Jamison HensleyESPN staff writer8 minutes of reading
Owings Mills, MD — The The Baltimore Ravens made a long-awaited move Placement of ownership tag Lamar Jackson at quarterback on Tuesday, but the team surprisingly chose to use it A non-exclusive one. According to ESPN Stats and Information Research, it’s the first time in seven years a quarterback has received a non-exclusive tag — Kirk Cousins’ 2016 example.
Under the $32.416 million non-exclusive tag, Jackson — who is not represented by an agent — can enter contract talks with other teams as early as Monday. But Baltimore has the right to match any offer sheet Jackson signs with another team or take two first-round picks as compensation.
An exclusive tag, projected at $45 million, would have allowed Baltimore to control Jackson’s rights and all trade talks.
After 25 months of negotiations, the two sides could not reach a long-term agreement. Sources told ESPN last year that Jackson wanted a fully guaranteed contract like the one the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson (five years, $230 million), but the Ravens believe Watson’s contract is more than a precedent. The Browns were forced to overpay for Watson as he reportedly narrowed his decision to the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, initially rejecting Cleveland as part of his trade deal.
So, for the first time in Ravens history, Baltimore can use the franchise tag on a quarterback to prevent Jackson from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Here are the biggest questions surrounding the move, as well as one quarterback ESPN NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller says the Ravens may find intriguing early in the draft.
Why did the Ravens use the non-exclusive tag?
That’s a lot less expensive than an exclusive, and because of limited draft capital, the Ravens need all the salary cap room — five picks in total — to improve the team in free agency.
This allows Jackson to talk to other teams and get a feel for his true market value, and see if another team is willing to offer a fully guaranteed contract. This forces Jackson to negotiate with other teams. Ravens officials have admitted that seating Jackson has been a challenge over the past two years. If Jackson signs the offer sheet and Baltimore matches it, the non-exclusive tag forces the Ravens to negotiate with another team.
If Jackson doesn’t receive a fully guaranteed contract offer, it would reinforce Baltimore’s position that Watson’s contract is not routine, and could increase the chances of Jackson returning.
The risk is that another team might offer Jackson a fully guaranteed contract, something Baltimore has been reluctant to do. Jackson is one of only two consensus MVPs in NFL history — Tom Brady is the other — to have at least seven games with at least 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards. When the Houston Texans got three first-rounders for Watson a year ago, it’s hard to believe the Ravens would allow another team to sign Jackson and settle for two first-round picks.
How many quarterbacks have been given the non-exclusive tag?
This is rare but not unprecedented. Since the franchise tag began 30 years ago, only five quarterbacks have received the non-exclusive tag: Steve Young (49ers, 1993), Jim Harbaugh (Colts, 1996), Drew Brees (Chargers, 2005), Matt Cassel (Patriots, 2009) Cousins (Washington, 2016).
Despite the obvious risk of losing a franchise quarterback, there has never been a quarterback signed to the non-exclusive franchise tag anywhere else. Cassel, who was traded from the New England Patriots to Kansas City in 2009 and signed a six-year deal with the Chiefs, is the only quarterback to play for another team after being granted the non-exclusive tag.
What does this mean for Jackson’s future in Baltimore?
Jackson and Baltimore have a league-mandated deadline of July 17 to complete a deal before suspending negotiations until the end of the season. Of the previous seven players tagged by the Ravens, five of them received new, multi-year contracts.
“There have been many instances around the league where Baltimore has had a player designated with the franchise tag and signed to a long-term contract in the same year,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith and believe we can work out a long-term deal that is fair to both Lamar and the Ravens. Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team that Lamar Jackson can lead to for many years to come.”
The bell rings for Jackson and Baltimore. If the Ravens can’t get Jackson to a deal next season, they’ll have to trade him in 2024. It doesn’t make sense for Baltimore to tag Jackson next year, let alone play through the 2024 season. He’s leaving in free agency in exchange for a third-round compensatory pick in 2026. Jackson’s future in Baltimore should be resolved over the next 12 to 13 months.
Will Jackson attack?
It’s assumed Jackson won’t report to offseason practices in spring and training camp, but no one really knows. At the end of the season, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about a potential catch and replied: “There’s no guarantee it’s going to go that way … Lamar is a unique guy. He doesn’t beat everybody’s drum.”
Last year, Jackson skipped all of the voluntary spring practices for the first time in his career and reported only to mandatory minicamp. If he doesn’t sign the franchise tag right away, Jackson is technically out of contract and can’t be fined for missing all offseason practices. Jackson only has to report shortly before the start of the regular season to earn his $1.77 million weekly salary. Jackson’s extended absence is not ideal for a Ravens team that is establishing a new program under Todd Monken, who was hired to replace Greg Roman as offensive coordinator.
There’s no guarantee Jackson will play under the tag, especially on the cheap. Jackson can take the exception to go the non-exclusive route with Baltimore, which would cost him $13 million. There are three players to sit out a season after being drafted: defensive tackles Sean Gilbert (Washington, 1997) and Dan Williams (Chiefs, 1998) and running back Le’Veon Bell (Steelers, 2018).
If Jackson is sidelined for offseason practices or the entire season, the most experienced quarterback left on Baltimore’s roster is Tyler Hundley, who is 3-5 as a starter in his career and struggled to score touchdowns after Jackson had a season-ending layoff last season. Knee injury. Hundley is a restricted free agent. Baltimore could add another veteran quarterback like Baker Mayfield or Jacoby Brissett. But given the amount of room Jackson’s tackle takes up, the Ravens may not be able to afford an advanced backup plan at quarterback.
What impact does this have on Baltimore’s cap situation?
Jackson’s tag rose from the Ravens’ $22 million to $10 million. Baltimore has until March 15th at 4 p.m. ET, which means the team has work to do in terms of cutting players and agreeing other players to pay cuts or cap-friendly extensions.
The Ravens could create $15 million in cap space by cutting defensive end Calais Campbell ($7 million in cap savings), safety Chuck Clark ($3.64 million) and Gus Edwards ($4.384 million). Baltimore could gain more cap space by reaching contract extensions with guard Kevin Zeitler and wide receiver Devin DuVernay.
Baltimore needs room not only to bring Jackson under the cap, but also to improve a roster that was bounced around in the wild-card round. The Ravens have five draft picks, their fewest since 1999, and need to upgrade at wide receiver and add a starting cornerback. In other words, Jackson’s tag severely limits what the Ravens can do to build a championship team around him.
Are there any QBs that could intrigue them in the second and third rounds?
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker An intriguing second round option. Hooker, who tore the ACL in his left knee in November, was a leading Heisman Trophy contender at the time. His 27 touchdown passes to two interceptions is the best ratio in the class of 2022. With a great deep ball and high-end accuracy — the movement needed to excel in Baltimore — Hooker is a solid top-60 pick and could be a starter when he’s healthy. – Matt Miller