A Lamar Jackson trade could be nearing reality. All offseason, Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh expressed the desire to bring Jackson back on a long-term deal. But the reported wedge between player and team remained the guaranteed money in the contract with Jackson looking for a fully guaranteed deal.
That brought us to Tuesday’s franchise tag deadline when the Ravens put the non-exclusive tag on Jackson. That tag would pay Jackson $32.4 million for the 2023 season. More importantly, the non-exclusive tag would allow Jackson to negotiate with other teams and accept an offer sheet with the Ravens getting a chance to match.
Should the Ravens not match, they would receive two first-round picks in return. Only teams with first-round picks in the next two drafts would be allowed to enter into negotiations, which would exclude teams such as the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers until after the draft.
Letting Jackson go for two first-round picks does not appear to be the Ravens’ Plan A. If Baltimore wanted to trade Jackson, it’s likely he would be able to go for more than two first-round picks on the exclusive franchise tag. That would give the Ravens more leverage without allowing Jackson to negotiate the terms of a deal beforehand.
Deshaun Watson was acquired for three first-round picks and more before the Cleveland Browns gave him a fully guaranteed contract. Jackson has reportedly been pushing for the fully guaranteed deal since. Watson has never reached Jackson’s peak and that’s before the number of off-field issues that came with the former Texans quarterback.
Again, the trade does not appear to be how the Ravens intend for this to play out. After the tag was given the Ravens released a statement with DeCosta saying the Ravens will continue to negotiate in good faith and are still hopeful they can strike a long-term deal.
It’s also possible the Ravens will use the potential offer sheets to essentially use another team as an arbitrator in the contract negotiations. It’s clear the Ravens and Jackson have not been able to close the gap and the Ravens could use this opportunity as a chance to match another offer.
This is, of course, a risky proposition that would leave Baltimore open to either a strong frontloaded dead or a fully guaranteed contract. The Ravens could be betting that an offer that strong doesn’t come in and given the number of teams that have already ruled themselves out of pursuing Jackson, they could be right.
It’s slightly defensible for a generally cash-poor team like the Raiders to sit out with the guaranteed money needed to be put in escrow for any deal. But it makes no sense for a team, like the Falcons, who could use an upgrade at quarterback, already built a dominant run game with a lesser mobile quarterback, and has the 2023 cap space to make a significant Year 1 investment. Atlanta is second to the Chicago Bears with $66.4 million in 2023 cap space, according to Over The Cap.
The Giants would be a similar team but just signed Daniel Jones to a four-year deal with guarantees through the first two seasons. The Jets, desperate for a quarterback, are currently in California attempting to woo Aaron Rodgers.
That leaves Jackson with a much smaller group of potential suitors and fewer teams than should be interested in a 26-year-old former MVP.
However, it would be malpractice for no team to make an offer. That offer just might not be the fully guaranteed deal Jackson has hoped to receive. Owners aren’t rushing to set a new precedent and would prefer to treat the Watson deal as an outlier in multiple senses. We shouldn’t be so naive to believe many owners’ priorities would be upholding the established precedent over making a big move to bring a team closer to a Super Bowl.
Multiple teams were in on Watson despite everything that came with it, but (and in no way defending the owners who did so), it wasn’t clear Watson was searching for a fully guaranteed deal at the time. The Browns’ fully guaranteed offer is what landed them the quarterback. Had Watson proclaimed he would be looking for a fully guaranteed deal from the start on top of over 25 sexual misconduct cases, fewer teams would have been willing to negotiate at the outset. Is that a shitty way to view things? Absolutely. Is that a shittier reality of the NFL and those in control? Absolutely.
We’ve seen a few big quarterback contracts given out over the past few seasons and none have really come close to a fully guaranteed deal outside of Watson’s. The next-highest fully guaranteed rate was 67% in the Aaron Rodgers deal signed last offseason.
Multi-year Quarterback Contracts Of $30+ Million AAV Since 2018
data per Over The Cap
|AAV||Fully Guaranteed %||Total Guarantee %|
Now, this also brings us to talking about what Lamar Jackson is at quarterback in 2023. Jackson has missed time in each of the past two seasons and he’s now three years removed from his MVP season but Jackson was playing at an MVP caliber to start the year.
It’s dangerous to go too far into player on-off splits but when Rashod Bateman was on the field to start the year, Jackson averaged 0.16 EPA per play, per TruMedia. Over the first four weeks of the season with Bateman’s first stretch of healthy play, Jackson was fourth in EPA per play behind Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa, and Josh Allen.
Jackson has always been a better passer than given credit for and with a healthier and/or upgraded receiving corps in Baltimore, Jackson could easily go back to the top-tier quarterback performance he’s shown in the past. That would especially be true with better passing concepts under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
There’s also a chance a trade does happen. Teams like the Lions and Colts should be all over this. But as crazy as it might sound, there might not be that magic offer out there that’s strong enough to make the Ravens not match.
At his combine press conference, Eric DeCosta talked about the awkwardness of negotiating with a player who does not have an agent. Sometimes things are said to an agent that can’t be said straight to the player. The Ravens might just need another team to step in and handle the dirty work before Baltimore retakes the reins.
The non-exclusive tag adds an element of uncertainty and excitement to these negotiations but everything might fall right back to where the Ravens want it.