Lamar Jackson Available for AFC North Rivals in Nightmare Scenario for Ravens

Lamar Jackson

Getty Lamar Jackson playing for another AFC North team is a nightmare the Ravens could struggle to avoid.

Lamar Jackson playing for another AFC North team next season. It’s the nightmare scenario the Baltimore Ravens can’t ignore as long as their franchise quarterback remains without a new deal.

Jackson’s headed for free agency as things stand, unless the Ravens cough up Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson-level cash to keep him. Paying out on that scale would be un-Ravens-like, but general manager Eric DeCosta has two other options involving the franchise tag.

One tag would allow the Ravens to match any offer made by other teams. It’s a scenario detailed by Jeff Howe of The Athletic, who named up to 10 suitors for Jackson, including the one team from within the division the Ravens would hate to see No. 8 join.

Bitter Rival Named Among Jackson’s Suitors

Howe pointed out how “if a quarterback-desperate team steps up with a fully guaranteed $250 million contract, or at least 80 percent of that guaranteed, Jackson needs to entertain that offer. Perhaps those teams could include the Jets, Colts, Steelers, Texans, Giants, Commanders, Falcons, Lions, Panthers or Saints. Don’t worry about the cap. If a team needs a franchise quarterback, they’ll find a way to make the money work.”

Of all the teams on the list, seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers put a jersey on Jackson would hurt the Ravens most. The two are bitter rivals whose battles defined not only an era in the NFL, but also established the personality of the AFC North.

It’s a division known for physical football and tough defense thanks to Ravens and Steelers greats like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Marshal Yanda, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton and Ben Roethlisberger.

The latter’s retirement took the Steelers back to square one at football’s most important position. Signing Mitchell Trubisky didn’t work, and while rookie Kenny Pickett has shown potential, the Steelers would surely find acquiring Jackson too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

DeCosta would be powerless to stop Jackson signing on the dotted line with the Steelers, or any other team, if he let the dual-threat QB enter free agency. DeCosta’s best hope of avoiding the nightmare scenario may depend on how he uses the tag.

Risky Tag is the Ravens’ Best Jackson Solution

Howe outlined why using the franchise tag makes sense for the Ravens, but it depends on which tag. Rather than use the exclusive tag, “projected at approximately $45-46 million,” Howe offered an intriguing alternative.

It would involve the Ravens offering Jackson “the nonexclusive tag (projected somewhere north of $30 million) and allow him to negotiate with other teams, though they could match any offer or decline and recoup two first-round picks. Considering the Browns and Broncos just gave up significantly more than two first-rounders for Watson and Wilson, the nonexclusive tag would be a major gamble.”

As Howe pointed out, there’s significant risk involved in rolling the dice a team won’t dangle a pair of first-round draft picks in front of the Ravens. Yet, a draft haul on that level may make it easy to say goodbye to Jackson if there’s no other way.

Jackson is the most dynamic playmaker at his position in the league, but he’s also made 53 poor throws and had eight more batted down through 11 games, per Pro Football Reference.

There are question marks about any signal-caller who directs an offense that’s “24th in the NFL in TD conversion rate” from within the red zone, per Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun. The Ravens went 2-for-5 inside the 20 during Week 12’s 28-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jackson’s also had issues with ball security, fumbling five times and losing two, including this key turnover against the Jags:

There are mitigating circumstances for Jackson’s struggles. They include the lack of an elite wide receiver to complement All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s run-heavy system is also far from ideal for a quarterback keen to dominate through the air.

Regardless of why Jackson might struggle, the Ravens should give themselves the option of getting premium compensation if they decide to let him leave. The non-exclusive tag would allow DeCosta to walk away from matching any offer the Ravens deem prohibitive, even if it came from the Steelers.

A tag costing just over $30 million would give the Ravens enough space under the salary cap to re-sign other key free agents. They include inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who cost the team two 2023 draft picks in trade with the Chicago Bears, but the 25-year-old needs to fix a central problem with his game.

The Ravens need options for Jackson’s future to avoid being forced to meet any demands, no matter how excessive.