An explosive solution to the Minnesota Vikings‘ quarterback conundrum fell into the franchise’s lap on Tuesday.
After more or less a year of negotiation, the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson failed to reach an agreement on a long-term contract, which resulted in Baltimore applying the non-exclusive franchise tag to the former MVP quarterback on March 7. Jackson is now permitted to negotiate with competing franchises, though the Ravens retain the right to match any offer sheet Jackson signs. If the Ravens choose not to match, the team that inks Jackson will be obligated to send Baltimore two first-round picks as compensation.
While it remains a long-shot proposition, the Vikings number among the organizations that should take a hard look at how the dynamic 26-year-old QB can transform their franchise for years to come.
Lamar Jackson Spectacular Solution to Vikings’ Issues With QB Kirk Cousins
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell took a deep dive into Jackson’s potential suitors on Tuesday, listing the Vikings among them and exploring the pluses, minuses and roadblocks to a deal.
The Vikings have an uncertain future at quarterback. Kirk Cousins is 34 and hasn’t exhibited the sort of ceiling teams want from their veteran signal-callers. Minnesota has contorted its cap for years to pay Cousins, something general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had no choice but to continue after joining the team a year ago.
If the Vikings can avoid one more restructure this offseason, though, Cousins will be a free agent after the 2023 campaign, leaving them with a completely blank slate under center. Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell could draft a quarterback in April, but Jackson would be a more exciting transition plan out of the Cousins era.
Barnwell added that the price of two first-round picks wouldn’t be as devastating to the Vikings as it would to some other franchises, as Minnesota picks 23rd in the upcoming draft and would likely be picking in the 20s — or potentially even later — after Jackson’s first full season in purple and gold.
Jackson’s Price, Vikings’ Salary Cap Situation Make Deal Difficult, Not Impossible
Hiccups to a deal between the Vikings and Jackson include Cousins’ no-trade clause and Minnesota’s current salary cap deficit of nearly $15.8 million.
The team can clear the necessary space by adding more veteran names to the cut list that started with linebacker Eric Kendricks on Monday. The release of Kendricks knocked $9.5 million off the Vikings’ cap total, while parting with safety Harrison Smith could save the team another $15 million. Wide receiver Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook are also potential cap casualties and represent significant potential savings.
A series of cuts, as well as trading Cousins’ contract, might allow Minnesota to create enough open salary to ink Jackson to the kind of deal he is looking for — somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million with most of that fully guaranteed.
Jackson turned down a six-year offer in that range that included $133 million guaranteed from the Ravens back in September, with the amount of guaranteed dollars proving the sticking point from which the quarterback refused to budge. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported at the time that Jackson is looking for guaranteed money in the range of the $230 million the Cleveland Browns guaranteed Deshaun Watson over a five-year deal he signed last offseason.
Such an exorbitant contract could prove tough for the Vikings, as they are expected to extend wide receiver Justin Jefferson to the richest contract at the position in NFL history, and Jackson will command significantly more in annual salary than even Jefferson will.
However, as the field for Jackson’s services narrows, some fancy financial maneuvering and a willingness to make a huge bet on both the QB’s health and what he could achieve with Jefferson by his side could make way for a monstrous splash in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.