Ravens tag Lamar as sides can’t agree to deal

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens placed the franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson on Tuesday, taking the NFL’s top potential free agent off the market.

The Ravens made the long-expected move official by using the tag just before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. Baltimore and Jackson, who doesn’t have an agent and is representing himself, have been unable to reach a long-term deal since he became eligible for a contract extension over two years ago. Sources told ESPN last year that Jackson wants a fully guaranteed deal like the one given to Deshaun Watson last year by the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore is against doing so because the team considers the Watson deal an outlier.

The Ravens used the nonexclusive tag on Jackson, sources told ESPN. With the Ravens using the nonexclusive tag, Jackson can engage in contract talks with other teams. If Jackson signs an offer sheet with another team, Baltimore has the right to match the offer to keep him or take two first-round picks as compensation. The nonexclusive tag — which will pay Jackson $32 million this season — is less expensive than the exclusive one (projected at $45 million), which would have allowed the Ravens to control his rights this year.

“There have been many instances across the league and in Baltimore when a player has been designated with the franchise tag and signed a long-term deal that same year. 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. Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement.

Jackson, 26, is just the third quarterback to win NFL MVP and then receive the franchise tag, joining Steve Young (1993) and Peyton Manning (2004 and 2011), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Young and Manning reached long-term deals and didn’t play the full season under the tag.

Now, under the franchise tag, the Ravens and Jackson have until July 17 to work out a long-term deal. If an agreement is not reached by that NFL-mandated deadline, a new deal can’t be signed until after the season. Baltimore has reached new, multiyear deals with five of the seven players that have previously received the tag by the team.

It’s uncertain how Jackson will proceed under the tag. He could wait to report just before the start of the regular season or choose to not play under the tag at all.

If Jackson doesn’t sign the franchise tag tender — which would guarantee his salary for this season — he is technically not under contract and can’t be fined for missing mandatory minicamp in June or training camp in the summer. Jackson could return before the season opener in September and earn his entire salary. At the end of the season, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said no one can assume Jackson will miss all the offseason practices and training camp, saying, “He’s not beating to everybody’s drum.”

Another option for Jackson is holding out for the entire season. But there has only been only player in the last 25 years to sit out a full season after being tagged: then Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell in 2018. If Jackson were to hold out until the season, he must sign his tender prior to the Tuesday following Week 10 to be eligible to play in 2023. If Jackson doesn’t play for Baltimore next season, the Ravens can put the franchise tag on Jackson again to keep him from becoming a free agent in 2024.

The only other quarterbacks on the Ravens roster are Tyler Huntley, a restricted free agent, and Anthony Brown, who is in his second season after being an undrafted rookie.

Baltimore will have to make several moves to get Jackson’s franchise tag tender under the salary cap by 4 p.m. ET on March 15, when the 2023 league year officially begins. The Ravens have $22 million in cap space, and Jackson’s tag will cost $32 million (the $45 million exclusive tag number would take effect April 21). To create the much-needed cap space, Baltimore could have to release key players such as defensive end Calais Campbell, running back Gus Edwards and safety Chuck Clark.

Ravens officials have acknowledged that it’s been a “tough negotiation” because Jackson does not have an agent. But, in January, Baltimore signed Roquan Smith to a five-year, $100 million deal even though the middle linebacker represented himself in contract talks.

Jackson stopped answering questions about his contract after Week 1 of the 2022 regular season and hasn’t talked to reporters since Dec. 2, his last media session before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Asked in Week 2 why guaranteed money is important to him, Jackson replied, “I’m done talking about that, respectfully.”

The last pick in the first round of the 2018 draft, Jackson has been the most electrifying offensive player in Ravens history, becoming a unanimous selection for NFL MVP in 2019. He is the first NFL player to produce 5,000 yards passing and 2,500 yards rushing in the first three seasons of a career.

Jackson’s playmaking ability has made the Ravens one of the most successful teams over the last five seasons. His record of 45-16 (.738) is the fourth-best of any quarterback who debuted in the Super Bowl era, trailing only Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Roger Staubach. The Ravens have struggled without Jackson the last two seasons, going 3-9 (.308) in his absence.

But Jackson’s passing and durability have come under scrutiny lately. Over the last two seasons, Jackson has totaled 33 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions and has missed 11 games, including a playoff loss to the Bengals last season.

Jackson is the eighth player, and first quarterback, to get the franchise tag from the Ravens. The only players who got tagged and didn’t re-sign with the Ravens were offensive lineman Wally Williams (1998) and outside linebacker Matthew Judon (2020).

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