EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With a bag of popcorn in a single hand and a milkshake in the opposite, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on Sept. 14 told reporters with a smirk that he would not discuss negotiations of his latest contract. Before the beginning of the regular season, he and the team’s front office agreed to table talks until the subsequent off-season.
“Respectfully, I’m really done talking about it,” Jackson said.
On Wednesday, standing at his locker on the Giants facility, quarterback Daniel Jones gave an analogous response when assessing his looming contract extension.
“I don’t think it was ever really my focus to prove to people somehow,” Jones said. “My focus was to play in addition to I assumed I could play and put the team ready to win.”
The 2 quarterbacks, each 25 years old and drafted a yr apart, have reached the top of their rookie deals. But with Jackson’s contract talks stalled and the Giants’ declining to sign Jones to an extension, each are effectively making a case for compensation — either from their current teams or a bidder in 2023 free agency — through their play.
But when Jackson’s Ravens (3-2) visit Jones’s Giants (4-1) on Sunday, the stark difference of their arguments can be on full display. Jackson, a one-time league M.V.P., will probably command a market-setting deal, while Jones auditions to stay on the Giants roster under a latest leadership regime. Each players are being evaluated not only on how they perform in a contract yr, but in addition on the breadth of their careers thus far. And the evaluation will tweak the marketplace for what starting quarterbacks ought to be paid going forward.
“Their most up-to-date play is most vital, but the entire body of labor is definitely an element as well,” said Mike Tannenbaum, an ESPN analyst and the previous general manager of the Jets. “You’re trying to check how they’re playing to how you’re thinking that they’re going to play.”
Jackson is representing himself without an agent and failed to succeed in a long-term extension with Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta before the season. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Jackson will earn $23 million in 2022, the fifth and final yr of his rookie deal, a good discount for the Ravens.
Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, Russell Wilson of the Broncos and Dak Prescott of the Cowboys each signed recent deals with annual salaries of no less than $40 million. While the annual-earnings average is a giant driver of contract negotiations, guaranteed money and other bonuses are also vital.
Jackson reportedly sought terms just like those of Deshaun Watson, who in March signed a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract with the Cleveland Browns, the most important of its kind in N.F.L. history.
His argument for matching or surpassing the highest tier of N.F.L. quarterbacks thus far has been sound.
This season, Jackson’s performance is on pace to surpass his 2019 Most Invaluable Player Award campaign. He ranks third within the league in passing touchdowns (12), and the players who rank ahead of him — Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (15) and the Bills’ Josh Allen (14) — earn no less than $43 million annually.
Jackson has also been Baltimore’s most consistent offensive threat for a team bereft of options. His 213.4 passing-yards-per-game average is outpacing the 208.5 average he posted in 2019, despite the Ravens’ having traded their best receiver, Marquise Brown, this off-season. Jackson has relied totally on tight end Mark Andrews and a revolving forged of running backs and leads the team in rushing yards (374).
Baltimore’s secondary has been racked with injuries for the second straight season, and the defense, which gave up probably the most passing yards within the N.F.L. in 2021, surrendered second-half leads within the Ravens’ two losses already this season, putting pressure on Jackson to throw the team back into games.
Jones’s contract lobbying has happened under different circumstances. Unlike Jackson, the Giants quarterback has yet to win a playoff game or be named to a Pro Bowl, and his struggles to carry onto the ball — he has committed 52 turnovers since entering the league in 2019 — have coincided with the team’s instability.
Playing for his third head coach in his 4 N.F.L. seasons, Jones must impress General Manager Joe Schoen and Coach Brian Daboll, each former assistants in Buffalo who helped rebuild that franchise right into a Super Bowl contender.
In April, they declined to choose up the fifth-year option on Jones’s contract, prompting this “prove-it” season.
He’s getting an assist from running back Saquon Barkley, also in a contract yr, who ranks second within the N.F.L. in rushing yards (533). Effective running has opened up play-action concepts on short and intermediate throws, high-efficiency passes that Jones is maximizing.
Jones has accomplished 66.7 percent of his passes, the best mark of his profession and tied for eighth-most within the league. He’s averaging six air yards per attempt, in accordance with the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, and flinging far fewer deep balls now that the improved Giants defense under the veteran coordinator Don Martindale has kept opponents’ scoring totals manageable.
That’s also helped Jones (three turnovers this season) reverse his ball-security issues.
“I believe Daniel’s done a very good job with the ball,” the Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said Thursday. “I believe he’s putting the ball in the precise spot and he’s making good decisions.”
With a projected $61 million in cap space in 2023, the Giants could gauge potential free-agent suitors for Jones within the spring or look to seek out a latest starter within the draft. But given how Jones has played under Daboll through five weeks, Tony Dungy, the previous coach of the Indianapolis Colts and a current NBC analyst, said Jones was making a case for further consideration.
“We’re seeing the most effective of Daniel Jones,” Dungy said.