Non-exclusive NFL franchise tag – Biggest questions facing Ravens, Lamar Jackson

Jamison HensleyESPN Writer8 minute read

What’s next for Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens?

Adam Schefter explains the Ravens’ decision to use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson and what it means for all parties involved.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens made the long-awaited decision to place the franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson on Tuesday, but surprisingly the team opted to use the non-exclusive tag. It’s the first time in seven years that a quarterback has been given the non-exclusive tag — Kirk Cousins ​​being the 2016 example — according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Under the non-exclusive $32.416 million tag, Jackson – who is not represented by an agent – can enter into contract talks with other teams starting Monday. But Baltimore has the right to match any offer sheet Jackson signs with another team in order to keep him or take two first-round picks as compensation.

An exclusive tag, expected to be $45 million, would have given Baltimore control of Jackson’s rights and all business negotiations.

The parties were unable to reach a long-term agreement after 25 months of negotiations. Sources told ESPN last year that Jackson wanted a fully guaranteed deal like the one the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson (five-year, $230 million), but the Ravens believe Watson’s contract is longer. an aberration than a precedent. The Browns were put in a position where they had to overpay Watson because he reportedly limited his decision to the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints after initially rejecting Cleveland in their no-trade deal. .

Thus, for the first time in Ravens history, Baltimore used the franchise tag on a quarterback to prevent Jackson from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Here are the biggest questions surrounding the move, which ESPN NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller says the Ravens might find intriguing early in the draft.

Lamar Jackson’s future remains uncertain after the Ravens applied the non-exclusive franchise tag to him.AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Why did the Ravens use the non-exclusive tag?

It’s a lot cheaper than exclusive, and the Ravens need all the salary cap margin they can get to improve the team in free agency due to limited draft capital — a total of five. choice.

It also 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 deal. This forces Jackson to negotiate, but with other teams. Ravens officials have acknowledged over the past two years that convincing Jackson to sit down to make a deal has been difficult. If Jackson signs an offer sheet and Baltimore matches him, the non-exclusive tag has forced another team to negotiate with the Ravens for them.

If Jackson doesn’t get a fully guaranteed contract offer, it would reinforce Baltimore’s position that Watson’s deal is not the norm and could increase Jackson’s chances of a comeback.

The risk is that another team will offer Jackson a fully guaranteed deal, which Baltimore has been reluctant to do. Jackson is one of only two unanimous MVPs in NFL history — Tom Brady is the other — and his seven games of at least 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards are the most on record. It’s hard to believe the Ravens would allow another team to sign Jackson and settle for two first-round picks in return when the Houston Texans received three first-round picks for Watson a year ago.

How many quarterbacks have received the non-exclusive tag?

It’s rare but not unheard of. 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) and Cousins ​​(Washington, 2016).

Although there is an obvious risk of losing a franchise quarterback, there has never been a quarterback to sign elsewhere on the non-exclusive franchise tag. The only quarterback who has played for another team after receiving the non-exclusive tag is Cassel, who was traded from the New England Patriots to Kansas City in 2009 and signed a six-year contract with the Chiefs .

What does this mean for Jackson’s future in Baltimore?

Jackson and Baltimore have until the league’s July 17 deadline to reach an agreement before suspending talks 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 in the league and in Baltimore where a player was named with the franchise tag and signed to a long-term contract in the same year,” Ravens general manager Eric said. DeCosta. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith, and hope to be able to reach a long-term agreement that is fair for Lamar and the Ravens. Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson paving the way for many years to come. come.”

Time is running out for Jackson and Baltimore. If the Ravens don’t believe a deal can be made for Jackson next offseason, they’ll likely have to trade him in 2024. It doesn’t make sense for Baltimore to tag Jackson next year, let him play the 2024 season and look he goes to free agency, only getting a compensatory third-round pick in 2026 in return. Jackson’s future in Baltimore must be resolved over the next 12 to 13 months.

Jackson missed voluntary practices last year for the first time in his career. Will the tag make it even less likely that he will show up until he has to, which is just before the start of the regular season to earn his $2 weekly salary, $5 million?David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

Will Jackson hold up?

It’s assumed that Jackson won’t show up for off-season spring practices and training camp, but no one really knows. At the end of the season, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about a tough potential and replied, “There’s no guarantee it’s going to be that way…Lamar is a unique guy. He don’t beat everybody’s drum.”

Last year, Jackson skipped all voluntary spring practices for the first time in his career and only showed up for the mandatory minicamp. If he doesn’t sign the franchise tag right away, Jackson is technically not under contract and cannot be fined for missing all offseason practices. Jackson need only show up just before the start of the regular season to earn his weekly salary of $1.77 million. A prolonged absence from Jackson isn’t ideal for a Ravens team that is installing a new scheme under Todd Monken, who was hired as offensive coordinator to replace Greg Roman.

There is also no guarantee that Jackson will play under the label, especially the cheaper one. Jackson might object to Baltimore opting to go the non-exclusive route, which will cost him around $13 million. There have been three players missing a season after being tagged: defensive tackles Sean Gilbert (Washington, 1997) and Dan Williams (Chiefs, 1998) and running back Le’Veon Bell (Steelers, 2018).

Whether Jackson holds his own for offseason practices or all season, the most experienced quarterback remaining on Baltimore’s roster is Tyler Huntley, who is 3-5 in his career as a starter and has had trouble. struggled to score touchdowns last season after Jackson suffered a season ending. knee injury. Huntley is a restricted free agent. Baltimore could add another veteran quarterback like Baker Mayfield or Jacoby Brissett. But given how much space Jackson’s tag takes up, the Ravens might not be able to afford an improved backup plan at quarterback.

What impact does this have on the Baltimore ceiling situation?

Jackson’s tag moved the Ravens from $22 million under the cap to $10 million above. Baltimore must be under the cap by 4 p.m. ET on March 15, which means the team has work to do to cut players and get other players to take pay cuts or accept cap-compatible extensions. .

The Ravens can create $15 million in cap space by cutting defensive end Calais Campbell ($7 million in cap savings), safety Chuck Clark ($3.64 million) and running back Gus Edwards ($4.384 million). Baltimore can make more room by securing contract extensions with guard Kevin Zeitler and wide receiver Devin Duvernay.

Baltimore needs space to not only put Jackson under the cap, but also to improve the roster of a team that was fired in the wild card round. The Ravens have five draft picks, their fewest since 1999, and they need to upgrade the 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 in the second and third rounds that might intrigue them?

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is an intriguing second-round option. Hooker, who tore an ACL in his left knee in November, was a top contender for the Heisman Trophy at the time. His 27 touchdown passes to two interceptions in 2022 is the best rate in the category. With an excellent deep ball and top-notch accuracy — plus the mobility to excel in Baltimore — Hooker is a solid top-60 pick and projects as a starter when healthy. – Matt Miller

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