A quick study with the Lions, Jonah Jackson is going into his fourth season as a starter. The young guard comprises part of one of the NFL’s top offensive lines, and an extension is now a worthwhile discussion topic.
Jackson became extension-eligible in January, and his rookie contract expires after the season. The former third-round pick has expressed a desire to stay in Detroit for the long haul, but no extension talks have begun yet. But Jackson, 26, expects that to change, indicating (via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett) contract discussions “probably” will begin after the team wraps up OTAs.
Teams often hammer out extensions between minicamp and the regular-season opener. The previous Lions front office agreed to terms with left tackle Taylor Decker in September 2020, while the Brad Holmes-led regime reupped center Frank Ragnow in May 2021. Although the current regime has authorized re-signings of Alex Anzalone and John Cominsky, the Ragnow move represents the only big-ticket extension agreed to since Holmes and Co. took over in 2021. Jackson seems poised to be another candidate.
Pro Football Focus has rated Jackson as a top-30 guard in each of the past two seasons, and he earned a Pro Bowl alternate nod in 2021. The Bob Quinn-era draftee has done well to help Detroit form a high-end offensive front. That group helped fellow extension candidate Jared Goff finish fifth in QBR last season — his highest career mark — and boosted Jamaal Williams to an NFL-most 16 rushing touchdowns in 2022.
While the Lions have Halapoulivaati Vaitai signed to a veteran contract, the former Eagles blocker accepted a pay cut after missing all of 2022. Vaitai’s restructure removed the 2024 season from his contract, giving the Lions a fairly clean investment ledger at guard. A few guards did well in free agency this year, with two — Ben Powers, Nate Davis — securing eight-figure-per-year deals. A big contract year could certainly boost Jackson’s prospects of joining the eight-figure-AAV guard club (currently 13 members), potentially giving the Rutgers product a decision ahead of the season. As he did in January, however, Jackson (via Birkett) expressed his fondness for Detroit.
It is also unknown how seriously the Lions will pursue an extension, as they also have Penei Sewell on track for a second contract in either 2024 or 2025. A big Goff raise would affect the Lions’ planning, with Amon-Ra St. Brown clearly on the extension radar as well.
The nine months between now and free agency will feature big-picture guard choices from several teams. Jackson joins Robert Hunt (Dolphins), Ezra Cleveland (Vikings), Michael Onwenu (Patriots), Damien Lewis (Seahawks), Jon Runyan Jr. (Packers) and Kevin Dotson (Steelers) as rookie-contract guards going into their walk years.