The Baltimore Ravens insisted that they would use every last moment available to them to negotiate a long-term contract with quarterback Lamar Jackson in advance of the franchise tag deadline, which came to pass at 4 PM yesterday. The two sides failed to reach a resolution in time, forcing them to use the tag.
Yet they, likely intentionally, did not announce which franchise tag they employed. We quickly learned that it was the non-exclusive franchise tag worth $32.4 million, rather than the exclusive tag, which costs $45 million.
The more significant difference is that the non-exclusive tag works like a trumped-up restricted free agent tender. Players under this tag are free to negotiate contract offers with other teams; the original team can opt to match any offer sheet, and if they decline to do so, they would be offered two first-round picks.
Opting for the cheaper tag thus gives Jackson the freedom to negotiate his way out of Baltimore. Yet as soon as it was announced, we were met with a flurry of leaks indicating that such and such team would not be pursuing him.
I cannot recall ever seeing anything like this in the NFL before, where such a prominent player were to find himself in a position to negotiate with other teams and nearly every team who leaked information out about their own interest let it be known that there was none.
The mind immediately turns to the c-word when it comes to contract negotiations: collusion. It’s long been reported that Jackson wants a contract at least as large both in value and in guarantees as the $230 million fully-guaranteed deal the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson last year.
But the other 31 ownership groups seem committed to making Watson’s contract nothing more than an aberration. No other owner wants to be the one to turn a one-off mistake into a precedent, which is what giving Jackson what he wants has the power to do.
As of now, teams can point to the Browns and label them as fools, an incompetent organization that made an egregious mistake. But if another team were to give Jackson a similar deal, it changes the game.
And yet how disturbing is it that we had the exact opposite reaction last year when it was reported that Watson would not be facing criminal charges? There was a barrage of reports about teams wanting to pursue him. Now there is a barrage of reports about teams not wanting to pursue Jackson.
The only variable that makes sense enough to explain the discrepancy is the report of Jackson wanting a fully-guaranteed contract and nobody wanting to give him one. Or perhaps put more accurately, nobody wanting to be the one to step out of line and establish that precedent.
The Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers, and the Miami Dolphins were all quickly reported as not being in the hunt. There were others as well. The Las Vegas Raiders were first reported to be one, but then hours later the report flipped, stating that they would be open to all options at quarterback—conveniently.
It obviously doesn’t look good for the league if nearly all of the most quarterback-needy teams quickly come out and say that they’re not going to pursue the one player who is dead set on getting a fully-guaranteed contract in spite of the fact that he is almost unanimously regarded as one of the best players in football.
The NFLPA has already previously filed a collusion lawsuit alleging that teams are conspiring to prevent players (naming “certain quarterbacks”, e.g. Jackson) from receiving fully-guaranteed contracts. Chances are it won’t go anywhere.
But outside of the influences of the league, do we really believe that there isn’t a team in the NFL that would be willing to throw a quarter billion dollars at Jackson and say, ‘Okay, go turn our franchise around’? I almost suspect that there will be a workaround, in which he received a 10-year deal, of which five years are guaranteed, the back half a dummy deal that could be scrubbed for an entirely new one when the time comes.
After all, you don’t have to have a five-year fully-guaranteed contract written up just to talk to Jackson. Are we really saying nobody is interested in seeing if they can convince a player of his talent to accept less guaranteed? It’s not even worth the effort? Really? Just, ‘nah, I read on ESPN he wants fully guaranteed, not even gonna bother’? Nonsense.