The deadline for NFL teams to assign the exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tag to impending unrestricted free agents is Tuesday, March 7, 2023. According to ESPN NFL Inside Jeremy Fowler, the Baltimore Ravens “have strongly considered using the non-exclusive franchise tag” on quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Unlike the exclusive tag, the nonexclusive designation would allow other interested teams to offer the former unanimous league MVP a contract that the Ravens could either choose to match or decline and receive two first-round picks in exchange.
Jackson is reportedly been seeking a fully guaranteed that eclipses the record-setting deal that the Cleveland Browns gave to Deshaun Watson after acquiring him via trade last offseason. Per Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, the two sides are “still not close to getting a deal done” and the Ravens have their “best offer on the table” that is still “pending feedback” from Jackson’s camp.
Risky Gamble Could Payoff or Backfire
Applying the nonexclusive tag worth $32.4 million on Jackson would be roughly $12.8 million cheaper than the exclusive designation that comes with a one-year cap hit of $45.2 million if a long-term deal isn’t struck by the July 15th negotiating deadline.
It would mean they wouldn’t need to clear up that much more additional cap space than their projected $25.9 million per spotrac.com in order to fit him under the cap and have room to make a move or two in free agency as well as sign their 2023 draft class.
However, by doing so they would risk losing Jackson altogether because there are several quarterback-needy teams with the requisite draft capital and plenty of cap space to outbid the Ravens for his services in 2023 and beyond.
If the bidding war that resulted in Watson receiving a five-year extension worth $230 million in full guarantees despite dealing with dozens of sexual assault civil cases teaches anything, it is that there is almost always a suitor desperate enough to grossly overpay for proven talent at premium positions.
By not agreeing to a deal ahead of the designation deadline or not using the exclusive tender to ensure that they are the only team that Jackson can negotiate until this time next year, the Ravens could risk receiving pennies on the dollar in compensation for him compared to what the likes of Watson, Russell Wilson, and Matthew Stafford garnered the past two offseasons.
Ravens Meet With Dynamic Prospect at Underated Position of Need
One of the team’s under-the-radar needs this offseason is adding more depth in their offensive backfield. With Justice Hill expected to hit free agency, they currently have just two running backs under contract through the 2023 season in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards who were both banged up for stretches in 2022 coming off of major knee injuries suffered the year before.
According to Ryan Fowler of the Draft Network, the Ravens were one of several teams that met with former Tulane standout running back Tyjae Spears during the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
While he didn’t run a 40-yard dash, he was still very impressive during his field workouts where he displayed excellent footwork and speed as well as catching the ball well and running excellent routes.
Spears was a dynamic weapon for the Green Wave last year with the way he made plays and impacted the game both as a runner and receiving out of the backfield. He led his team and finished fifth in the nation in rushing yards with 1,581, recorded the fourth-most scrimmage yards in the nation with 1,837, and tied for the most scrimmage touchdowns in the country with 21 per Sports Reference.
His best attributes are his ability to maintain his balance and run through contact as well as make defenders miss in open space. In his final college game, he put on a clinic on how to find the end zone, rack up yards from scrimmage, and make would-be tacklers look silly as he shredded the Trojan’s defense for 205 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on just 17 attempts.
Spears is likely a lock to come off the board on the second day of the draft and if he somehow lasts until the third round when the Ravens are slated to pick at No. 86 overall. It wouldn’t be surprising if a card with his name on it was turned in with plenty of time left on the clock.