As 2023 NFL free agency approaches, one player’s future looms larger than just about any other. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has clearly reached an impasse with the team. His availability down the stretch of the 2022 season was certainly notable, considering the timetable for Jackson to return to the lineup was initially just 1-3 weeks.
It ended up being a little more than that. After Jackson went down with the injury in Week 13 against the Denver Broncos, he missed the rest of the regular season as well as the Ravens’ playoff game against Cincinnati. Jackson had been sacked 26 times in 12 starts and was on pace to be sacked more times than he ever has as an NFL player in a single season (38 in 2021).
The latest rumors swirling involve Jackson looking for a fully guaranteed contract worth more than Deshaun Watson’s $230 million deal with the Browns he signed last year. Is that unreasonable? Absolutely not.
Lamar Jackson likely to be traded during 2023 NFL free agency?
If the Ravens want to franchise tag Lamar Jackson, it’s going to cost them $32.416 million fully guaranteed. Now, that’s a lot of money. A lot of money. It would certainly be tough for Jackson to turn down and sit out the entire season, but given his true value — which is undoubtedly greater than Deshaun Watson’s — it might not be so hard, after all.
The Ravens have plenty of salary cap space to make a deal work this year — over $25 million and they have the flexibility for more. The issue is, the Ravens have more issues than just getting a deal done with Lamar Jackson. They need to get him some weapons. The Ravens have had arguably the worst wide receiver play in the NFL since Jackson came into the league.
Even as dynamic as Jackson is as a passer and runner, there’s only so much you can do without the right playmakers at receiver. Look at how elevated an offense like Philadelphia’s became when they landed both De’Vonta Smith and AJ Brown.
It might make some sense for the Ravens to reset at the quarterback position if they are truly trying to pinch pennies. The NFL is the only major American sport where the contract is not fully guaranteed for every player. A massive deal by Kirk Cousins and the Vikings in 2018 really started to change things in that regard, and Watson’s deal — like it or not — helps players like Jackson going forward.
If the Ravens don’t want to pay Jackson, some team will have no problem doing it whatsoever. It’s just the way this league works. It can be hard to wrap your mind around the idea that some team might be willing to give Jackson $240 million fully guaranteed (or more) as well as give the Ravens the required draft capital to acquire him, but we literally just saw it happen last year with Watson.
And Watson has issues, to say the very least.
The Ravens could land a king’s bounty for Jackson. They would be losing a superstar and the cornerstone of their franchise, but they could definitely get a sweet haul for him.
If I’m Jackson, there’s zero chance I’m playing on the franchise tag. His value isn’t going anywhere. Playing hardball like that would put the Ravens in a really tough spot and might set the franchise back further than it really wants to go. Jackson undoubtedly wants to go where he’s valued, but why aren’t the Ravens jumping at the chance to do exactly that?
If there’s a deal to be done, why isn’t it done? What are the Ravens waiting for? Are they hoping to make Lamar sweat? What is the goal of this lengthy of a negotiating tactic? Another team would figure out a proper deal seemingly instantly if Jackson were allowed to hit NFL free agency.
He won’t be allowed to do that. The Ravens will almost undoubtedly tag him. But after that, the gloves are off and the game is on. If the Ravens can’t get Jackson signed long-term to a deal that is fully guaranteed, I think we’re going to see him traded, as wild as that would be.