Lamar Jackson’s market remains unclear as a new league year begins

The Athletic has live coverage from the NFL free agency window.

At 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson finally gets to take over overtures and contract offers from other teams. The question, and it feels even more legit now than when the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the quarterback a week ago, is who will name the league’s former unanimous MVP?

As the NFL’s two-day sabotage window rolls into the start of the new league year, the market for the Ravens’ Star Signal Caller is still unclear, even as quarterback-needed teams remain. Several teams that appeared to be a good fit for Jackson have either acquired or are about to acquire a starting quarterback, further narrowing the list of potential suitors.

That list no longer includes the Carolina Panthers, who last week arranged a trade with the Chicago Bears for the top overall draft pick next month, allowing them to select the rookie quarterback of their choice. It no longer features the Las Vegas Raiders, who have elected to replace Derek Carr, now the New Orleans Saints starter, with veteran Jimmy Garoppolo. It no longer includes the Miami Dolphins, who picked up the fifth-year option on starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, signed backup Mike White to a two-year contract and made a host of other moves, including adding high-priced cornerback Jalen Ramsey.


CJ Stroud, Bryce Young or someone else? Panthers better be right with the No. 1 pick

The Atlanta Falcons, who couldn’t wait to let everyone know they were on Jackson last week, have acted this week like a team that has no intention of making him a contract offer and intends to stay the course with Desmond Knight. The Falcons used a ton of their capacity and agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $20 million with Taylor Heinicke to support Knight.

The New York Jets continue to work towards acquiring Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, and it is widely reported that the salary cap Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking for cheaper options, such as Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett, to come in and to compete with Kyle Trask for the starting quarterback job. Armed with the No. 2 pick, the Houston Texans are able to field a quarterback, instead of giving that roster and a 2024 first-rounder to the Ravens in exchange for Jackson.

So who leaves that behind? The Indianapolis Colts stand out. By releasing quarterback Matt Ryan and agreeing to trade veteran Stephon Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, the Colts certainly created some room for a salary cap. However, team officials have also talked about wanting to field their own signal caller after going three straight veterans following Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement. With the number 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.

Poised to pick Sam Howell in the fifth round of the sophomore year, the Washington Commanders are another team tied with Jackson. It’s not hard to see potential outgoing owner Daniel Snyder take such a step and be willing to offer Jackson a fully guaranteed deal that would be hard for Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to match. However, NFL Network’s Sherree Burruss interviewed Commanders coach Ron Rivera Monday and reported that Rivera said “there’s no push” to get involved in Jackson’s bidding.

The Tennessee Titans? New general manager Ran Carthon has backed starter Ryan Tannehill, and the Titans aren’t behaving like a team that will suddenly be willing to give a quarterback over $200 million in guaranteed money.

It would be foolish, given the delicate nature of the negotiations, for another team to immediately announce its intentions to make an offer to Jackson. This is also a lying season in the NFL, so it’s wise not to discount potential destinations when a quarterback upgrade is available. Jackson is only 26 and one of the most dynamic players in the league. He would also have huge appeal for a franchise struggling for relevance, and owners – those who have to make the final decision on a deal of this magnitude anyway – will certainly understand what his addition would mean.

For their part, the Ravens have done nothing in recent days that would jeopardize their chances of an offer sheet for Jackson. They agreed to trade safety Chuck Clark, release veteran defensive end Calais Campbell, and run back Gus Edwards and nose tackle Michael Pierce to take pay cuts. Guard Kevin Zeitler also had his contract revised to create more capspace. In all three contract changes, the Ravens used blank years, which they have avoided in the past. Their willingness to use them this year could easily be taken as a sign that Baltimore is willing to take whatever measures it can to protect itself from an outside bid for Jackson.


Ravens free-agency tracker: Gus Edwards, Kevin Zeitler contracts changed to open cap space

The Ravens’ lone free transfer is to re-sign cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who happens to be Jackson’s cousin, on a one-year contract for what will likely be quite close to the league minimum. The Ravens are lined up to enter the new league year with about $10 million in salary headroom, but there are other steps they can take to create more. Simple contract restructurings 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 can match any offer sheet for Jackson if they choose. 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 make a decision on whether or not to offer a contract to 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 snapper Nick Moore. However, it is expected that most, if not all, will not be offered a contract, allowing them free agency.

Even the lowest entry would cost the Ravens just under $2.7 million, a healthy outlay for a team battling the cap. Obviously, the Ravens aren’t extending contract offers of that level to Phillips and Welch, who play almost exclusively against special teams and registered five defensive snaps between them last year. The highest paid long snappers in the NFL earn between $1.4 and $1.5 million a year. A low bid is almost double, so that explains why the Ravens don’t want to sign Moore, no matter how pleased they are with how he’s performed in his role over the past two seasons.

The Ravens clearly love 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 as the team’s eighth or ninth offensive lineman. He’s valuable, but is he worth $2.7 million to a cap-strapped team?

Geno Stone started seven games for the Ravens last season. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Stone has also proven to be a steady contributor to both defense and special teams over the past two years. He started seven games last year for an injured Marcus Williams and held up well. With Clark being traded, Stone would be the favorite to be the team’s number 3 safety behind Williams and Kyle Hamilton in 2023, and that’s a potentially important role. Still, the Ravens leaned toward non-tender stone early in the week, according to those involved in the talks. They planned to review the decision closer to Wednesday’s deadline.

Then there’s Huntley, who represents perhaps the hardest decision of all. The Ravens have been in talks about bringing in a more seasoned 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 do not enroll him, the only quarterback on their mid-March roster would be sophomore undrafted free agent Anthony Brown.

Traditionally, the Ravens have had success by not offering certain restricted free agents and then being able to re-sign them for more team-friendly deals. All teams are doing it. But there are no guarantees when those players are 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 modestly priced backup quarterback. There are some teams that could easily see Stone as a starter and pay him as such. The Ravens’ ability to find and develop special team players is well documented in the league, so a guy like Moore is likely to spark interest.

The Ravens are having a bit of a rough time. They have to be frugal and selective with 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 season-ending injury problems persist, and a contingency plan if the quarterback chooses to postpone training camp as a result of his contract stalemate.


Ravens prepare contingency plans as Lamar Jackson contract deadlock continues

With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken, the Ravens will have to make good use of training camp and the preseason. An experienced quarterback, who has committed several offenses and understands the acclimation process, would help with that transition if Jackson is, in fact, a camp raider. However, the backup quarterback market has thinned since the sabotage window opened.

Mayfield and Brissett are the remaining options, but both are understandably looking for opportunities to potentially start. Behind them are former starters Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. And then there’s a bunch of younger options, like Cooper Rush, Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock, and Mason Rudolph.

The Ravens could easily offer Huntley and remain cuddly, choosing to spend their limited cap dollars elsewhere. However, there are options if they go in a different direction.

(Top photo: Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

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