Baltimore Ravens Place Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag on Lamar Jackson: What It Means

The Baltimore Ravens have decided to apply the non-exclusive franchise tag to quarterback Lamar Jackson. Here's what it means.

The Baltimore Ravens have decided to apply the non-exclusive franchise tag to quarterback Lamar Jackson, according to multiple reports.

This not only potentially gives the Ravens a quarterback under contract, but it could create a ripple effect throughout the rest of the NFL that could impact the rest of free agency and the NFL draft. Here’s what it means.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag Allows Lamar Jackson To Negotiate With Other Teams and the Ravens

The decision from the Ravens to apply the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson gives them some potential cost control measures at the risk of uncertainty. Unlike many quarterback deals, where the first year can be diminished in a team’s cap accounting with later years kicking in to provide the remainder, a franchise tag is a one-year deal where all of the pain comes at once.

The application of the tag does not prevent the Ravens from continuing to negotiate a long-term deal with Jackson, as general manager Eric DeCosta pointed out in a statement following the announcement.

“Having not yet reached a long-term deal with Lamar Jackson, we will use the franchise tag,” said DeCosta. “There have been many instances across the league and in Baltimore when a player has been designated with the franchise tag and signed a long-term deal that same year. We will continue to negotiate in good faith with Lamar, and we are hopeful that we can strike a long-term deal that is fair to both Lamar and the Ravens.”

The non-exclusive franchise tag differs from the exclusive franchise tag in two key ways. First, the salary and cap hit are lower. The exclusive franchise tag amount won’t be known until the end of the restricted free agency period in April but is likely close to $45 million. The non-exclusive franchise tag number for quarterbacks is $32.4 million.

Most applications of the franchise tag are of the non-exclusive variety because of those cost savings. But not all of them are, and quarterbacks often receive the exclusive franchise tag. The reason for that lies in the second difference.

That second difference is what throws the market into chaos. Other teams will have the ability to host and offer Jackson a contract. He can then choose a team, and the Ravens will have the ability to match that offer sheet. If they do, the Ravens automatically sign Jackson to that contract under those terms. If not, the other team signs Jackson but must provide two first-round picks as compensation to Baltimore.

Most teams do not want to trade multiple first-round picks to sign another player to an expensive contract. But when it’s a quarterback, things change.

The Non-Exclusive Tag May Save the Ravens Money

Should that option play out, Baltimore might come out further ahead than most people expect. This might be the best scenario for the team, even in a world where they want to keep Jackson.

Any team providing an offer sheet will be discounting his value with the fact that they will lose two first-round picks to make the deal. In all likelihood, Jackson wouldn’t see the full market value of his services like he would in standard free agency — not only will there be a smaller market given the draft capital cost, but that market is bearing an additional burden in order to take him on.

The Ravens could use that lower contract number to avoid paying him the full amount they would have had to pay had he hit free agency without the prospect of a tag impacting his deal. It may not be doing right by Jackson, but it is a way for the Ravens to save money in a restricted cap environment.

A Forced Trade Would Give the Ravens Ammunition To Find a Quarterback

Depending on which team decides to make an offer to Jackson (and whose offer he accepts), the Ravens might have the ability to immediately replace him with another quarterback in this year’s draft. It’s possible, if unlikely, that the Indianapolis Colts or Houston Texans sign Jackson, giving the Ravens an immediate shot at a passer in the draft.

More likely it will be another team, meaning that the Ravens would have to maneuver around the draft to find their long-term replacement if that’s something they want to do. If not, they could enter the trade market for Aaron Rodgers or monitor the quarterback market for a player like Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett.

If not, they could re-sign Tyler Huntley and roll into the season with a backup-quality player and enter next year’s draft with a high pick of their own in addition to the pick that they received from the team that signed Jackson.

That would make it tough, however, for them to offer an enticing package to incoming free agents — going from a contending team to a potentially losing team is not an exciting prospect for any visiting or returning free agent. They will likely want to assure incoming veterans that they have plans to win, which might mean drafting a player this year instead of next.

The Ravens Still Must Navigate a Difficult Cap Environment

If no team provides a counter-offer, the Ravens, who exited the Combine with a projected $22 million in cap space, will absorb a projected $32 million hit and will need to make moves to immediately get out from under the cap at the beginning of the league year on March 16.

As DeCosta said at the NFL Combine, “We’re talking about any possible situation that might arise with players. In this business, you get surprised daily. And so you have to be prepared for any situation. What that means, what the cap looks like, what your cap might look like, what players are available, what players aren’t available.”

“We’ve known they’re big numbers,” he said of the different types of tags he could apply to Jackson. “We’re prepared for that. And we’ve got four, five, or six different plans based on what happens over the next 10 days.”

That preparation will have to include making decisions on players like Calais Campbell ($9.4 million) and Chuck Clark ($6.7 million) and possibly extend or restructure Ronnie Stanley ($23.7 million), Marlon Humphrey ($20 million), Mark Andrews ($13.7 million), Michael Pierce ($5.9 million), and Marcus Williams ($7.8 million).

This makes the rest of free agency difficult, too. They have players like Marcus Peters, Kyle Fuller, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Houston, Tyler Huntley, and Ben Powers hitting free agency. They may even have to work around the margins with players like Justin Madubuike ($3 million), J.K. Dobbins ($1.8 million), and Malik Harrison ($1.3 million).

The Ravens will think any sacrifices they’ll be forced to make will have been worth it, however. Head coach John Harbaugh, when asked about the cap ramifications of applying the tag, said, “It’s part of the business, it’s what you expect when you have a great quarterback — when you make a great decision in the draft.”

DeCosta is of the same mind as most football commentators when it comes to the quarterback position. He said, “Well, you can’t win in this league without a strong quarterback. That’s been proven.”

Given how the playoffs played out — with three of the four conference finalists sporting QBs in the MVP conversation and the fourth with an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy under his belt –, it’s hard to disagree.

DeCosta added, “We want Lamar here. We think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He’s certainly one of our best players, and we want him back. We understand that living in a world without a quarterback is a bad world to live in.”

Harbaugh concurs. He stated, “There’s no bigger, better competitor in football than Lamar Jackson. Lamar is a competitor, and he’s going to want to be a part of the best offense in football, and that’s what I know about him, and I’m just looking forward to getting to work.”

All of those nice words will ring a bit hollow if Jackson receives counter-offers and the Ravens do not match.

But that’s the nature of the business. Teams will be best friends with players until they’re not. And the Ravens, more than most teams, play the long game.

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