Lamar Jackson received the non-exclusive franchise tag from the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday, March 7. It means Jackson won’t enter 2023 NFL free agency, but the tag doesn’t rule out the Ravens still trading their franchise quarterback.
Jackson is now set to earn $32,416,000 on a one-year deal, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
The non-exclusive tag not only means the Ravens will get two first-round draft picks if they choose not to match any offers Jackson receives and wants to pursue. They will also be able to continue negotiating a lucrative, multi-year contract with Jackson, albeit on a non-exclusive basis.
General manager Eric DeCosta made it clear the Ravens remain “hopeful that we can strike a long-term deal that is fair to both Lamar and the Ravens.”
Perhaps that optimism comes from a belief another team from around the league won’t offer Jackson fully guaranteed money. Nonetheless, the Ravens are rolling the dice some franchise doesn’t want Jackson enough to at least try and strike a deal.
Keeping talks about a more lengthy arrangement going won’t be easy for DeCosta. Not when there have been reports Jackson hasn’t been open to getting a deal done.
Lamar Jackson Reticent to Discuss Long-Term Contract: Report
That’s the verdict of NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, who reported on Tuesday DeCosta had travelled to Florida to discuss a contract with Jackson. Yet, “it just doesn’t seem like Lamar Jackson himself has engaged in this process. Does not sound to me like there’s momentum to getting a deal done.”
Those are damning words regarding Jackson’s state of mind about prolonging his stay with the Ravens beyond the ’23 season. If he is reluctant to stick around, the Ravens have at least ensured they can get good value in trade for the face of the franchise.
As Sports Illustrated’s Gilberto Manzano pointed out, Jackson is a dream target for any team needing help at football’s most important position. Manzano listed notable candidates, including the Las Vegas Raiders, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts.
Perhaps the most viable option is the Atlanta Falcons, after Heavy’s Senior NFL Reporter Matt Lombardo reported “the Lamar Jackson conversation between the Ravens and Falcons progressed tremendously in Indianapolis.”
A veteran AFC scout told Lombardo how Jackson would “impact the Falcons’ offense as much as he did Baltimore’s. If there ever was a ‘force multiplier’ it’s Lamar! In that division, adding Jackson alone might be enough to get them in the playoffs.”
Taking significant draft capital, and maybe even some veteran help, from any one of four possible suitors in exchange for Jackson, might be a happy compromise for the Ravens. It would certainly be easier than giving the 26-year-old a fully guaranteed contract or even balancing the cost of the tag against this year’s salary cap.
Eric DeCosta Now Faces Tough Cap Decisions
DeCosta now faces a tough slog to fold in the cost of the tag and get the Ravens under the cap before the official start of the new league year on Wednesday, March 15. None of his obvious options are particularly appealing, according to The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer: “In all likelihood, starters will be released, contracts restructured and spending restricted as DeCosta tries to accommodate Jackson’s deal before and after the new league year starts March 15.”
Shaffer mentioned All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews and shutdown cornerback Marlon Humphrey as prime candidates to have their deals reworked. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Calais Campbell and his $7 million cap hit becomes somebody more likely to be released.
Dumping a team leader like Campbell, who’s still effective on the field, isn’t a palatable option, but needs must. Nor is messing with the contract of a consistent contributor like Andrews, the most productive pass-catcher on the roster.
Yet, it’s going to he hard for the Ravens to avoid tough choices. Especially if they’re going to improve their options at wide receiver, the only thing likely to expand the passing game and convince Jackson to stick around for the long haul.