Lamar Jackson is under contract. Well sort of. But the pain is far from over for the Ravens.
The Ravens have franchise tagged their franchise QB. But, in an unprecedented move, it is the non-exclusive tag that they are using.
What happens now? Jackson can now negotiate with teams to get the contract he wants. Any contract negotiated can then be matched by the Ravens. If it isn’t matched, Jackson will be playing elsewhere in 2023 at a cost of 2 first-round picks for the winning bidder.
It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy for the Ravens. And that’s the view of a fan who doesn’t think this is the worst move – at this stage – for Baltimore. Jackson clearly wasn’t enamoured with any of the offers from the Ravens and there is clear disagreement about his value. Now he can find out his true worth on the open market. That market is getting tighter with Derek Carr heading to New Orleans and Aaron Rodgers flirting with the Jets. That gives Jordan Love an opportunity to start.
It only takes one team
But it only takes one team desperate to price the Ravens out. And as has become abundantly clear, the Ravens are limited when it comes to cap space. The franchise tag, even the cheaper non-exclusive tag, will likely mean cutting Calais Campbell and Gus Edwards among others, as well as losing Marcus Peters and Ben Powers in free agency. Ultimately the Ravens couldn’t afford to exclusively tag Jackson at $45M upfront. A front-loaded deal from a QB-needy team like the Falcons, Texans or Raiders – 3 of the wealthiest teams in cap space – could blow the Ravens out of the water.
Someone is going to present an offer that will be a mighty challenging position. That’s before we consider whether one of the options is fully guaranteed, something which is bound to happen. Ultimately, if Geno Smith is worth $75M over 3 years, Jackson is worth $50 guaranteed a year, regardless of injury.
While teams could price Baltimore out, teams will have to be ready to be saddled with their contract. So any poison pills would be relatively minor. So, once Jackson (and the Ravens) know his market value, they will know exactly where they stand with a fair deal. That would be a massive reward.
High Risk Ravens
But there is extremely high risk. The Ravens must be able to walk away from the table. They can’t risk mortgaging the future to chase a deal when they could have offered more before tagging Jackson.
If Jackson does go elsewhere, the Ravens need to commit to a full rebuild. It isn’t worth patching up with just 5 picks (plus 2 additional first-rounders). Bad cap management has put them in a position they couldn’t afford to pay Jackson as an NFL MVP. The Ravens need to draft a QB in April or 2024 and start from scratch, with or without John Harbaugh’s blessing.
The Ravens have made their bed. There are two very different paths to take. Building on a playoff team that is admittedly hamstrung by cap issues with multiple pieces missing or starting from scratch with a new QB and a fresh slate.
2023 will be a tough year in Baltimore. One of 31 teams is about to decide how tough.