Unpacking the Lamar Jackson Franchise Tag

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Unpacking the Lamar Jackson Franchise Tag: What it Means, Possible Destinations, More


It was all but a foregone conclusion that the Ravens would franchise tag Lamar Jackson. Ravens GM Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh made it clear that they would place the franchise tag on Jackson if the two sides couldn’t reach an extension before March 7.

The Ravens and Jackson haven’t been close to a deal. Lamar wants a fully guaranteed contract. The Ravens — and every other NFL team sans the Cleveland Browns — aren’t willing to go to that length, even for a former unanimous MVP and the face of the franchise in Baltimore.

But the Surprise was that they decided to use the non-exclusive franchise tag on the former MVP quarterback. In doing this, the Ravens allow their franchise quarterback to negotiate with any team he chooses.

Baltimore is betting on the market with the non-exclusive tag

The non-exclusive franchise has advantages and risks to the team deploying it. First, at face value, it’s a significantly cheaper option. If Jackson stays in Baltimore, the Ravens will pay him $32.4 million in 2023. Had Baltimore used the exclusive tag, they would have been on the hook for $45 million next season.

But there’s an if here. If Lamar stays in Baltimore, they will pay him the discounted price. The non-exclusive tag allows Jackson to negotiate elsewhere.

Let’s say the Falcons (for hypothetical purposes) offer Jackson a contract he’s content with. Jackson then signs an offer sheet and informs the Ravens of the offer. The Ravens can either match that offer and keep Jackson in Baltimore or let him sign with the Falcons. In which case, the Ravens would receive two first-round draft picks from Atlanta as compensation.

Essentially, the Ravens and Jackson are at a stalemate in negotiations. So, they’re letting Jackson go out and negotiate his contract with the rest of the market and will then be able to choose whether or not they want to sign him to the best deal that he finds on the open market.

So, who might be interested in Lamar?

There are a few teams who jump out as immediate fits for Jackson. However, the Atlanta Falcons make so much sense that a deal should be done already. Atlanta has a ton of cap space and needs a quarterback.

They need a quarterback unless Atlanta is betting on Desmond Ridder to be the future under center. Jackson would immediately give the Falcons the best quarterback in the NFC South and probably even make them the favorites in a pretty weak division.

The Indianapolis Colts are on record saying they are tired of band-aid solutions at the game’s premier position. The Colts are desperate for a franchise quarterback. They have a new head coach who had success taking Jalen Hurts to the next level in Philadelphia and a team that otherwise could be ready to compete for an AFC South title with the addition of a player like Lamar at QB.

If the Aaron Rodgers thing doesn’t work out in New York, the Jets could become instant contenders with the addition of Lamar Jackson. The Jets have a dominant defense and a talented young offense that Lamar could take to the next level.

If the Miami Dolphins aren’t sold on Tua Tagovailoa, Jackson would be a perfect fit in Mike McDaniel’s offense. Could you imagine Lamar throwing to Tyreek Hill and Jalen Waddle? Holy smokes, that would be fun.

The San Francisco 49ers were a quarterback away from the Super Bowl last season after Brock Purdy went down in the NFC Championship. Purdy is out until September, and Trey Lance is a highly unproven player. In an offense with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey, and George Kittle, Lamar would make the 49ers an instant Super Bowl favorite.

It’s worth pointing out that the path to acquiring Jackson would be slightly different for the Dolphins and 49ers. First, since they do not have a first-round pick this year, they would have to wait until after the NFL Draft to negotiate. They would then send their 2024 and 2025 first-rounders to Baltimore as compensation.

The Washington Commanders could also use a quarterback like Lamar to take them to the next level. But Dan Snyder’s impending sale of the team makes that a stickier situation.

Wait, you’re telling me that no one wants a former MVP QB in his prime?

That is fine and dandy, but we already see teams remove themselves from the Lamar sweepstakes via sourced reports.

ESPN’s Dianna Russini tweeted almost immediately after the Ravens’ decision was announced that the Falcons would not pursue Jackson.

On Tuesday afternoon, various reports also removed the Panthers, Commanders, and Dolphins from the Lamar sweepstakes.

The flurry of reports of quarterback-needy teams being out on Jackson almost immediately after the Ravens announced the non-exclusive tag smells fishy. Well, let’s be honest here; it doesn’t just smell fishy; it’s downright suspicious.

Collusion is almost impossible to prove, but this damn sure stinks of it. There’s no way that every quarterback-needy team in the NFL isn’t at least interested in exploring the possibility of signing Lamar Jackson at the cost of two first-rounders to Baltimore.

The Ravens know that NFL owners do not want to make fully-guaranteed deals the new norm. Heck, it was Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti that said at the league meetings last year that he wished the Browns hadn’t done so with Deshaun Watson.

Damn, I wish [the Browns] hadn’t guaranteed the whole [Deshaun Watson] contract. I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.”

So, the Ravens know that Bisciotti isn’t alone. I said earlier that the Ravens were betting on the market. But that’s not accurate. They already know the market. It will never be proven, but that, my friends, is collusion.

So, what next?

Who knows, honestly?

If no owner wants to step up and offer Lamar a contract that would entice him to sign that offer sheet, he’s staying in Baltimore.

The Ravens hope that he’ll come off of the fully-guaranteed money stance once Lamar sees that there is no market for him.

How long can this go on? In theory, a few years. Baltimore can tag Jackson again next year. But the second consecutive non-exclusive tag would pay Jackson t least 120 percent of his first franchise tag in year two. That would be $38.8 million.

In year three of the non-exclusive tag (for the 2025 season in this case), would pay Lamar 144 percent of his second franchise tag salary or the average of the top five salaries for the highest-paid position, the league (which is always quarterbacks). That would pay Lamar at least $55.8 million, fully guaranteed.

That’s a fully-guaranteed three-year, $127 million deal, which breaks down to $42.3 million per season. But those numbers could be higher if the average of the top-five QB salaries balloons between now and then. This is very likely when you consider that Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Herbert are all eligible for extensions.

Ultimately, if the Ravens played the franchise tag game for the next five years, they could pay Lamar more fully guaranteed money than Deshaun Watson received (and Jackson is asking for) five years from now. Still, that would require Jackson to play at a level worthy of that tag and money through his age 30 season.

Apparently, that’s a bet the Ravens are comfortable with.

Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is the Lead NFL Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.