NFL free agency — and the weeks that precede it — never disappoints.
League-altering decisions were made Tuesday — led by the Ravens applying the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson — so let’s take this opportunity to award the franchise tag deadline winners and losers.
NFL Franchise Tag Deadline Winners and Losers
Winner: Lamar Jackson
At first blush, this might seem counterintuitive.
Jackson not only got slapped with the franchise tag — a fate no in-their-prime star wants — but is in line to make $13 million less than he would have if the Ravens used the exclusive tag instead of the non-exclusive tag.
But Jackson has never been closer to getting the nine-figure contract with Vanderbilt-level guaranteed money than he is now.
The Ravens wisely decided it was in their best interest to apply the NET — which puts them at risk of losing the 2019 league MVP as it allows Jackson to negotiate with other teams — because they rightly realized it maximizes their value.
The Ravens’ gambit with the non-exclusive tag is this:
They’re allowing Lamar to set the market. If the long-term deal he signs elsewhere is palatable to them, they’ll match.
If not, they’ll have four first-round picks in the next two years to find his replacement, plus $32 million in cap space that’ll free up by his contract coming off their books.
Jackson, meanwhile, becomes the second star quarterback in 13 months to reach a soft free agency.
And considering Deshaun Watson — who was in a similar, but not identical, situation last year — got $230 million guaranteed despite his toxicity, someone will probably think Jackson is worth at least that much.
Loser: Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders cut Derek Carr with the hopes of upgrading at quarterback. Those hopes might now depend on either giving up the farm for Jackson or trying their luck in the draft.
Geno Smith and Daniel Jones (more on him in a moment) are no longer options after re-signing with the Seahawks and Giants, respectively.
And with Aaron Rodgers getting the full-court press from the Jets Tuesday, they might have to fight over the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo for a veteran starter — assuming they go that route.
The draft is no sure bet either. The Raiders pick seventh in what is widely seen as a four-quarterback class. So they’ll either need to trade up or be OK taking whoever’s left over when they go on the clock — assuming one of the four is.
Winner: Daniel Jones
This time last year, the Giants decided that Jones wasn’t worth $22.4 million in 2023.
They were right — tragically, for them. On Tuesday, they decided he’s worth $160 million over the next four years. He signed a contract extension just ahead of the deadline that — should he play it to its completion — will pay him that amount, per NFL Media.
Jones made himself indispensable to Brian Daboll by completing 67.2% of his passes for 3,205 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2022. Translation: The quarterback middle class is alive and well in the NFL, and teams are again comfortable paying for B-plus talents.
Loser: Saquon Barkley
“Congrats brudda !!! @Daniel_Jones10✊🏾🖤”
That’s how Giants running back Saquon Barkley graciously responded on Twitter to the news that his QB was getting a big-time bump in money.
It was magnanimous of Barkley — considering Jones’ 11th-hour deal allowed the Giants to place the franchise tag on Barkley, who was also set to become a free agent on March 15.
Barkley had no immediate public reaction to his new reality — a one-year tender that will pay him $10.1 million in 2023.
Certainly, that’s no chump change, but it comes with real risk for Barkley, a dynamic but injury-prone star who has played a full season just once in his first five NFL seasons.
Winner: John Schneider
Like Jones, Schneider’s fortunes have improved greatly over the last year. Last winter, he had to reportedly survive a mutiny, as Russell Wilson wanted him and Pete Carroll gone.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Schneider said at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, before breaking character and adding: “I’m kidding. That was a joke. … Honestly, like water under the bridge.”
Schneider won the power struggle and is getting the last laugh.
Wilson was terrible in his first year with the Broncos, and now the Seahawks — who re-signed free agent-to-be Geno Smith a day before the tag deadline — can do literally anything with the No. 5 pick they got in return from Denver.
Loser: Ezekiel Elliott
Tony Pollard is now the unquestioned RB1 in Dallas after receiving the franchise tag Monday.
That means Elliott, at best, will be Dallas’ RB2 — a dramatic fall from grace just three and a half years after signing a six-year, $90 million extension with Dallas.
He’s going to earn far less in 2023 than he did in 2022. That’s not in dispute. The only question: Whether he agrees to a paycut to remain with the Cowboys, or forces them to cut him.
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