The Browns' guaranteed contract with Deshaun Watson may chase Lamar Jackson right out of Baltimore. (Getty Images)
Ravens non-exclusive tag on Lamar Jackson receives initial cold reception
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
By applying the non-exclusive franchise tag to quarterback Lamar Jackson on Tuesday afternoon after almost a year of failed negotiations for a long-term contract, the Baltimore Ravens essentially declared, “Here, you try to sign him.”
And then a not-so-funny thing happened. Within hours of Jackson being freed to shop his considerable talents elsewhere, quarterback-needy teams one by one stepped forward and said, “Naw, we good.”
The Atlanta Falcons, who were rumored to have held talks at the NFL Combine with the Ravens about a potential trade, told ESPN and NFL Media and the Athletic they weren’t interested.
The Carolina Panthers, whose new coach Frank Reich said a week ago it would be “malpractice” not to research all options at quarterback and then met with Derek Carr before he signed with the New Orleans Saints, told the Athletic they weren’t interested.
The Washington Commanders, who actually gave up three draft choices last year for Carson Wentz and recently cut him, sent word to NFL Media that they weren’t interested.
The Miami Dolphins, whose eccentric owner was docked a No. 1 draft choice for tampering with Tom Brady and plotting to pair him with Sean Payton, told ESPN they weren’t interested.
By the end of Tuesday evening, the dreaded C-word was being used to describe what may be happening to Jackson – collusion.
Collusion against a quarterback who dares to demand what Deshaun Watson received from Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam – a fully guaranteed contract of $230 million. If not more.
It keeps on giving
The Watson contract continues to make life difficult for the Browns’ rivals in Baltimore. It is the dagger that eventually may permanently severe the relationship with their division nemesis.
If the Ravens truly wanted to retain their former MVP quarterback they would have given him the exclusive franchise tag.
That tag, valued at $45.2 million, would prohibit Jackson from seeking offers from other teams. The tag value is derived from the top five salary cap numbers of quarterbacks currently on the books. Watson’s 2023 cap number of $54.99 million inflated that figure and made it difficult for the Ravens, who are currently more than $9 million over the cap.
It has to irritate the Ravens even more to know the Browns will reduce Watson’s cap figure to about $21 million now that the Ravens’ deadline to apply the tag has passed. (That would have effectively lowered the exclusive franchise tag value to about $42.2 million.)
As is, the one-year contract guarantee of $45.2 million is more in line of what the market says Jackson is worth.
Derek Carr this week signed with the New Orleans Saints for a $37.5 million average over four years, and the New York Giants came to terms just before the tag deadline with Daniel Jones for a $40 million average over four years. Neither comes close to what Jackson has meant to the Ravens.
Five other quarterbacks have yearly averages of $45 million or more – Patrick Mahomes ($45 million), Watson ($46 million), Kyler Murray ($46.1 million), Russell Wilson ($49 million), and Aaron Rodgers ($50.27 million).
But by giving Jackson the non-exclusive tag, which is derived vastly differently from the exclusive tag and amounts to $32.4 million, the Ravens have buried Jackson below Kirk Cousins ($35 million) and Jared Goff ($33.5 million) and in 12th place among quarterback average yearly earnings.
The non-exclusive tag allows Jackson to receive an offer sheet from another team, and if the Ravens elected not to match they would receive two first-round picks in compensation.
But the early returns are that no team will be interested in meeting Jackson’s demand of a fully-guaranteed, Watson-like contract – while also giving up two No. 1s. That’s still less than the trade price paid by the Browns for Watson – three No. 1s, a third-round pick and two fourth-round picks.
It’s possible that the anonymous leaks of no interest from the Falcons, Panthers, Commanders and Dolphins are forms of posturing. They conceivably could make bona fide offers for Jackson.
Jackson doesn’t employ an agent, and that can’t help the process. Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, deftly leveraged Haslam’s desperation into an unprecedented deal that rocked the NFL. It sure looks like Jackson can use the expertise of a seasoned agent to negotiate a similar deal.
Other teams that haven’t weighed in, such as the Raiders and Colts and even the Lions, easily could justify pursuing a deal for Jackson.
It’s also possible that Jackson could return to negotiations with the Ravens. The deadline for the Ravens to sign an extension with Jackson is July 17.
But that appears unlikely, unless Jackson withdraws his demand for full guarantees.
As the Browns’ league-altering contract with Watson approaches the one-year anniversary, it appears the best it has done is destroy the relationship of one of their rivals and the worst may be serious allegations of collusion.