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Lamar Jackson’s uncertain future with the Baltimore Ravens, explained

This could be the last game of Lamar Jackson’s career with Baltimore Ravens

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

On Sunday night, the Baltimore Ravens will take on the Cincinnati Bengals without the services of star quarterback Lamar Jackson. The former league MVP has missed the last five games with a knee injury, and with the Ravens currently 9.5-point underdogs to the Bengals, it’s very possible Jackson has played his last game of the season for Baltimore... and maybe his last game ever as a Raven.

Jackson is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year starts on March 15, and while it’s highly unlikely the Ravens will simply let Jackson hit free agency, there has been little progress in ensuring a return to Baltimore.

Last year, the Ravens and Jackson, who represents himself, were locked in talks for several months, continuing negotiations that date back to 2021. But despite two offseasons of talks, the sides did not come to an agreement by Jackson’s self-imposed deadline at the start of the 2022 regular season.

According to an ESPN report, Jackson turned down a six-year deal worth around $250 million that would have averaged more per year than the freshly signed deals of Russell Wilson ($48.5 million/year) and Kyler Murray ($46.1 million/year).

One potential hurdle for a deal has been Jackson’s reported interest in getting a fully-guaranteed contract. While those remain relatively rare in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns did sign DeShaun Watson to a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract. It’s unclear if that will become the new normal or remain an outlier, but it’s something the NFL Players Association has been pushing for in the past several years. Regardless, Jackson is one of many NFL stars who believe fully guaranteed contracts are the future, but the quarterback’s injury history may give Baltimore pause.

Jackson has now missed 10 combined games in the past two seasons, and some have raised questions about his current knee injury, suggesting that his contact situation is leading him to sitting out games. Even teammate Sammy Watkins seemed to imply that Jackson wasn’t doing everything he needed to get back onto the field:

Jackson fought back on those allegations this week, clarifying his current medical situation, calling it a Grade 2 PCL sprain that is inflamed and “remains unstable.”

His absence, though, has proven just how important he is to the team’s overall success. Since 2021, the Ravens are 15-9 with Jackson in the lineup and 3-7 without him.

If the Ravens do decide to move on, however, they will not just let Jackson walk into free agency. If they did, Baltimore would get nothing in return other than a potential compensatory pick, which would be no greater than a 2024 third-round pick.

That’s where the Ravens’ biggest leverage comes into play: the franchise tag. In essence, the exclusive franchise tag is a one-year offer, estimated to be worth $45.2 million per CBS Sports. It’s an easy way for teams to avoid letting a player enter free agency.

If the Ravens decide to use the franchise tag, that offer remains in place while the two sides can work out a long-term deal. If no deal is agreed to by the franchise tag signing deadline (typically in July), Jackson would either have to sign the one-year deal or hold out for the entire season.

The Ravens could also offer Jackson a cheaper, non-exclusive franchise tag, which works similarly. However, the main difference is Jackson would then be able to negotiate with other teams. If Jackson and another team agree to a tentative deal, the Ravens would then be able to match that offer. If Baltimore opts not to match, the new team will compensate the Ravens with two first-round picks for Jackson.

The most dramatic of choices the Ravens could take is to franchise tag Jackson, and rather than seek out a long-term deal, look to trade the franchise quarterback. “Tag-and-trades” happen every now and then, and it would likely be the most lucrative option for the Ravens if they do not see a path towards resolution with Jackson. Teams will undoubtedly offer several high draft picks for a quarterback as dangerous as Jackson.

Either way, the franchise tag is typically a last-resort option, as it tends to sour negotiations by putting all the power in the team’s hands. Before it gets to that, the two sides are expected to re-enter negotiations this offseason to try and make something work.

“We greatly appreciate how he has handled the process and we are excited about our team with Lamar leading the way,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement when talks ended last year. “We will continue to work towards a long-term contract after the season.”

“I would love to be here forever,” Jackson said back in May. “I love Baltimore. I love the whole organization. I love everybody in the building.”

But words are just words, and with the recent popularity of trading big-name quarterbacks (Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, and Watson) and Jackson’s increasingly curious injury situation, there is certainly a chance Lamar Jackson has played his final game as a Baltimore Raven.