INDIANAPOLIS — The Baltimore Ravens have thought about and will continue to think about moving on from QB Lamar Jackson.
There’s no other way to interpret Ravens GM Eric DeCosta’s comments about Jackon at the NFL Scouting Combine here Wednesday.
Yes, DeCosta and Ravens HC John Harbaugh did their best to insist that Jackson absolutely is part of their plans and that they don’t want to think about life without him.
But the truth is Jackson flying the Ravens’ coop is a real possibility until they get him signed to a long-term contract extension.
NFL Scouting Combine News and Rumors: Lamar Jackson-Baltimore Ravens Divorce?
Harbaugh, during his podium session Wednesday, told reporters that he’s thought “as little as possible” about life after Jackson, and added, “our plans are for Lamar.”
As proof, Harbaugh pointed to the Ravens’ offensive coordinator search that resulted in Todd Monken getting the job. Harbaugh said that the team informed every candidate during that process that the new hire should plan on designing an offensive scheme that accounts for Jackson’s unique skill set.
But Harbaugh also said that Monken “isn’t locked into a system … He’s been in every kind of system.”
That means that if Monken had to adjust in March for September games with a completely different type of quarterback, he has plenty of time to do so.
Listening to more than a half-hour of comments from DeCosta and Harbaugh Wednesday, there’s no doubt that their preference is for Jackson, the former league MVP, to be their quarterback for years to come.
But they’re not prepared to give him a fully or near-fully guaranteed contract, which is reportedly the major sticking point in negotiations.
If Jackson refuses to accept anything less, there will be a divorce at some point. The question is when — not if.
And based on the subtle hints Ravens brass dropped Wednesday, that “when” could be in the next few weeks.
Here’s the timeline of major events that will likely decide Jackson’s fate.
The Ravens have until March 7 to apply the franchise tag on Jackson. They have two options: the exclusive or non-exclusive tag.
There’s no chance that they simply let him walk in free agency. It would be a fireable offense not to maximize the value for a player of his stature.
So barring a late breakthrough in negotiations, the Ravens will tag Jackson.
If it’s the exclusive tag (a one-year tender at roughly $45 million), the only way that Jackson would play for another team is under a tag-and-trade situation, and whoever trades for him will surely not give up the haul the Ravens would want without signing him to an extension.
If it’s the non-exclusive tag (a one-year tender at roughly $32 million), Jackson would be free to negotiate with other teams, and the Ravens would have the right to match any offer sheet he signs. If they do not, Jackson’s new team would have to send two first-round picks to Baltimore.
Confusing? Perhaps. But there’s a simple way to look at it: The Ravens can guarantee Jackson will be on their team if they use the exclusive tag. Using the non-exclusive tag would mean real risk.
And DeCosta will spend the next few days deciding whether that’s a risk he’s OK incurring.
He told reporters Wednesday that he has not decided between the two tags, which means he’s at least considering letting Jackson walk, taking the two firsts and the gobs of cap space that would come with the decision and starting fresh.
“Lamar and I are talking, we met recently,” DeCosta said. “It’s an ongoing discussion. We both understand the urgency of the situation. There’s been a good dialogue — a good discussion. I’m optimistic as I continue to be optimistic. And we’ll see where it goes.”
But DeCosta revealed the full truth a bit later when he acknowledged he’s thought through a contingency in which Jackson is not on the team in 2023. And again, the only way Jackson is not on the team in 2023 is if the Ravens allow it.
“We’ll have a plan,” DeCosta said. “Obviously, I’m going to think about everything. But I don’t fear a lot of different things. If you think about it, and you plan for it, you discuss it, you talk about it, then what’s the point of fear?
“It’s not like we didn’t know we might be in this position, last year at this time. We talked about it. So we’ve had a full year to really discuss all the different plans, we’ll make the right decision.”
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