The Baltimore Ravens have retained pending free agent Lamar Jackson — but perhaps only temporarily. Baltimore used the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, meaning rival teams are free to sign him to an offer sheet. The Ravens would have the option to match any proposal Jackson receives, but they’d receive two first-round picks if they decline.
Quarterbacks like Jackson — a 26-year-old former MVP — rarely become available. Which teams might be willing to sacrifice two first-rounders to install him under center?
Lamar Jackson’s Best Landing Spots
Jackson’s non-exclusive tag will cost the Ravens roughly $32 million, $13 million less than the exclusive version. That represents significant savings, but it also opens up the possibility of another team signing Jackson to a fully guaranteed offer sheet.
“Having not yet reached a long-term deal with Lamar Jackson, we will use the franchise tag,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement. “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. Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come.”
Jackson is targeting an extension that exceeds Deshaun Watson’s fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million deal with the Browns. ESPN reported in September that Jackson had rejected a six-year contract from the Ravens that included $133 million in guarantees.
“And it’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,'” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said last March, referencing Watson’s extension. “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.”
DeCosta recently met with Jackson in Miami, per NFL Network, but those negotiations didn’t lead to a new deal. If Baltimore doesn’t want to give Jackson the deal he wants, other teams would surely be willing.
Owners of the eighth overall pick in the 2023 draft, the Falcons could be in range for one of this year’s top quarterback prospects. However, signal-callers always get pushed to the top of the draft, and there’s a decent chance Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis will already be off the board by the time Atlanta’s pick is on the board.
The Falcons could trade up in the draft to secure the quarterback of their choice. But why sacrifice assets to land an unproven rookie when that same draft capital could be applied toward a move for Jackson?
Atlanta would have to give up the No. 8 pick plus their first-round pick in 2024, but next year’s selection should (hopefully) come later in the first round. The Falcons have spent the first two years of general manager Terry Fontenot’s tenure getting their salary cap in order, so they have plenty of cash to throw Lamar’s way.
Plus, Atlanta’s offense is already well-suited to Jackson’s strengths. Arthur Smith proved in 2022 he could deploy a rushing quarterback like Marcus Mariota, and the Falcons use a ton of heavy personnel (just like the Ravens). Drake London and Kyle Pitts would give Jackson better offensive weaponry than he ever had in Baltimore.
For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported after Jackson was franchised that the Falcons do not plan to pursue the Ravens quarterback. Atlanta could conceivably be content to give 2022 third-rounder Desmond Ridder a chance as their full-time starting quarterback, or they might be set on finding a rookie passer in the first round of the 2023 draft.
New York Jets
The Jets are targeting a quarterback upgrade, and their focus appears to be on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Gang Green spoke with Rodgers on Monday, according to Pro Football Network’s Trey Wingo, and Jets representatives will fly to California to meet with the future Hall of Famer this week, per ESPN.
Still, Rodgers could decide to remain in Green Bay or retire. In that case, the Jets would have to at least consider the concept of signing Jackson to an offer sheet. Team owner Woody Johnson indicated in January that New York is willing to pay up for an upgrade under center.
“Absolutely,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a cap, so there’s an amount you can spend. But, yeah, yeah. That’s kind of the missing piece.”
Jackson would become the Jets’ best quarterback in decades and make them instant Super Bowl contenders. New York rosters the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year in Garrett Wilson, plus intriguing pieces like Breece Hall and Elijah Moore. The Jets’ offensive line needs work, but Jackson’s mobility can help negate any weaknesses up front.
Of course, there are potential roadblocks to a Lamar-to-NY trade. While the Falcons would be ready to drop Jackson into their offense, the Jets might not be set up to change the structure of their scheme to fit Jackson. Gang Green has hired new offensive coaches, such as offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and passing-game coordinator Todd Downing, but they don’t have anyone on staff who’s worked with a rushing threat like Jackson.
The Titans are in an odd place. They began to purge their roster of veterans by releasing left tackle Taylor Lewan, wide receiver Robert Woods, and linebacker Zach Cunningham, and trade rumors have surrounded running back Derrick Henry.
And yet, quarterback Ryan Tannehill remains on Tennessee’s roster and is scheduled to have a $36.6 million cap charge in 2023. First-year Titans general manager Ran Carthon said last month that Tannehill “will be a Titan,” but that could simply be posturing.
If Jackson is available for two first-round picks, Tennessee’s equation could change. The Titans hold the No. 11 overall pick in the draft — like the Falcons, they’ll be in range for a rookie quarterback, but they might have to trade up.
Tennessee seems unlikely to bottom out under head coach Mike Vrabel, meaning they may never have a pick in the top five and be guaranteed a shot at a young passer. Instead, they could put all their chips on Jackson and design their offense around his skill set.
New Titans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly was a relatively effective play-caller during his time with the Houston Texans, and Tennessee started to rebuild their pass-catching corps by drafting receiver Treylon Burks and tight end Chig Okonkwo in 2022. Jackson could help those young players ascend and make the Titans a credible threat in the AFC.