At 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is finally allowed to submit overtures and contract offers from other teams. The question, and it feels even more legitimate now than it did when the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the quarterback a week ago, is who will name the former unanimous league MVP?
With the NFL’s two-day manipulation window turning into the start of the new league year, the market for the Ravens’ star signal caller is still unclear, even if teams in need of quarterbacks remain in place. Several teams that seemed like a fit for Jackson have either acquired a starting quarterback or are poised to do so, narrowing the list of potential suitors even further.
This list no longer includes the Carolina Panthers, who last week struck a deal with the Chicago Bears for next month’s top draft pick, allowing them to pick their rookie quarterback of choice. It no longer includes the Las Vegas Raiders, who chose to replace Derek Carr, now the New Orleans Saints starter, with veteran Jimmy Garoppolo. It no longer includes the Miami Dolphins, who received the fifth-year option at starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, signed backup Mike White to a two-year contract, and made a variety of other moves including the addition of high-priced cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
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The Atlanta Falcons, who couldn’t wait to let everyone know they were out against Jackson last week, have acted this week like a team with no intention of making him a contract offer and plan to take the course with Desmond keep Rider. Using a ton of their cap space, the Falcons agreed a two-year deal worth up to $20 million with Taylor Heinicke to back Ridder.
The New York Jets continue to work on acquiring Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers and it has been widely reported that the salary cap Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking for cheaper options like Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett to step in and line up with Kyle Trask for the starting quarterback job. Armed with the No. 2, the Houston Texans are able to draft a quarterback instead of giving that pick and a 2024 first-rounder to the Ravens in exchange for Jackson.
So who is left? The Indianapolis Colts are outstanding. With the firing of quarterback Matt Ryan and the agreement to sell veteran cornerman Stephon Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, the Colts have certainly made some room for the salary cap. However, team officials have also talked about wanting to design their own signal caller after leaving with three straight veterans following Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement. With the #4 pick, the Colts are guaranteed one of the best quarterbacks in the draft: Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, or Kentucky’s Will Levis.
The Washington Commanders, who are ready to start Sam Howell in his second year of round five, are another team linked with Jackson. It’s not hard to see potential outgoing owner Daniel Snyder making such a move, ready to offer Jackson a fully guaranteed deal that would be difficult for Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to match. NFL Network’s Sherree Burruss interviewed Commanders coach Ron Rivera Monday and reported that Rivera said “there’s no pressure” to go along with Jackson’s bid.
The Tennessee Titans? New general manager Ran Carthon has backed starter Ryan Tannehill, and the Titans aren’t acting like a team that’ll suddenly be willing to give a quarterback more than $200 million in guaranteed money.
Given the delicacy of the negotiations, it would be foolish for another team to directly announce their intentions to make Jackson an offer. This is also a lie season in the NFL, so it’s wise not to discount potential targets when quarterback upgrade is available. Jackson is only 26 and one of the most dynamic players in the league. He’d also be a huge draw for a franchise struggling for relevance, and owners — those who have to make the final decision on a deal of this magnitude anyway — certainly understand what his addition would mean.
For their part, the Ravens have done nothing over the past few days that would jeopardize their chances of comparing Jackson to an offer hand. They agreed to trade safe Chuck Clark, released veteran defensive end Calais Campbell, and let Gus Edwards run back and nose-attack Michael Pierce in exchange for accepting a pay cut. Guard Kevin Zeitler’s contract has also been revised to create more space for the cap. In all three contract changes, the Ravens took advantage of idle years they have avoided in the past. Her willingness to use her this year could easily be taken as a sign that Baltimore is willing to do whatever it takes to protect itself against an outside bid for Jackson.
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The Ravens’ only free-agent move was the re-signing of cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who happens to be Jackson’s cousin, to a one-year contract for what will likely be pretty close to the league minimum. The Ravens are poised to enter the new league year with about $10 million in salary cap space, but there are other steps they could be taking to put in more. Simple contract reshuffles from left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey would more than double their available cap space.
Ravens officials have expressed quiet confidence that they will be able to match any offer sheet for Jackson if they so desire. But the questions remain: will he sign one and with whom?
Some non-tenders are coming
The Ravens have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether to sign their six restricted free agents, a group that includes quarterback Tyler Huntley, center Trystan Colon, linebackers Del’Shawn Phillips and Kristian Welch, safety Geno Stone and Long write out snapper Nick Moore. However, it is expected that most, if not all, will not receive a contract, allowing them to have a free hand.
Even the lowest bid would cost the Ravens just under $2.7 million, a healthy expense for a team competing against the cap. Apparently, the Ravens won’t extend contract offers of this level to Phillips and Welch, who play almost exclusively special teams and posted five defensive snaps together last year. The highest-paid long snappers in the NFL make between $1.4 million and $1.5 million a year. A low bid is almost double that, which explains why the Ravens are not putting Moore out, pleased as they are with his performance in the role over the past two seasons.
The Ravens obviously like Colon, the former undrafted free agent who has proven to be a solid reserve, holding his own in four starts in three seasons. Still, he projects himself as the team’s eighth or ninth offensive lineman. It’s valuable, but is it worth $2.7 million for a team on a tight budget?
Stone has proven to be a consistent contributor on both defense and special teams over the past two years. He started in seven games for an injured Marcus Williams last year and has held up well. With Clark being traded, Stone would be the favorite to be the team’s No. 3 safety behind Williams and Kyle Hamilton in 2023, and that’s a potentially significant role. Still, the Ravens were leaning towards a non-write out Stone earlier in the week, according to those involved in the talks. They planned to reconsider the decision shortly before Wednesday’s deadline.
Then there’s Huntley, who represents perhaps the most difficult decision of all. The Ravens have discussed bringing in a more experienced veteran backup who, assuming Jackson is back, would leave Huntley as the No. 3 quarterback. That could certainly affect how much the team would be willing to pay Huntley. However, if the Ravens don’t draft him out, the only quarterback on their mid-March roster would be sophomore undrafted free agent Anthony Brown.
Traditionally, the Ravens have had success by not writing out certain restricted free agents and then re-signing them to more team-friendly deals. All teams do it. However, there are no guarantees as to when these players will be allowed to make outside offers. Huntley has shown enough in his eight starts over the past two seasons to be attractive to other teams as a budget backup quarterback. There are some teams that can easily see Stone as a starter and pay him as such. The Ravens’ ability to find and develop players for special teams is well documented in the league, so a guy like Moore is likely to spark interest.
The Ravens are in a bit of a difficult position. They have to be frugal and selective about how they use their cap space, but losing guys like Huntley, Stone, Colon and Moore would create gaps in their roster that they would need to fill.
Backup QB Options
The idea behind the Ravens spending some money on the backup quarterback position wasn’t based on finding a replacement if Jackson leaves. It was more about finding a more experienced option if Jackson’s late-season injury woes continue and a contingency plan in case the quarterback decides to hold off on training camp due to his contract stalemate.
Ravens draws up contingency plans amid ongoing contract dispute with Lamar Jackson
With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken, the Ravens need to make good use of training camp and the preseason. A seasoned quarterback who’s been in a variety of offenses and understands the acclimation process would help with that transition if Jackson is indeed a camp holdout. However, the backup quarterback market has thinned since the window of manipulation opened.
Mayfield and Brissett are the remaining top options, but both are understandably looking for opportunities to potentially start. Behind are former starters Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. And then there’s a group of younger options like Cooper Rush, Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock and Mason Rudolph.
The Ravens could easily pander to Huntley and stand still, choosing to spend their limited cap dollars elsewhere. However, there are options if they go in a different direction.
(Photo above: Ray Seebeck / USA Today)