The Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson. In doing so, they opened up for business. After struggling to come to terms on an extension with their star quarterback over the past two offseasons, they signaled their intention to play chicken with the league's other 31 teams.
Any of those teams can sign Jackson to an offer sheet, which the Ravens would then have five days to match. If they match, they keep their quarterback on the terms of that deal. If they decline, the other team has to send two first-round picks to Baltimore in return, with one coming in 2023 and the other in 2024.
Two first-round picks is the baseline for a deal, but it's not the only possibility. If the Ravens want to negotiate more creative compensation, Jackson would sign his franchise tag and then immediately be traded to his new team for whatever deal Baltimore negotiates.
We saw this happen in the past, as an example, when the Seahawks tagged Frank Clark in 2019 and then dealt him to the Chiefs for a first- and second-round pick as well as a swap of third-rounders. Typically, when teams tag and trade their franchise players, they land something less than two first-round picks. The Ravens could land something more. A team such as the Texans might not be willing to send two first-round picks, but such a team could offer the Ravens the No. 2 pick if they're willing to let Jackson sign his tender before a trade.
Speculation has suggested the Ravens will simply match whatever offer Jackson signs, and it might turn out general manager Eric DeCosta and the Baltimore brain trust will keep him. Given that the Ravens haven't yet been able to come to terms with Jackson on an extension, though, opening up the bidding to 31 other teams makes it more likely Jackson will receive the sort of contract Baltimore was already loath to give the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner.
All of this opens up an opportunity to discuss something we don't normally see in the NFL: How much should a team be willing to pay for a 26-year-old quarterback with an MVP on his résumé? Those guys almost never hit the open market, and although Jackson isn't an unrestricted free agent, this is the closest an elite quarterback in his prime has come to that opportunity in many years.
Let's take a deep dive into the Lamar Jackson trade universe and what happens next. I'll run through each of the 16 teams that should have a conversation about trading for Jackson, why each should or shouldn't make the move, whether Jackson should waive his de facto no-trade clause to make the deal and what the compensation would look like. In some cases, the easiest deal would be to sign Jackson to an offer sheet and give up two first-round picks. In others, teams might have to get creative and involve other picks or players to trade for Jackson.
Jump to a team:
ATL | CAR | CHI | DET
GB | HOU | IND | LV
MIA | MIN | NE | NYJ
SF | TB | TEN | WSH
Why would the Ravens settle for two first-round picks?
First, though, let's hit a question that has seemingly been confusing. Why would the Ravens be willing to risk losing Jackson for just two first-round picks when we've seen Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson land much more? Wilson netted the Seahawks two first- and second-round picks and several players, while Watson landed three first-rounders and several middle-round selections for the Texans.
It would be reasonable to argue that Jackson's performance is worth more than that of either of those players. He's eight years younger than Wilson. He has never missed time via suspension unlike Watson, who played just six games last season after serving a suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the NFL, on massage therapists. Jackson has missed time each of the past two seasons with injuries -- we're now three years removed from his MVP year in 2019 -- but Jalen Hurts' success has proved teams can make it to the Super Bowl (and nearly win) with an offense built around the quarterback run game. Jackson is a very valuable player.
The issue is one I harp on a lot: NFL contracts and trade value aren't about skill. They're about leverage. The Seahawks and Texans had way more leverage than the Ravens because their quarterbacks weren't as close to unrestricted free agency. By using the franchise tag, the Ravens are only two years from being in a position in which they would realistically have no choice but to let Jackson hit unrestricted free agency, given the onerous price of a third franchise tag. Baltimore can afford the $32.4 million tag this year and a projected $41.8 million tag in 2024, but it would be north of $60 million in 2025.
Wilson had two years left on his deal when he was traded to the Broncos, meaning he was four years from threatening to become an unrestricted free agent. Watson was six years away. Those years matter when it comes to negotiating a new deal and figuring out how much trade value a player holds.
I wouldn't be surprised if Jackson landed more than two first-round picks in a trade, if only because a team might use the extra capital to persuade DeCosta to do a sign-and-trade as opposed to matching an offer sheet. Since two first-round picks is the baseline for a deal, though, I've used that as the starting point for possible trade offers below.
NFL teams would need to send their own 2023 and 2024 first-round picks to sign Jackson to an offer sheet, but if they can negotiate a sign-and-trade with the Ravens, teams that don't have their own first-round pick in 2023 (such as the 49ers or Dolphins) could acquire Jackson without using an offer sheet. In these cases, I would expect the Ravens to ask for something more than two first-round picks; an example might be to include a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a quarterback who can replace Jackson in the starting lineup.
I'll be ranking these teams in terms of whether I think they should trade for Jackson as opposed to which is most likely. I'll start with the teams that aren't in the discussion at all before working to the teams that should be having conversations.