The Baltimore Ravens have officially placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson, having failed to reach a long-term deal before Tuesday's franchise tag deadline. He joins other players on the tag, including Cowboys RB Tony Pollard, Raiders RB Josh Jacobs, and Jaguars TE Evan Engram, among others.
The weirdest part of this situation isn't the fact that the two sides didn't reach a long-term deal. We knew they've been relatively far apart on contract terms — specifically the amount of guaranteed money — and they've been at this for quite some time.
The true weirdness lies in the fact that they applied a non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson. Let's get into what that is, why they did it, and why it's a weird move to make for your franchise quarterback.
Now that the Ravens have applied the non-exclusive franchise tag, Lamar Jackson is free to negotiate a long-term deal with other teams. Baltimore would have the opportunity to match any contract offer Jackson receivers.
If they decide not to match the offer, Jackson would leave the team on his new deal and they'd receive two first-round picks as compensation. If they match the offer, then Lamar Jackson remains with the Ravens on the terms offered by the outside team.
Why would the Ravens let Lamar Jackson explore the market via the non-exclusive franchise tag? Well, there are a couple of reasons, though the team hasn't outlined them explicitly:
They'll save lots of money. If Lamar Jackson plays under the non-exclusive franchise tag, he would earn a total of $32.416 million guaranteed in 2023. If they applied the exclusive franchise tag, he'd earn an average of the top-five salaries at the quarterback position at the time free agency ends. This number projects to be much higher in the range of $45 million.
Since the Ravens are saving money, that means Lamar Jackson is making less money, which means he'll be more motivated to get a long-term deal done. That coooould mean (aka, the Ravens would be hoping) Jackson would take a deal he otherwise wouldn't have agreed to (aka, less guaranteed money than he'd like), just to avoid playing on a one-year deal for a relatively low salary in 2022.
This gives Lamar Jackson a chance to prove his value on the market. Or, as the Ravens are probably hoping, it gives the market a chance to prove to Lamar Jackson that his contract demands are outrageous (they're not). If he doesn't negotiate a deal he likes with another team, the Ravens can say, "See, Lamar? It's not just us. The market agrees you're asking for too much." Then, he's backed into a corner.
They're okay with losing him. The exclusive franchise tag (AKA, the one where the player can't go out and negotiate with other teams willy-nilly) could have keep Lamar Jackson off the market entirely. You don't let your franchise player test the market if you aren't afraid to lose him to the market.
...Unless you don't think he'll do a great job negotiating with other teams and you feel confident you'd be able to match any terms he comes up with. Remember, Lamar Jackson is representing himself in negotiations — he doesn't have an agent. On one hand, there should be no shortage of suitors in need of a young franchise quarterback. On the other, if Lamar isn't a great negotiator, it doesn't really matter.
Regardless of whatever official reason the Ravens might give for placing the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson, it just doesn't feel like any of these answers bode well for their long-term relationship. It's icky vibes all around.
I hate this, Baltimore. I truly hate it. As the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Lamar Jackson has made $32,774,549 over the course of five NFL seasons.
In that time, he's notched an All-Pro, MVP season, two Pro Bowl appearances, and gone 45-16 record as a starter. GET OUTTA HERE. PAY THE MAN. Daniel Jones got his contract, after all — why shouldn't Lamar?