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Late for Work 3/4: Is Lamar Jackson Willing to Play on Franchise Tag for Two Years Before Signing a New Deal?

QB Lamar Jackson against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday, December 5, 2021.

Is Lamar Jackson Willing to Play on Franchise Tag for Two Years Before Signing a New Deal?

A year ago, a contract extension for Lamar Jackson appeared to be a foregone conclusion. That no deal has been completed and Jackson apparently is in no hurry to get one done has had pundits speculating about the unusual situation.

Some have wondered if Jackson is taking a similar approach to what Joe Flacco did a decade ago. After turning down an offer for a contract extension before the 2012 season, Flacco led the Ravens to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII and received what was then the richest deal in NFL history.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport offered another comparison. He speculated that Jackson might be playing the long game, as Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins did in recent years.

Prescott and Cousins both played two seasons on the franchise tag. While Prescott eventually signed a contract extension with the Dallas Cowboys, Cousins left Washington and hit the open market. Cousins went on to sign a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings that was the highest fully guaranteed contract in league history.

"We've seen players, Kirk Cousins is one, Dak Prescott is another, use the franchise tag and the shoulder shrug of, 'Maybe I'm not quite ready to do a deal yet,' to use it as a weapon to maximize their contract leverage," Rapoport said. "Dak used it to get tagged and would eventually get tagged again and get a massive new deal.

"Kirk Cousins got free and got a fully guaranteed monster contract. Potentially, that would be something that would be down the road for Lamar Jackson if he continues to step back and go, 'Meh, contract? Maybe not right now.'"

Conventional thinking has been that Jackson's new contract would resemble Josh Allen's. The Buffalo Bills quarterback signed a six-year, $258 million contract extension ($43 million annual average) last August.

Russell Street Report salary cap analyst Brian McFarland speculated that Jackson's contract extension could be a five-year, $195 million deal ($43 million annual average).

Josina Anderson of CBS Sports and USA Today said Jackson might be waiting to see what new deals for certain other big-name quarterbacks look like before he signs his extension.

A player delaying a highly lucrative contract extension obviously is risky. That's especially true for Jackson, who takes far more hits than other quarterbacks.

"That's why it's odd that Jackson hasn't been more proactive," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "It would make sense for Jackson to push for an extension because it provides long-term security for someone who puts his body on the line more than other quarterbacks with his playing style."

Free-Agent Predictions: Von Miller to Ravens, Bradley Bozeman to Steelers

CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin predicted landing spots and projected contract terms for 25 big-name free agents. He has the Ravens signing eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller for one year, $17 million.

"A key piece of the Rams' Super Bowl rotation, he has the flexibility to be picky at 33, and a big one-year payday allows him a chance to latch onto another contender before re-evaluating in 2023," Benjamin wrote. "Baltimore gets itself a plug-and-play No. 1 edge man."

Miller recorded 9.5 sacks in 2021, including five in eight games with the Rams after being traded from the Denver Broncos. He had four sacks in four postseason games, including two in the Rams' victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Benjamin's prediction for where center Bradley Bozeman ends up would be a bitter pill for Ravens fans if it comes true. Benjamin has the Baltimore fan favorite signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers for three years, $27 million.

"Pittsburgh isn't typically keen on splashy moves for older free agents, but Bozeman is only 27 and fresh off a career year as the heart of Baltimore's line," Benjamin wrote.

It was recently reported that another AFC North rival, the Bengals, are expected to have interest in Bozeman if he hits the open market.

Two Potential Replacements for Bozeman in Free Agency

If the Ravens don't re-sign Bozeman, his replacement could come via free agency or the draft if Patrick Mekari doesn't move to center.

Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried identified two free-agent centers the Ravens could be interested in. One is veteran Ben Jones.

"Ben Jones might be the best center available in free agency this offseason," Fried wrote. "The 32-year-old has nearly a decade of starting experience, having started 15 or more games in every season since 2014. A longtime staple of the Tennessee Titans offensive line, Jones has ranked as one of the better centers in football for the last half-decade or so. Needless to say, he won't come cheap."

Ethan Pocic could be a more reasonably priced and younger option. A 2017 second-round pick for the Seattle Seahawks, the 26-year-old Pocic has started 40 games in his career, including 24 the past two seasons.

"His 2020 season was a bit of a struggle, but he rebounded and put together the best season of his career in 2021, finishing as PFF's 15th-highest-graded center," Fried wrote. "At 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, Pocic isn't the greatest mover in space, but he's a plus-run-blocker who fits like a glove in a power-run scheme that allows him to play in a condensed formation."

Antonio Brown Linked to the Ravens Again

FanDuel’s Larry Rupp made some bold predictions for the Ravens this offseason. The boldest is that they will sign wide receiver Antonio Brown.

"It would be surprising to see Antonio Brown on any active NFL roster in Week 1 of the 2022 regular season. However, Baltimore would be the likeliest landing spot," Rupp wrote. "If the Ravens can keep him from being a distraction both on and off the field, adding Brown's talent could instantly upgrade Jackson's offensive weaponry."

Given Brown's history, that seems like a big "if." Other pundits also have predicted that Brown, who hasn't been shy about his desire to be a Raven, will land in Baltimore, but it's worth reiterating what DeCosta said last month when asked about the likelihood of signing Brown.

"I'm very comfortable where we are at the receiver position. … We'll look at ways of augmenting that position group, but I would not expect any significant additions at this time," DeCosta said.

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