What will happen with Lamar Jackson’s contract?
In two days, the two-week window for application of the franchise tag opens. By the time the clock strikes 4:00 p.m. ET on March 7, the Ravens will either have a long-term deal in place with quarterback Lamar Jackson, or the Ravens will apply the franchise tag.
The only other option would be to let him become an unrestricted free agent, or to use the transition tag. The first of those is impossible, the second is pretty close to that.
Barring a dramatic change in position by the team or the player, a long-term deal isn’t happening. Jackson wants a five-year, fully-guaranteed contract, like the one that the Browns gave to Deshaun Watson. The Ravens don’t want to give Jackson a five-year, fully-guaranteed contract.
So what will happen? Our guess is that the Ravens and Jackson won’t work out a long-term deal before the tag window closes. The question then becomes whether the Ravens will apply the exclusive or non-exclusive version of the tag.
The exclusive version means he wouldn’t be able to negotiate with other teams. He’d play for the Ravens or no one. His franchise tender would be based on the average of the five highest quarterback cap numbers for 2023, determined as of a week or so before the draft.
Currently, that’s $45.4 million. But restructurings between now and April will surely change things, dropping the number lower.
The non-exclusive version of the franchise tag, which would result in a tender of $32.4 million, would give Jackson the ability to talk to other teams that have first-round picks in the next two drafts available. (Jackson, for example, couldn’t contact the Dolphins or the Saints until after the 2023 draft ends, since neither has their original first-round picks.)
If the Ravens opt for the non-exclusive franchise tag, Jackson would then have the ability to seek the five-year, fully-guaranteed contract that he wants from another team that has its original 2023 first-round pick: Falcons, Panthers, Jets, Titans, Seahawks, Commanders (if they change their minds about not wanting a veteran quarterback, or if they simply say they never dreamed the Ravens would use non-exclusive tag on Jackson), whoever.
Given that Jackson doesn’t have an agent (as we’ve said time and again, he needs one), how would it even happen? Would he call the teams? Would the teams reach out to him? (Five years ago, in the weeks preceding the draft, interested teams reportedly had a hard time connecting with him.)
Would there be any actual negotiation, or would he just wait for someone to drop the Deshaun Watson deal into his lap?
That’s where a good agent could make a big difference. The agent can explain to Jackson how and why Watson worked the system to get a five-year, fully-guaranteed contract despite more than 20 pending civil lawsuits, and that these offers just don’t materialize from thin air.
What if the blowback the Browns experienced last year keeps another team from offering Jackson a five-year, fully-guaranteed deal? Yes, it takes only one team to do it. Will any team do it?
A trade could be the end result, for something less than two first-round picks -- especially if it’s the Falcons (with the eighth overall pick) or the Panthers (with the ninth) that try to get Jackson. In lieu of waiting for someone who drafts lower in round one signing Jackson to an offer sheet (or having him sign an offer sheet the 2023 draft, putting 2024 and 2025 first-round picks in play), the Ravens could accept a top-10 pick and maybe a second-rounder or a third-rounder in 2023, or perhaps a conditional pick in 2024 based on Jackson’s playing time in 2023.
Our current guess is that, unless the exclusive franchise tender dips below $40 million, the Ravens will be inclined to go the non-exclusive route. That would give them the ability to match any offer sheet Jackson signs, to take a pair of first-round picks if they choose not to match, or to otherwise work out a trade.
And if no one will give Jackson the five-year, fully-guaranteed contract he wants, he’ll have to decide whether to play for the Ravens on a one-year tender and do it all over again in 2024, or to accept the best offer the Ravens will make on a long-term deal.
Yes, it would all go a lot more smoothly if Jackson had an agent. Frankly, if he had an agent, he would have likely signed a long-term deal before the 2022 season even began.