering his fourth NFL season, the former USC star has a good cast around him. Head coach Matt Rhule was known as an offensive guru at Baylor, while his weaponry includes receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, and All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey.
Considering his age, pedigree and position, Darnold could cash in significantly next offseason if he shines with the Panthers. Carolina has exercised his fifth-year option (only guaranteed for injury) but might be willing to extend him should Darnold play really well.
In that scenario, Carolina would almost certainly pay less than full price due to looming team control, while Darnold secures generational wealth.
The Panthers took a sizable but understandable gamble on Darnold. We’ll soon find out if it pays.
World War II brought many changes to professional sports. A hoard of athletes were called into service, baseball saw more night games, and the NFL saw the combining of teams.
With the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers struggling to stay afloat, the franchises merged into the Steagles for 1943. The team was actually successful, posting a 5-4-1 record. When the Eagles went back to their own operation the following year, the Steelers combined with the Chicago Cardinals for ’44, becoming CARD-PITT. Things didn’t go as well.
CARD-PITT went 0-10 with three shutouts in the preseason, before scoring in the double-digits only thrice all year. After losing 30-28 in the season-opener to the Cleveland Rams, their narrowest defeat came by 14 points.
Welcome to the first full week of NFL preseason football.
This year, we only get three games per team as the league is expanding the regular season. While each coaching staff likely handles playing time differently, expect to see plenty of the second, third and fourth teams with late-round picks and UDFAs having less time than before to prove themselves.
Looking at the slate this week, I’m intrigued by the rookie quarterbacks, but also closely watching a second-year signal-caller recovering from a torn ACL.
In San Francisco, the 49ers’ Trey Lance faces Kansas City. After a week of non-stop buzz, how does he look during his debut? Of course, we also see Trevor Lawrence with the Jaguars and Justin Fields getting his first crack with the Chicago Bears.
However, the most meaningful action could be in Tampa Bay, with the Cincinnati Bengals visiting the Buccaneers. Joe Burrow hasn’t played a game since tearing his ACL in November against the Washington Football Team, and he returns to face a fierce Tampa front. Will Burrow, protected by a brand new offensive line, be able to shake jitters which have bothered him in camp?
Starting Thursday night, we get four consecutive nights of action. Let the games begin.