In the modern NFL, it’s no secret that you can’t expect to compete for a championship without a franchise quarterback. Dating back to the year 2000, 16 of 24 Super Bowls had either a Manning, Mahomes, or Brady participating, and that’s not including the ones with a Roethlisberger, Rodgers, or Burrow. Outside of outliers with historically good defenses, pretty much every Super Bowl featured at least one franchise quarterback.
So if I told you that a 26 year old League MVP could be had for market value and two first round picks, you would be surprised to hear that there were no bidders. A quarterback who has won 73% of his games and scored 125 touchdowns in 70 games should have an incredible market, right?
Well, on March 7th, the Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on 2019 league MVP, Lamar Jackson, creating opportunities for the rest of the least to place bids on him, and as of this writing, nobody has. Why is that?
The Truth About the Lamar Jackson Situation
The first, and most sensational narrative is that the NFL owners are colluding to kill the normalization of fully guaranteed contracts for superstars. This isn’t the most outlandish idea, the NFL has a proven history of questionable morals. This is the same league that knowingly hid data on concussions and brain damage for decades. There is some smoke to this fire, as many teams were vocally out on Lamar as soon as the story broke.
However, I don’t believe this is the case. There isn’t enough unity among the owners to coordinate something like this. We have Dan Snyder, who needs a quarterback, threatening to expose his contemporaries if he is forced to sell the Washington Commanders. We have Mark Davis, who believes the rest of the league sabotaged his dream-coach by exposing bigoted emails. And if there’s anyone more willing to give the rest of the owners the finger than Jerry Jones, I’ve never heard of them. The owners didn’t say a word when the Minnesota Vikings gave Kirk Cousins a guaranteed contract, and right across the AFC North in Cleveland, the Browns gave an alleged sexual predator a fully guaranteed contract for ridiculous money.
Not Worth It
The rebuttal is that Lamar Jackson simply isn’t worth it. Since that fantastic 2019 season where he led the NFL in passing touchdowns and quarterback rating, he hasn’t had the same success as a passer. His completion percentage and passer rating has gone down, his interceptions have gone up, and he’s missed 11 games with injury. Beyond that, his dynamic play has not extended to the post-season, where he has five interceptions and five fumbles to go with four combined touchdowns over four games. There’s definitely a conversation to be had about areas where Lamar Jackson needs to improve.
But then again, it’s not like he’s been in the best situation to succeed. For a well-run franchise, the Baltimore Ravens have truly struggled to draft wide receivers. The best wide receiver they ever drafted had 3,591 yards and 30 touchdowns for the team, and he was gone before Lamar started. Meanwhile Greg Roman is an offensive genius when it comes to run schemes, but has proven to be completely inept in developing the passing game, which resembles Lamar’s NFL experience a little too much to be a coincidence.
Considering the Cleveland Browns were willing to give a monster contract to a man who not only had a litany of sexual assault allegations pending, but hadn’t played in years, this is not an excuse. Right or wrong, nothing on Lamar Jackson’s tape says he’s not worth a franchise quarterback contract offer from one of the 32 teams.
The Real Story
The real story is a lot less salacious, I’m afraid. Because while I’m sure that there are owners who would love to kill the fully guaranteed contracts and as much as I’m sure that the NFLPA is pushing Lamar Jackson to get as much money as possible, the truth is that it wouldn’t make sense for teams to bid on Lamar right now if they could.
And that’s another missing piece, because while teams can bid on Lamar when the new league year starts, it hasn’t yet. Lamar is essentially a pending free agent with conditions, and free agency doesn’t start until Wednesday.
The context is crucial, and the context tells us that the Baltimore Ravens have tried and failed to negotiate with Jackson over the last two years. Lamar Jackson knows that the Ravens need him more than he needs them, and like any good businessman, he’s going to get every penny that he can. Meanwhile, the Ravens have seen how paying a quarterback can impact a team’s ability to build a competitive roster firsthand, and they’re hesitant to go back.
So they played the only card they had. Instead of giving him the exclusive tag and attempting to negotiate later, they’re letting Lamar’s market dictate his deal. I believe they’re planning to match whatever offer Lamar signs, basically making Lamar and the rest of the league do the negotiating for them.
If you’re another NFL team and you know this, it still doesn’t hurt to try, right? It wouldn’t hurt to put in an offer and call Baltimore’s bluff? Worst case scenario, you give up two firsts, but you also suddenly have an exceptionally dynamic franchise quarterback. Well, it’s not that simple. Because when Lamar signs the offer sheet, the bid comes out of your team’s salary. The Baltimore Ravens have five days to match, so a team could be sitting with a market-changing deal on the books for a week without ever getting a snap of Lamar Jackson.
During a time where teams are not only trying to lock up their valuable players, but they’re also trying to clear cap space to be competitive going after free agents, they can’t afford to have that much of their money be unavailable. Why would you dedicate most, if not all, of your remaining cap space to a player that you do not believe you’ll be able to sign? It doesn’t make any sense. At the end of the day, it makes far more sense than the owners colluding to get rid of a player who makes them millions or a belief that a former unanimous league MVP isn’t good enough for quarterback money.
I expect business to pick up after the NFL draft, when the big money free agents are off the board and the QB hungry teams that missed out on the elite prospects might come calling. Either way, I believe the Baltimore Ravens will match whatever offer is put down and the former Heisman Trophy and MVP award winner will stay on Russell Street.
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