The 2023 NFL offseason is set to bring massive changes across the league. The last two offseasons saw an unprecedented number of trades take place that involved star players and quarterbacks. This year’s slate of free agents has only two clear starters at quarterback: Lamar Jackson and Geno Smith.
Jackson’s at the end of his rookie contract at only 26 years old. Let’s break down why the Baltimore Ravens should want to re-sign Jackson, where else he could end up if they trade him, and what his contract could look like.
Why Re-Signing Lamar Jackson Makes Sense for the Ravens
We’re close to entering unchartered waters with Jackson inching toward unrestricted free agency. Even if we forget he turns only 26 in January, franchise quarterbacks simply don’t hit the open market. The last time we saw a star quarterback hit the unrestricted market in his prime was Kirk Cousins in 2018.
Jackson is more accomplished than Cousins was, with five winning seasons, an All-Pro nomination, and an MVP Award in his cupboard. He’s a transformative player for any franchise he’s on because he’s one of the very few quarterbacks who can be the sole identity of the offense. What he’s accomplished with one of the bottom receiver corps since entering the league is truly remarkable.
The Ravens wouldn’t be able to replace Jackson even if they had the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Few prospects over the last decade would’ve been worth replacing Jackson with. Even if the Ravens could land a Trevor Lawrence-type, they’d still opt to franchise tag and trade him in order to gain draft picks in return.
Considering Baltimore will be a playoff team this season, they have no avenue to reasonably replace Jackson. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley is clearly a massive downgrade in talent, and Smith will likely be back in Seattle. The Ravens have no choice but to tag or extend Jackson long-term.
Extending Jackson long-term might be concerning for the franchise considering his injury history and the value of modern quarterback contracts. Jackson has missed at least one start every season over the last three years, including five in 2021 and at least four this season. Baltimore’s unwillingness to change the offense to protect Jackson has played a part in his injury woes.
Still, Jackson is the cornerstone piece for the franchise. They could look to tag-and-trade Jackson, but they can’t let him walk for free. And plans of franchising him for consecutive years would likely end in a Cousins-like departure down the road, whereas Baltimore would be better off just getting a deal done sooner than later to protect themselves.
Teams That Could Be Interested in Lamar Jackson
There will always be interest in a franchise quarterback who is just about to hit their prime, but the reality of current contracts and cap constraints can somewhat limit interested parties. For example, of course, Denver would love to land Jackson and dump Russell Wilson, but it’s simply not possible due to the structure of Wilson’s own mega-deal. If the Ravens were to tag Jackson and make him available via trade, they’d have plenty of willing suitors.
The most obvious candidates have a blend of cap space and lack of a star quarterback in place. The Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Washington Commanders, New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers would surely love the chance to land Jackson. Even Houston could justify hastening their rebuilding process if they could get the dual-threat star.
It’s important to note that a franchise tag, which would be worth about $31.5 million, would allow Jackson to negotiate with potential suitors who are willing to match his contract expectations. It’s possible, but less likely a team could trade for Jackson without an extension in place and assume the risk of later consequences and expenses. All Jackson can do to keep Baltimore from accepting a better offer from a team unwilling to give his desired contract is to threaten to hold out.
Miami and New Orleans don’t have first-round picks this season. Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Carolina, and Las Vegas are equipped with top-10 picks. Could Detroit or Seattle jump into the mix with two top-20 picks this year?
Anything is really possible with the right quarterback available. Watson garnered a massive trade haul with three first-round picks, and he got a fully guaranteed deal despite the horrible optics with more than 20 sexual assault claims against him. A Jackson deal would be even more prolific.
What Is Lamar Jackson’s Market Value?
Jackson, who represents himself, reportedly turned down a five-year, $250 million deal prior to the season because he wants a fully guaranteed contract. It’s no wonder why Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti scoffed at Deshaun Watson’s fully guaranteed deal. But it really was a matter of time until quarterbacks started pushing harder for these deals, and Cousins was the first one to get this type of locked-in contract anyway.
Knowing the guarantee is a major part of this deal, the Ravens may need to lock in the full $250 million for Jackson to accept. It’s hard to imagine he’d take much of a discount per year as a trade-off since he played this season without a long-term deal. The days of getting a slightly more team-friendly option are likely gone.
Jackson can point toward how poorly the contracts for Watson, Kyler Murray, Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers are looking just one year later and say he’ll prove to be a value like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are.
It’s still baffling why Baltimore didn’t extend Jackson earlier like both the Chiefs and Bills did, and it’ll cost the team upwards of $7 million a year for their decision. It’s reminiscent of Dallas waiting to extend Dak Prescott but actually worse since Jackson is a much better player and proved it earlier in his career.
Other Ravens Options at Quarterback
Replacing a true quarterback is nearly impossible in the short term. There are maybe 10 at any given point who can actually help a franchise have Super Bowl aspirations. Jackson is one of them and is greater enough to be his team’s offensive catalyst, making him even rarer.
The Ravens’ only choice is to take a step down from Jackson’s talent level and adopt a more traditional offense. They could receive a quarterback in a trade, such as Tua Tagovailoa, Jared Goff, or Derek Carr, but two of those are stopgaps. There’s not an obvious young player who could interest the Ravens since Zach Wilson is looking like an all-time bust, and the Bears have found their own star in Justin Fields.
Could Baltimore take their bevy of picks, trade up in the 2023 NFL Draft, and retool around a project like Anthony Richardson or a traditional pocket passer like CJ Stroud? It’d be hard to fathom.
The Ravens have to make a decision on their identity moving forward, and that starts with how they handle Jackson’s contract situation this offseason.