- Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
It doesn’t even take a full NFL season for fortunes to change. Before the 2022 season, when I highlighted the people around the league with the most to gain or lose, I thought we would have to wait 18 weeks to get answers.
Instead, some stories are finished, and others are on the final pages. From that list, Panthers coach Matt Rhule has been fired. Jets offensive tackle Mekhi Becton got hurt and will miss the entire season. Raiders coach Josh McDaniels’ team is out of the playoff picture, and Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst’s team is on its last legs after losing five straight.
There have been some positives, too. Dolphins passer Tua Tagovailoa and Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts are in the middle of career seasons. Giants signal-caller Daniel Jones has been competent for the 6-2 Giants. Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s rebuild ended before it started, and the Seahawks are 2.5 games ahead of the pack for first place in the NFC West.
Let’s take a look at the players and coaches (plus one executive) who have the most to gain or lose over the second half of the season. We’ll check in with some of those highlighted before the season, of course, but there are plenty of new candidates who have money, future opportunities or some element of their legacies riding on what happens over the next three months of football.
We’ll start, again, with the man making the biggest bet in football and go through the rest of the 33-man list, sorted by position and ending with coaches and executives:
Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens
While everyone in the Ravens organization has publicly adopted the attitude that a contract extension for the 2019 MVP is inevitable, Jackson’s short- and long-term future is still in question. He is playing out his $23 million fifth-year option this season, which is rare for first-round quarterbacks with his sort of résumé. Players this good almost always sign extensions before Year 5.
Of course, Jackson wants something few players have a path to getting, no matter how good they are: a fully guaranteed megadeal. With Deshaun Watson getting five years and $230 million from the Browns in March, Jackson might credibly ask for five years and something closer to $250 million from Baltimore. If he leads the Ravens on a deep playoff run, it would be difficult to deny him that sort of extension.
Without that sort of performance, the Ravens would probably end up sticking the exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, which is expected to be around $45.4 million. Not chump change, of course, but there’s a difference of more than $200 million in guarantees between those figures. He could make that difference up on a new deal in 2024 and beyond, but any player is one injury away from not realizing their future earnings potential.
If Jackson struggles, the Ravens might consider floating the ultimate trial balloon for his market. Sticking him with the non-exclusive franchise tag would be a little cheaper, but it would allow other teams to sign him to an offer sheet. Baltimore would get two first-round picks if it declined to match. Is there a universe in which the team could move on from him? And if so, could Jackson end up staying in the DMV and moving to, of all teams, the Commanders? Probably not, but if the Ravens don’t get a deal done this offseason, the clock will be ticking on his future in Baltimore.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins
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