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Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens' contract standoff took its first concrete step on Tuesday when Baltimore placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on its starting quarterback.
Why it matters: Baltimore is rolling the dice, betting that Jackson won't find a better deal elsewhere but also opening itself up to the possibility of losing its 26-year-old former most valuable player.
How it works: Teams can use one franchise tag per year on an impending free agent, locking that player into a one-year deal at a predetermined salary (based on positional comps).
Details: There are two types of tags: exclusive ($45 million for QBs this season) and nonexclusive ($32.4 million).
- The exclusive tag gives teams exclusive negotiating rights. Players can either accept the tag, work toward a new long-term deal or simply refuse to play.
- The nonexclusive tag is cheaper but comes with risks, allowing the player to negotiate with other teams (though their original team can still match any deal).
Where it stands: If Jackson signs an offer sheet from another team, the Ravens have five days to match it. If they choose not to, they'll receive two first-round draft picks from Jackson's new team.
The question: Why would the Ravens risk losing a franchise player this young and this talented?
The answer: They likely believe the chances of that happening are very low.
- Jackson reportedly wants a fully guaranteed contract despite missing 10 games over the last two seasons.
- The nonexclusive tag is essentially the Ravens telling Jackson that they don't want to give him that deal, and they don’t think anyone else will, either.
The big picture: Numerous teams with holes at QB have publicly said they aren't interested in signing Jackson, leading to speculation that collusion is afoot.
- Some believe owners are working together to ensure that Jackson doesn't get the fully guaranteed contract he's seeking.
- Why? To ensure the fully guaranteed deal Deshaun Watson controversially received last year remains an outlier, and doesn't become a precedent.
Between the lines: Jackson and the Ravens have been stuck at an impasse for so long that Baltimore could be using this tactic to simply find out what Jackson's actual market is.
- In other words, let someone else negotiate for a bit, and if they're able to come to an agreement, then the Ravens can swoop in and match it anyway.
What to watch: This is just the fourth nonexclusive tag given to a QB this century. None of the other three got signed to an offer sheet by another team.
The bottom line: An in-his-prime player at the sport's most important position just became available for nothing more than a fair contract and a couple of draft picks. What comes next will likely say more about the league than the player.
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