The Ravens applied the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson Tuesday, which could help resolve contract negotiations that have lasted two years.
The non-exclusive tag comes with a salary-cap cost of $32.4 million for the 2023 season, and it allows Jackson to negotiate with other teams to see if he can get a better offer than the long-term contract offered by the Ravens.
Jackson can begin negotiating with teams on March 13, when the legal tampering window opens. He can sign an offer sheet starting March 15.
Here are the possible outcomes:
Jackson signs offer sheet from another team.
Though there have been reports of teams bowing out already, it would be shocking if other quarterback-needy teams weren't interested in having Jackson as their signal-caller. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league, was the unanimous 2019 league MVP, and has a 45-16 record on his resume. Jackson is one of the best players at the most critical position, and he's just 26 years old.
The question is what other teams are willing to pay, both in contract terms and draft capital. There could be a team willing to make him the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history, similar to what the Browns did with Deshaun Watson last offseason, plus give up two first-round picks.
It requires a team to have the quarterback need, a first-round pick in 2023 (if agreed to before the draft), and the cap space available. It requires them to meet Jackson's contract desires, as well as other factors to convince him to sign a deal.
Jackson signs offer sheet and the Ravens match.
If any teams signs Jackson to an offer sheet, the Ravens have five days to match.
If they do, they take over the same contract that Jackson agreed to and their long contract stalemate is over. Jackson would be their quarterback for years to come.
Jackson signs offer sheet and the Ravens don't match.
Lamar Jackson would become a member of that team, and the Ravens get that team's next two first-round picks.
The Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers do not have first-round picks in 2023, so they cannot negotiate with Jackson before the draft.
Another team with much more salary-cap space this offseason could try to craft an offer sheet that would be nearly impossible for the Ravens to match.
Jackson inks a long-term deal with Ravens.
If teams enter negotiations with Jackson, it does not necessarily mean they will extend an official offer sheet. They might not be able to come to an agreement either.
If that's the case, Jackson could continue his talks with the Ravens toward a long-term contract. This is the Ravens' preferred scenario.
"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," General Manager Eric DeCosta stated. "Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come."
Jackson plays 2023 under the franchise tag.
If Jackson doesn't sign an offer sheet with another team, he and the Ravens have until July 17 to reach a long-term deal before he would have to play for Baltimore under the one-year franchise tag or hold out.
It remains to be seen how Jackson would approach offseason work in that scenario. The Ravens are installing a new offense under Todd Monken and would obviously prefer to have their starting quarterback on the field as much as possible, but Monken downplayed the significance of Jackson potentially skipping offseason work.
"Sure, he'll be behind, but it's still just football," Monken said at his introductory press conference. "Sometimes we make this out to be way too much. We'll cater to what he knows and play."
Jackson would be set for free agency again next offseason and could be tagged again. The Ravens' non-exclusive franchise tag keeps the cost of future potential franchise tags significantly lower. The cost of that tag would be a 120% raise off of the 2023 tag and the 2025 tag a 144% raise over the 2024 cap number.
Jackson is traded.
If the Ravens were to match another team's offer, or if Jackson were to sign the franchise tag, Baltimore could then trade Jackson because he's under contract. DeCosta has consistently shot down talk of such a move.
"We've probably made more trades than just about any other team in the league. Maybe we're second," DeCosta said at the Combine. "That being said, I covet great players. I covet quarterbacks. And I love Lamar. So that has not factored in one time with me."