NFL rumors: Lamar Jackson’s Ravens fate is nearly certain

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

We are minutes to midnight on the Lamar Jackson decision for the Baltimore Ravens.

One way or another, Lamar Jackson will be getting paid, but whether that is by the Baltimore Ravens or by someone else entirely remains to be seen.

NFL free agency will be here in a little over a week. While Jackson is the biggest name of any player potentially going to market, he is a prime candidate to be tagged. Negotiations have been painfully difficult for the self-represented quarterback and the Baltimore brass, so here we are… The longer this gets dragged out, the less likely Jackson will be returning to Baltimore long-term.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Baltimore could use the non-exclusive franchise tag on him.

"“Several people around the league believe the Baltimore Ravens have strongly considered using the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson, which would deepen the intrigue on his future in a major way. While the Ravens haven’t officially made a decision leading up to the deadline, several league executives now believe the non-exclusive tag — which allows teams to offer Jackson a contract that Baltimore can either match or decline in exchange for two first-round picks — makes the most sense for Baltimore.”"

The non-exclusive franchise tag could open up a major trade to a team like the Atlanta Falcons.

NFL rumors: Baltimore Ravens may use non-exclusive tag on Lamar Jackson

Given that the non-exclusive tag comes in at around $32 million, only seven teams have enough salary cap space presently to play ball with Jackson. The Atlanta connection is obvious. The Falcons have the second-most cap space at roughly $66.7 million. While the Dirty Birds seem to have a good thing going with Desmond Ridder, Jackson may be worth giving up two first-rounders.

Of course, Atlanta would have to give up the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, as well as next year’s, but Baltimore would be in a great position to draft his replacement inside of the top 10. This really comes down to how much the Ravens value Jackson’s backup Tyler Huntley, as well as how much belief the Atlanta front office has in Ridder potentially being a guy. There is intrigue…

Let the record stand that I have been Team Ridder since the better part of last season. Marcus Mariota was too inherently reckless for my taste. Although Ridder got better with each start, the Michael Vick era occurred during my formative years. It did not pan out fantastically, but I would be lying to you if I did not think Jackson could provide the Falcons with some much-needed juice.

Personally, I would roll with Ridder for at least one more season and build the best team around him, but I’m not opposed to parting ways with two first-round picks if Jackson really wants to play in Atlanta. He’d fit in very well in Arthur Smith’s offense and he’d be a fan favorite the moment he arrives in Flowery Branch. To me, it was always about asset allocation, never the player himself.

Another team that could be in play is the Las Vegas Raiders. They are moving off Derek Carr. Although head coach Josh McDaniels likes what Jarrett Stidham can do under center, the Raiders are infinitely more likely to draft a college star like Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis or Florida’s Anthony Richardson top-7, rather than give up an arm and a leg for Jackson’s services.

Overall, Baltimore using the non-exclusive franchise tag can go either way. The Ravens can keep him around for another year, but not have to pay upwards of $45 million to retain Jackson on the exclusive, thus freeing up more cap space to sign more good players to put around him. However, a non-exclusive could be the final nail in the coffin in the hopes of Jackson being a lifelong Raven.

Ultimately, the Ravens have to tag him. The question is if it will be of the exclusive or non-exclusive variety. The former would indicate there is still hope for a long-term extension to be had between the Ravens and Jackson, while the latter suggests Baltimore is willing to let him walk and become the face of another franchise, so long as they are able to recoup a pair of first-round picks.

This will be the defining move of Eric DeCosta’s general career so far, good, bad or downright ugly.

Next. NFL Free Agency: The 30 best players available in 2023. dark