Despite being a two-time Pro Bowler and former league MVP, Lamar Jackson lacks what matters most in professional sports: financial security. On the contrary, the extremely gifted signalman will enter his fifth season in the NFL without any guarantees as to his future income.
So not only does Jackson have tremendous pressure on his shoulders to lead the Baltimore Ravens into a deep playoff run, but he also faces the weight of having to prove he deserves a potentially record-breaking contract.
With the regular season about to begin, the talented quarterback is undoubtedly facing the most crucial four months of his life. Similarly, a few of Jackson’s peers also need to consistently string together quality performances to prepare to get paid.
Starting with Baltimore’s biggest star, let’s take a closer look at the best players of the contract year who need to get off to a good start — and keep it going.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
2021 statistics (12 games): 2,882 passing yards, 16 TDs, 13 INTs, 64.4 percent completion rate, 87.0 quarterback rating; 133 carries, 767 rushing yards, 2 TDs
Contract status: Will earn $23.016 million on fifth-year rookie deal option
The Ravens are at huge risk letting their most important player enter Week 1 without a long-term contract. At the same time, Lamar Jackson is putting his own future on the line by dressing up with no guarantees about his financial future.
Unlike other NFL teams that have moved mountains to pay their franchise quarterbacks, the Ravens have shown some reluctance to make Jackson one of the highest-paid players in his position. Perhaps it has to do with his unique style and skills, which still raise questions about whether he can win a Super Bowl title.
After an injury-shortened campaign in which he threw a career-high 13 interceptions, Jackson needs to prove he’s closer to the 2019 version that led the league with 36 passing touchdowns.
However, will he be able to put up big numbers with a cast of weapons that includes unproven young products like 2021 first-round receiver Rashod Bateman, 2020 second-round running back JK Dobbins and the other recruits 2020 Devin Duvernay and James Proche II?
Luckily for Jackson, he can turn to Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews at any time, and the Ravens should have a vastly improved offensive line with a healthy Ronnie Stanley at left tackle. Yet there is Nope doubts the physically gifted quarterback faces a daunting challenge to rediscover his MVP form playing in a division that features three talented defenses.
Additionally, with matchups against the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos on the schedule, Jackson will have his work cut out over the next few months.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Carolina Panthers
2021 statistics (14 games): 3,010 passing yards, 17 TDs, 13 INTs, 60.5 percent completion rate, 83.1 quarterback rating; 37 carries, 134 yards, 1 TD
Contract status: Will earn $4.858 million under the restructured contract, plus up to $3.5 million in incentives
After four years of ups and downs in Cleveland, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will try to convince the Carolina Panthers to keep him for the foreseeable future. Baker Mayfield’s ability to do so remains one of the biggest questions going into the 2022 season. After all, Browns fans have witnessed the ups and downs of believing in the former Heisman Trophy winner.
Now under the guidance of Matt Rhule (another person squarely in the hot seat), Mayfield has the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong. Of course, his success largely hinges on the ability of the Panthers offensive line to provide adequate protection.
After playing behind one of the league’s best units in Cleveland, the undersized signalman will depend on a rookie left tackle to keep him out of harm’s way.
At the very least, Mayfield has a chance to succeed thanks to a solid collection of talented players. Between a healthy Christian McCaffrey and the eternally underrated DJ Moore, the Panthers boast true Pro Bowlers at running back and receiver.
If veteran Robbie Anderson and 2021 second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. interfere, Carolina could have a dangerous passing game. But if Mayfield mounts another ho-hum campaign, he will have a hard time convincing somebody it’s worth paying north of $20 million a year.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
2021 statistics (13 games): 162 carries, 593 yards, 2 TDs; 41 receptions, 263 yards, 2 TDs
Contract status: Will earn $7.217 million on fifth-year rookie deal option
Will the real Saquon Barkley stand up? After looking like a generational talent at Penn State, his stock has dropped significantly since becoming the second player selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Injuries have prevented the dynamic running back from fulfilling his potential. And the fact that the New York Giants could let him walk in free agency speaks volumes about how former general manager Dave Gettleman used a premium pick.
Barkley’s 2021 season hasn’t inspired much confidence in his ability to live up to his draft pedigree. From averaging 3.7 yards for a pedestrian per carry to just four total touchdowns, the 25-year-old fell good below expectations. Considering the position he plays, his durability issues and poor production, Barkley has several factors working against him when it comes to landing a lucrative contract.
The Giants desperately need their big running back and fourth-year quarterback Daniel Jones to step up in 2022. However, if that doesn’t happen, don’t be surprised if the organization leaves the two highly drafted players during the season. off-season. .
Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB, Denver Broncos
Statistics 2021 (7 games): 21 total tackles (1 for loss), 0 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, 1 interception, 2 passes defended
Contract status: Will earn $13.926 million on fifth-year option of rookie deal
On paper, Bradley Chubb has all the qualities teams look for in a first edge rusher. However, like Saquon Barkley, the 2018 first-rounder spent much of his professional career on the sidelines. So after missing 24 games in his first four years in Denver, Chubb can’t afford any more setbacks.
After a sackless season, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound defenseman is set to step back in 2018 when he burst onto the scene with 12 sacks and 21 quarterback hits as a rookie. A factor in favor of Chubb? The Broncos bolstered their talented defense with veteran point Randy Gregory — a move that should give his young teammate more one-on-one opportunities.
If Chubb gets off to a good start and stays healthy, he could easily set himself up for a multi-year deal that pays him well north of $14-15 million a year. But if injuries strike again, he will likely have to settle for a one-year deal.
Marcus Davenport, DE, New Orleans Saints
2021 statistics (11 games): 39 total tackles (9 for loss), 9 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
Contract status: Will earn $9.553 million on fifth-year option (team converted over $8 million in base salary into signing bonus)
Another promising sack artist who hasn’t quite put it all together, Marcus Davenport had his best season in 2021. However, the New Orleans Saints didn’t give up several first-round players in the draft. 2018 to take on a peak rusher who can’t break the double-digit sack mark. And despite shining moments since entering the NFL, Davenport has yet to pull off that feat.
Will 2022 be his coming-out party? At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, the Texas native has an ideal frame for a 4-3 defensive end. Additionally, Davenport has had four years to learn the nuances of quarterback hunting from future Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee Cameron Jordan. As her mentor enters the twilight of her career, it’s time for the young understudy to become the guys in New Orleans.
Davenport can’t afford to have another injury that takes him off the field. And right off the bat, he has to demonstrate that he’s more than a complement to an aging Pro Bowler. Otherwise, his dream of becoming one of the league’s highest-paid passing throwers will never come true.
Marcus Peters, CB, Baltimore Ravens
2021 statistics: Missed the entire season with a torn ACL
Contract status: Will earn $15.5 million ($10 million base salary)
Injuries derailed the Ravens’ chances of earning a playoff berth a year ago. In particular, the loss of Marcus Peters to a torn ACL played a major role in Baltimore’s defense slipping from second to 19th in points allowed. But with the three-time Pro Bowler entering a contract year, there’s reason to be optimistic John Harbaugh’s team will finish among the top 10 defensive units.
Although he had flaws, Peters earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best ballhawks in the NFL. His resume includes 31 interceptions, 86 passes defended and six choose six. However, after a serious knee injury, can the 29-year-old cornerback still cover high-flying receivers and create turnovers on a weekly basis?
Given the strength of his resume, a rebound campaign from Peters should put him in position to land another lucrative contract. On the other hand, if he takes a step back after a lost season, it might be difficult for him to get a big payday.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference; Contract information courtesy of Spotrac
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