OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- With Lamar Jackson’s future uncertain, the Baltimore Ravens have to prepare for the possibility of needing to find a starting quarterback in 2023, whether it’s signing Teddy Bridgewater or Carson Wentz -- or acquiring someone after the draft.
Jackson, who has requested a trade, could decide to protest the nonexclusive franchise tag and not play for the $32.416 million tender. Only three players have sat out an entire season in the franchise tag’s 30-year history: defensive linemen Sean Gilbert and Dan Wilkinson and running back Le’Veon Bell.
The nonexclusive tag allows Jackson, who does not have an agent and is representing himself, to negotiate with another team. If he lands an offer sheet, the Ravens have five days to match or let him sign with the other team and receive two first-round draft picks as compensation. It is believed Jackson has not received an offer sheet yet.
Asked on March 27 whether Jackson will play under the tag, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, “I don’t know.”
Baltimore will know by July 17 whether Jackson will be going elsewhere because that’s the NFL deadline for franchise tag players to sign multiyear offer sheets with other teams.
But, until Jackson signs his tender, the Ravens likely won’t know when Jackson will report to Baltimore, or whether he will choose to show up at all this year. This is a less-than-ideal situation for a Ravens team revamping its scheme under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Harbaugh said the point when he would need to know if Jackson is playing this season is "the day of the first game,” which is five months away.
“I know that’s a silly answer,” Harbaugh said. "There is really no hard, fast date."
It’s difficult to predict whether Jackson will play under the tag or sit out to show his dissatisfaction for not inking a long-term deal. The franchise tag is a raise for Jackson and represents $5 million more than what he's made in his first five seasons combined ($27.519 million). But the possible issue for Jackson is there are 12 other quarterbacks who will average more on their deals than what Jackson will make this season, including Daniel Jones, Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff. Jackson is a 26-year-old former MVP who is perhaps the top dual-threat quarterback in the NFL.
Despite Jackson saying goodbye to Ravens fans in a tweet last week, Harbaugh remained optimistic Jackson will be Baltimore’s starting quarterback in Week 1. But Harbaugh recently acknowledged, “You’ve got to plan for all the contingencies, for sure.”
Without Jackson, the Ravens control the contractual rights of two quarterbacks: restricted free agent Tyler Huntley and second-year reserve Anthony Brown. Baltimore didn’t give Huntley a vote of confidence when the team gave him the right of first refusal tender, which means the Ravens wouldn’t receive any compensation for Huntley if he signs an offer sheet and they don’t match. They could have applied the second-round tender, which would have virtually guaranteed his return. In Huntley’s last five starts in the regular season, Baltimore struggled offensively, scoring a total of five touchdowns.
The Ravens looked into experienced free agents Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett this offseason, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Mayfield later signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Brissett joined the Washington Commanders.
But options remain, and regardless of whether Jackson signs elsewhere, the Ravens are going to need to make a decision about adding a veteran.
Sign a current free agent: Bridgewater is the best remaining option from a lackluster free agent class. There are five quarterbacks available who have a career winning record (minimum 20 starts): Bridgewater (33-32), Wentz (46-45-1), Matt Ryan (124-109-1), Joe Flacco (99-81) and Cam Newton (75-68-1).
At the age of 30, Bridgewater battled injuries last season with the Miami Dolphins, throwing four touchdown passes and four interceptions. But he has shown the ability to win games in the NFL when paired with a strong defense.
The Ravens would likely wait to sign any quarterback until after May 1, which is when free agent additions don’t count against a team’s compensatory picks. Baltimore is in line to get a fourth-round comp pick in 2024 after losing guard Ben Powers to the Denver Broncos.
Trade: If the Ravens want something more than a stopgap quarterback, Baltimore can try to obtain Trey Lance, who has gone from being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft to being the odd man out with the 49ers after Brock Purdy’s remarkable late-season run. When asked last week about potentially trading Lance, GM John Lynch pointed out San Francisco’s continued need for depth at quarterback considering the injuries the 49ers have consistently suffered at the position.
"We like Trey on our team right now," Lynch said. "Kyle and I always joke we'd trade each other if someone would give us a good enough deal. So we listen to anything, but we like Trey on our team. We're very excited about the way he's progressing, about his opportunity. I think he's chomping at the bit to get back out there, get back under center and be healthy again.”
The Ravens likely wouldn’t make any trades until after this month's draft because they have five total selections.
Sign someone released after the draft: Ryan Tannehill could be available if the Tennessee Titans trade up from the No. 11 overall pick to take a quarterback. Last week, Titans coach Mike Vrabel said “of course” he expects Tannehill to be his starting quarterback this season, before adding, "I am not going to commit to anybody being on our roster in September.”
Tannehill, 34, has led Tennessee to the playoffs in three of his four seasons, but he has the second-highest cap hit in the league this year at $36.6 million. The Ravens are probably going to run a more balanced offense under Monken, which means Baltimore doesn’t necessarily need to bring in a dual-threat quarterback.
Asked about adding another veteran quarterback, Harbaugh said, "Every position, we’re going to build depth into our team. We’re going to try to be prepared for every possible outcome. This is a unique one, no doubt, with Lamar and our quarterback situation. But everybody goes through this in some form or fashion with their quarterback. So this is part of it. This is part of the business.”