On Tuesday, the Baltimore Ravens assigned the non-exclusive franchise tag to quarterback Lamar Jackson, guaranteeing him $32.4 million for the 2023 season but also opening the door for him to negotiate with other teams.
Jackson, who serves as his own agent, can’t officially talk to rival clubs until the new league year begins on March 15. But a number of NFL teams have already declared themselves out of the Lamar sweepstakes, signaling a surprisingly tepid market for a 26-year-old with an MVP award on his résumé.
Can the Ravens Retain Lamar Jackson With 3 Franchise Tags?
Thus far, reports have indicated the Falcons, Dolphins, Commanders, and Panthers are unlikely to pursue Jackson. Other teams like the Colts and Raiders could conceivably enter the fold and offer Jackson a contract that Baltimore can’t or won’t match, but that’s far from a guarantee.
Jackson is reportedly targeting a fully guaranteed contract akin to Deshaun Watson’s deal with the Browns in 2022. Cleveland sent three first-round picks and more to Houston for Watson before signing him a five-year, $230 million extension.
“And it’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,'” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said of Watson’s contract last year. “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. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to play that game, you know? We shall see.”
It’s highly unlikely that Bisciotti is the only NFL owner who felt that way about Watson’s extension with Cleveland. Fully guaranteed long-term contracts aren’t something the NFL’s power brokers wanted on the table, but Watson’s deal broke the mold.
Kirk Cousins signed a fully guaranteed pact with the Vikings in 2018, but that accord was only for three years, $84 million. Early-round rookie contracts are fully guaranteed, and plenty of veterans have received one-year deals with every penny guaranteed.
However, a five- or six-year contract with no escape clauses might be a different story. If no team is willing to offer that type of deal to Jackson, and he’s unwilling to sign a non-guaranteed extension with Baltimore, the two sides could reach a stalemate.
Jackson has until July 17 to either sign an offer sheet with another club or reach a long-term agreement with the Ravens. He’ll be required to play out the 2023 campaign on the franchise tag if he doesn’t.
“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,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement this week. “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.”
Depending on how Jackson plays in 2023, the Ravens could have less leverage if they want to move their quarterback next offseason. With Jackson one year closer to true unrestricted free agency, other clubs would probably be even less willing to sacrifice draft capital for the right to sign him to a fully guaranteed deal.
How Much Would Multiple Franchise Tags Cost the Ravens?
By using the non-exclusive franchise tag, Baltimore has reduced the potential cost of deploying the tag to retain Jackson again in 2024 and 2025.
If Jackson plays on the franchise tender in 2023, he’ll be due a 20% raise in 2024, then a 44% raise over that figure in 2025. All told, the Ravens would pay Jackson roughly $127 million over a three-year term.
Had Baltimore used the exclusive franchise tag, it would have been setting a baseline of $45 million in 2023. Additional tags in 2024 and 2025 would have brought the total cost to $177 million over three years, meaning the non-exclusive tag would give the Ravens approximately $50 million in financial flexibility over those seasons.
Baltimore is surely willing to pay Jackson $127 million over three years. That’s an average of only $42.3 million per season, which would rank seventh among quarterbacks and is only $2.3 million more per year than what the Giants just gave Daniel Jones.
However, three tags wouldn’t give Baltimore very much salary cap flexibility. If Jackson were to sign an extension with the Ravens, his cap charges might be artificially low for a season or two.
The franchise tag won’t offer that level of malleability. While the tender can be manipulated, Jackson would have no reason to play ball with Baltimore. He would want his tag to create as much financial distress as possible for the Ravens as a negotiating ploy.
In 2023 and 2024, that might not present much of a problem, as Jackson’s cap figure would be below $40 million in both seasons. But in 2025, his tag could approach $60 million. The NFL salary cap should be above $250 million by then, but $60 million would still represent nearly a quarter of Baltimore’s cap.
All of this, of course, assumes that no other team is willing to offer Jackson the contract he’s seeking. If that happens, Lamar could be willing to accept an extension more in line with what the Ravens are offering. But if he refuses to work out a deal with Baltimore, three franchise tags could become a viable alternative.