NFL Insider Notebook 1.0: Latest on Lamar Jackson, Austin Ekeler, Darren Waller, and more

What's the latest NFL news and rumors around Lamar Jackson's contract situation, Darren Waller's contract talks, Austin Ekeler's high-volume usage, and Saints center Erik McCoy's new deal?

Every week throughout the season, we’ll be bringing you the latest NFL news and rumors here in the PFN Insider notebook. Today, we provide the latest updates on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s contract negotiations, the expected workload for Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (and his backups), information around Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller, and more.

Latest on Ravens QB Lamar Jackson’s contract negotiations

Star quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are at a contract impasse with such a large gap and fundamental difference of opinion on guaranteed money that his stated Friday deadline for talks is expected to come and go without a deal as no financial compromise is unfolding, expected or imminent, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.

None of this comes as a surprise as the guaranteed money issue is the central disconnect between Jackson, a former NFL Most Valuable Player, and the AFC North franchise. A source emphasized that this isn’t an acrimonious situation, it’s simply a matter of agreeing to disagree.

Hours later, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta issued a statement announcing there will be no deal.

“Despite best efforts on both sides, we were unable to reach a contract extension with Lamar Jackson,” DeCosta said. “We greatly appreciate how he has handled this process and we are excited about our team with Lamar leading the way. We will continue to work towards a long-term contract after the season, but for now we are looking forward to a successful 2022 campaign.”

Jackson wants a contract similar to or above Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who signed an unprecedented five-year, $230 million contract after being traded from the Houston Texans despite multiple accusations of sexual misconduct with dozens of civil lawsuits settled with his accusers.

Jackson, who has never had an off-field issue and has beaten Watson in a head-to-head matchup, wants to be compensated in a manner that reflects his status in comparison to other quarterbacks. The Ravens, and multiple other NFL teams, view Watson’s contract as an outlier, per sources. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has acknowledged previously that Watson’s hefty contract makes negotiations more difficult.

The Ravens have made extremely lucrative offers to Jackson, per sources, but they aren’t fully guaranteed offers.  One source said the Ravens are believed to be willing to guarantee a large portion of the contract, likely topping Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson’s $165 million guaranteed and closer to or slightly above Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray’s $189.5 million guaranteed.

Should a deal not happen, Jackson is due a $23.016 million fifth-year club option. The Ravens can make him their franchise player next offseason at a cost of over $45 million if no deal is reached this year.

Jackson has no agent and relies on the advice of his mother, Felicia Jones, and advisors and has no plans to hire an NFL Players Association certified agent at this time, according to sources.

“Lamar and his family prefer not to have an agent,” a source said. “That hasn’t stopped many agents from making their pitch to rep him. They’re staying the course and don’t want an agent.”

“As of right now, we’re still talking,” Jackson said Wednesday during a press conference. “The week isn’t over yet.”

The former Louisville standout added that it was unclear if a deal will be reached in talks with Ravens’ general manager Eric DeCosta: “I have no clue. You have to ask the guy who
I’m talking to. You talk to the GM about that.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh commented on the situation, emphasizing that the focus has been on preparations for the season opener against the New York Jets.

“Those things will work themselves out in the end. I’m confident in that,” Harbaugh said. “I said at the beginning that it will happen when it’s time, and when it’s time it will happen. So, Lamar is playing quarterback, he’s going to be playing quarterback here for a long time.

“He and I talked about it a little bit, like, ‘Hey man, let’s go be our best, and go focus on football.’ That’s what he’s been doing all along, so I know nothing will change with that. Just focused on Sunday.”

Jackson had said that after Friday, his sole focus will be on playing the Jets and former Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco. The talks are expected to be tabled until after the season.

Jackson is known as an independent thinker who does things differently and maintains a tight inner circle. He’s open and interested in ultimately striking a long-term deal with the Ravens, league sources emphasize.

