One of the 2023 NFL offseason’s critical decision points was crossed Tuesday afternoon when the Baltimore Ravens chose to place the franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“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,” GM Eric DeCosta said in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come.”
Yet Jackson received the “non-exclusive” tag, an important distinction. Not only is its one-year tender projected to be about $32.4 million – well shy of the $45 million value attached to the “exclusive” tag – it also permits Jackson to negotiate with other teams. If he finds a deal to his liking – something that obviously hasn’t materialized in Baltimore – Jackson can sign an offer sheet that sets his market. Were that to happen, the Ravens would have five days to match the offer in order to retain the 2019 league MVP or would receive two first-round picks as compensation by declining.
So who might pony up for the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season twice while accounting for 114 touchdowns – or 2.1 per game – over the past four years? Here are eight intriguing possibilities aside from Baltimore:
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They need a quarterback, Sam Howell and Jake Fromm currently the only ones under contract. This is a franchise that’s long loved making headline-snatching moves to reinvigorate a fan base that’s witnessed all of two playoff wins since Dan Snyder became the owner in 1999. But that’s also the rub as Snyder appears to be in the process of selling the team and – in theory – an outgoing owner isn’t going to pony up a huge chunk of guaranteed money for a star that ultimately won’t play for him. In. Theory.
One year after answering countless questions about QB Tua Tagovailoa’s ability, coach Mike McDaniel was talking about Tagovailoa’s concussion issues and long-term health at the scouting combine while ducking queries about whether the Fins will pick up Tua’s fifth-year option in the coming weeks. Jackson, who represents himself, is a South Florida native and might make financial concessions to come home … assuming there’s mutual interest, which would also require the Dolphins – currently projected nearly $18 million overspent for 2023, according to OverTheCap – to do some serious roster restructuring. With no first-round pick this year, Miami also would have to do some maneuvering to make a play for Jackson, as the team cannot currently sign him to an offer sheet.
New York Jets
As of Tuesday afternoon, it appears they’re firmly focused on Plan A: Aaron Rodgers. Plan B – Derek Carr – now a New Orleans Saint, so no longer viable. Plan C? Rodgers is hardly in the bag, and if the Jets can’t land him – and NYJ GM Joe Douglas said at the combine that his team will pursue a veteran passer – Jackson could be the alternative. Douglas would also have some cap work to do but could free up a nice hunk of change by releasing veteran WR Corey Davis and/or pass rusher Carl Lawson.
They’ve needed a quarterback ever since the falling out with former face of the franchise Deshaun Watson and have the plentiful cap room to give Jackson the deal he wants – and, per reports, that’s something in excess of the fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal the Cleveland Browns awarded Watson last year. All that said, the Texans also own the No. 2 pick of the 2023 draft and would have to weigh whatever their interest in Jackson might be against their impressions of Alabama QB Bryce Young, Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud, Florida QB Anthony Richardson and Kentucky QB Will Levis – and GM Nick Caserio and Co. are obviously guaranteed to get one of those players by simply standing pat. So, Nick, want that cost-controlled passer while retaining the rest of your draft capital? Or do you enrich Jackson and effectively spend one more first-rounder on a QB1 than you would have anyway?
On some level, their situation loosely mirrors division rival Houston’s given Indy is selecting fourth overall in the draft and would be guaranteed one of this year’s hot passing prospects by merely sticking and picking. The veteran quarterback route also hasn’t paid off for GM Chris Ballard in the four years following Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement. And yet it seems owner Jim Irsay has become increasingly impatient, and Ballard may have to at least explore loosening the purse strings and spending the high-end draft expenditure for Jackson – behavior that would cut against his previous approach. And yet … Jackson plus RB Jonathan Taylor behind what should be a top-tier O-line and supported by a strong defense? Enticing to say the least.
Las Vegas Raiders
As we continue to work down the first-round draft order, the Silver and Black pick seventh, and coach Josh McDaniels has expressed desire to find a long-term solution after the team chose to dump Carr. And with $39 million in cap space, the Raiders have only slightly less cash on hand than Houston to frame up an offer for Jackson. The bigger question here might be whether a quarterback who likes to run frequently will mesh with precision route runners like WRs Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow?
They pick eighth. There have also been multiple reports issued from ESPN and NFL Network that ATL will not chase Jackson. But let’s look at this logically. Third-round rookie Desmond Ridder hardly established himself as “the guy” during his rookie season, though he only had a four-start audition. This is also a team positioned to compete instantly in the NFC South with an established passer in the fold – and GM Terry Fontenot has more than $66 million at his disposal, more than any team in the league save the Chicago Bears. And for a team that typically plays second fiddle to the Georgia Bulldogs in its own market, wouldn’t it make football and business sense to recruit Jackson and finally fill up Mercedes-Benz Stadium for NFL games?
They pick ninth. They lost out on Carr. Owner David Tepper desperately wants a marquee quarterback to solidify a team that nearly won the division despite all the adversity it dealt with in 2022. However GM Scott Fitterer’s cap is currently more than $3 million in the red, and it would be a heavy lift – perhaps even including the loss of one of his foundational youngsters – to make requisite room for Jackson in the Panthers’ salary structure.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.