The Baltimore Ravens will place the franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson if the sides cannot agree to a long-term deal in the coming weeks -- and there is a possibility other teams could tempt Baltimore to trade the former NFL MVP for a windfall of draft picks, per sources.
Jackson, 26, played out his rookie deal this past season and is unsigned for the 2023 season. In a season-ending press conference, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said there was a "200% chance" that Jackson stays in Baltimore and general manager Eric DeCosta said they were excited to restart negotiations, even after Jackson missed the end of a second consecutive season because of injury.
But Jackson's desire for more fully guaranteed money -- in line with Deshaun Watson's five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract with the Browns -- has kept the sides from striking a deal, despite Baltimore making multiple offers near the top of the QB market in key metrics.
If the sides don't come to terms on a long-term deal before the March 7 tag deadline, the likelihood is still that Jackson plays in Baltimore. Yet there are multiple ways Jackson could end up playing elsewhere in 2023.
The Ravens could tag Jackson and explore options for a trade, with surely no shortage of suitors for one of the NFL's most dynamic talents. Jackson would effectively have veto power over his destination, since he'd need to sign the franchise tender to complete the deal and any team giving up the level of compensation would want to work out a contract.
If Baltimore places the non-exclusive franchise tag (worth $32.416 million) on Jackson, that would allow him to negotiate a contract with another team; if the Ravens don't match, they'd get two first-round picks as compensation and Jackson would get a new home.
The non-exclusive tag also could potentially allow the Ravens to keep Jackson for the long haul by letting another team negotiate the long-term deal, which Baltimore then could match. The more expensive exclusive franchise tag would prevent Jackson from negotiating with any other team.
This situation has been years in the making as Jackson -- who doesn't have an agent and has his mother serving as an advisor -- played for just $1.77 million in 2021 and on his $23.016 million fifth-year option in 2022. He missed five games in 2021, including the last four because of a bone bruise in his ankle, and the last six games this past season (including a wild-card playoff loss at Cincinnati) because of what he tweeted last month was a Grade 2 PCL sprain in his knee.
If Jackson were to play on the tag with Baltimore in 2023, the Ravens could tag him again in 2024 and potentially a third time in 2025, though a third tag would be virtually cost-prohibitive. That means Jackson is at least two years away from having the type of leverage that Kirk Cousins had to get his three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed deal from Minnesota in 2018. Watson also had rare leverage last year, in spite of allegations of sexual misconduct, because the Texans allowed him to negotiate with several teams that had agreed to trade terms before Watson agreed to go to Cleveland when they ripped up his existing deal for a new guaranteed pact.
It also comes at a time of transition for the Ravens, who parted ways with offensive coordinator Greg Roman after the season. Harbaugh said Jackson would be involved in the process of selecting the next OC, though sources say he has not had direct communication with any candidates. The Ravens have yet to make a hire and are interested in speaking with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in the coming days.