Both sides want to get a deal done. Both sides have strong convictions about how such a deal should be structured, and that’s why there is no accord at this time in Baltimore.

Austin Ekeler is expected to be a heavy-volume, high-production performer

Chargers standout running back Austin Ekeler is expected to be a high-volume, heavily productive all-purpose contributor again with plenty of touches working in tandem with Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert.

That’s because Ekeler is the engine of the Chargers’ offense by merit and necessity. The Chargers’ backup running backs — Sony Michel, Joshua Kelley, and rookie Isaiah Spiller — have not distinguished themselves, and this is not regarded as a position of strength behind Ekeler, according to multiple NFL sources.

Michel rushed for 845 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Los Angeles Rams but was cut by the Miami Dolphins. Meanwhile, Ekeler represents a sound value for the Chargers and fantasy football managers.

Ekeler had 46 red zone runs last season and scored 12 times, while Michel had four red zone scores out of 45 red zone runs for the Rams.

At a compact, 5-foot-8, 200 pounds, Ekeler, a former undrafted free agent from Western Colorado, is supremely fit and versatile. He has 2,812 career rushing yards, 21 touchdowns, and an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He also has 282 receptions for 2,726 yards and 24 touchdowns.

“I don’t see his role changing any time soon,’’ Chargers coach Brandon Staley said at the start of training camp. “Hopefully, we can do even more with him. He’s in the best shape of his life. He looks fantastic.”

“I’m not expecting any kind of dip in usage with him,’’ Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “Just being smart with how many times he’s getting hit every game is something that you have to keep an eye on.’’

Ekeler, who has run the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds with a 40 1/2 inch vertical leap, is believed to be even faster now than in his college days.

Signed to a four-year, $24.5 million contract extension with $15 million guaranteed in 2020, Ekeler rushed for career-high 911 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and caught eight touchdowns to tie Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor for the most touchdowns in the league by a running back. Ekeler caught 70 passes for 647 yards and eight touchdowns. His career-high for catches and yards is 92 receptions for 993 yards in 2019.

“It’s my job to add as much value as I can,’’ Ekeler said. “Not only in the running back spot, but out in the slot and kind of all over the field. I’m going to be efficient wherever you put me.”

Darren Waller deal expected to happen

The Raiders and tight end Darren Waller share a goal — negotiating a new contract for him before the season begins.

Waller recently hired veteran agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him, and a deal is expected to get done, according to league sources, with both sides highly motivated.

Waller has two years remaining on his current deal with $13 million due and a ranking of 17th in average annual compensation among tight ends during that span.

A new deal for Waller is expected to surpass the average for tight ends George Kittle ($15 million), Travis Kelce ($14.3 million), Dallas Goedert ($14.25 million), and Mark Andrews ($14 million).

Waller, 29, a former Ravens sixth-round draft pick as a wide receiver, has caught 252 passes for 3,006 yards and 14 touchdowns since 2019.

Due $6.75 million in 2022 and 2023, Waller is expected to now receive a hefty raise from the Raiders. That falls in line with what’s expected to be a major role for him in new coach Josh McDaniels’ offense.

Saints reward Erik McCoy

When the New Orleans Saints struck a deal with center Erik McCoy, they rewarded a player highly regarded around the league. McCoy hasn’t been named to a Pro Bowl yet, but the former second-round draft pick from Texas A&M is considered all-star caliber.

His contract, negotiated by Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and executive Khai Harley and Apex Group’s Bill Johnson and Matthew Pope, compensates him as one of the top interior linemen. It’s a five-year, $63.75 million deal with $40 million guaranteed and an average of $12.75 million annually.

McCoy, 25, is in the prime of his career and has started 44 career games. He’s a former all-rookie selection and forms a strong tandem next to right guard Cesar Ruiz, a former first-round draft pick from Michigan.

The deal is another example of how the Saints keep managing the salary cap and rewarding their core players.

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