How will the conflict with Lamar Jackson be resolved? Examining all options for star QB, Ravens

INDIANAPOLIS – If it is Aaron Rodgers saga is the main course of the NFL offseason, and then the mystery of Lamar Jackson is its very large appetizer.

And while Rodgers decides when to find out if — or perhaps where — he’ll play in 2023, the Baltimore Ravens have until March 7 to make their first major decision about Jackson’s immediate future. That’s the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag on one of their pending free agents to prevent him from leaving.

“We’re hoping to get a deal done with Lamar before that happens,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Wednesday at the annual scouting meeting.

“But, of course, those are big numbers. Knowing that they’re big numbers, we’re prepared for that. And we have four, five or six different plans based on what happens over the next 10 days.”

But what exactly are these contingencies and what is the sustainability of each? Let’s explore the options the Raves are evaluating:

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) reacts after the win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Exclusive franchise mark

His one-year tender at guard is worth roughly $45 million, about the average annual compensation earned by the league’s top passers. It would also prevent Jackson, who represents himself, from negotiating with other teams while sending a message — both financially and from a restrictive standpoint — that the Ravens are committed to a future with him. It also allows both sides four more months to reach an extension.

DeCosta said Wednesday there’s “no question” Jackson deserves to be paid in the higher tier of NFL QBs.

And yet, the exclusive tag would put the Ravens — currently projected to spend $24.3 million this year, per OverTheCap – into a $20+ million shortfall that would require either restructuring other players’ contracts or cutting them outright.

Standard franchise mark

It’s worth significantly less than the exclusive version — $32.4 million — and would also allow Jackson to negotiate with other teams. If he signed another club’s offer, the Ravens could subsequently match it or release Jackson, but receive two first-round picks from his new team as compensation. Still, it’s worth wondering how Jackson would feel about the diminished value of this tag and the fact that Baltimore would actually tell him to find a better deal instead of keeping the negotiations in-house.

“It’s hard, it’s challenging,” DeCosta said of negotiating with someone who doesn’t have an agent.

“You’re dealing with a player, so of course it’s different. It’s a personal relationship. You’re with the guy every day and you really appreciate who he is and what he does and, yeah, so it’s challenging.”

the market

Although Jackson’s five-year rookie contract will officially expire in two weeks, the Ravens can still deal him – if they tag him first. Franchise players can be traded for whatever fee the two sides can agree on — meaning more or less than the two first-rounders who would trade hands if an outside offer didn’t match — although Jackson would have to fulfill any such agreement by actually signing the tag, which would certainly require the framework of his next contract to be in place with a new team.

New contract

The Ravens are certainly signaling that this is the outcome they want with Jackson, sooner rather than later. Owner Steve Bisciotti revealed last year that their negotiations would be complicated by the five-year, $230 million, fully guaranteed contract that the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns gave quarterback Deshaun Watson after acquiring him, and that appears to have proven correct. .

Still, signing Jackson before March 7, for whatever amount it costs, would mean Baltimore could structure its contract with more favorable cap numbers over the next few years and leave room for other free agents. Watson’s cap hit was less than $10 million in 2022, and his contract could be restructured this year in hopes that salary cap increases will better accommodate that in future seasons.

To take away

Publicly, the Ravens appear to be saying all the right things about their desire to keep Jackson. Why not? He was MVP of the leagueand Baltimore has experienced significant success (in the regular season) in his five seasons, including four trips to the playoffs.

“You can’t win in this league without a strong quarterback,” DeCosta said. “I mean, that’s proven. That’s why we want Lamar here. We think he’s one of the best running backs in the league — he’s certainly one of our best players — and we want him back.

“Living in a world without a quarterback is a bad world to live in.”

And a likely outcome for the Ravens if Jackson leaves the group, especially since they’re only slated to pick 22nd overall in the draft. And Baltimore seems an unlikely destination for a player like Rodgers given how the offense has adapted to Jackson over the years.

Still, that offense will evolve under newly hired coordinator Todd Monken, though coach John Harbaugh believes his hiring is a sign of the organization’s commitment to Jackson and his continued development.

Asked if he envisions a post-Jackson scenario, Harbaugh said, “Not much. As little as possible, for sure. Our plans are for Lamar.”

Neither he nor DeCosta lamented Jackson’s absence from the Ravens’ wild-card loss in Cincinnati, with Harbaugh — who frequently texts with the quarterback — believing Jackson was simply trying to give himself the best chance to play next week even though he didn’t appear after Week 14 in the either of the last two seasons due to injuries.

“It just is what it is, part of the job,” Harbaugh said of the ongoing impasse. “I’m really hopeful and excited – I’m really hopeful and I can’t wait for it to be over.

“We want Lamar, and Lamar wants to be a Raven. And, in the end, it’s going to work itself out in my mind… I’ve always believed that it would work itself out, and I still do.”


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lamar Jackson’s Future: Trade? Ravens mega deal? Or an ugly marking deviation?

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