For Lamar Jackson’s wallet, patience is a virtue

Lamar Jackson is representing himself—a rare, if not unique, endeavor. But unlike the few other players who have eschewed an agent, Lamar is pursuing one of the richest contracts in the history of pro sports.

The logistical implications of this decision are explicitly laid out in Article 48 of the CBA: teams are prohibited from negotiating with anyone other than an NFLPA certified agent or the player himself. So, if a deal is to get done, Lamar and the front office must negotiate directly.

This of course requires a willingness from both sides to negotiate. For months, the team has said publicly that Lamar isn’t ready to engage in talks, though that may have changed last week.

It’s a bizarre, somewhat awkward situation that, as a former Ravens analyst, has long intrigued me. About six months ago, I argued that a novel structure containing a non-refundable signing bonus and heavily front-loaded cash flows, while misaligned with the incentives of an agent, would be mutually beneficial for both Lamar and the Ravens.

This proposal is admittedly more viable in theory than in practice—it’s too risky for an owner and too complex from a player perspective. Yet even if the Ravens and Lamar were to each sign off on the structure, the dollar figures are now obsolete. The closer we get to free agency, the more leverage Lamar has.

Before diving into why, I feel obligated to state the following, as there seems to be at least some opposition to the notion that Lamar deserves a megadeal. Lamar is 25 with an MVP; it’s not a coincidence that, since 2018, the Ravens are 38-14 when he starts and 6-11 when he doesn’t. If he were a free agent today, there would be a bidding war.

I imagine most OTC readers know that the Ravens have the franchise tag at their disposal, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with how it works. Still, the franchise tag provides a natural benchmark for negotiations, and its intricacies are crucial to Lamar’s situation, so I’ve provided a summary below (full details are in Article 10 of the CBA).

  • A player can be franchise tagged up to 3 times.
    • The Year 2 tag amount is 120% of the Year 1 tag amount.
    • For a quarterback, the Year 3 tag amount is 144% of the Year 2 tag amount. Since the 2011 CBA, no player has been franchised three times.
  • There are two types of franchise tags: Nonexclusive and Exclusive.
    • A player designated with theNonexclusive Franchise Tender can sign an offer sheet with another team. If this happens, the tagging team can choose to match the deal or instead receive two first round picks from the signing team as compensation. The Nonexclusive tag is calculated using data from the preceding five years. The sample calculation that is depicted below can also be found in Appendix E of the CBA.
  • A player designated with the Exclusive Franchise Tender cannot negotiate with any other team. The Exclusive tag is calculated as “the average of the five largest Salaries in Player Contracts for that League Year as of the end of the Restricted Free Agent Signing Period…or the amount of the (Nonexclusive) tender…whichever is greater.” Note that the calculation of any five largest Salaries for the current League Year shall not include any renegotiation of an existing Player Contract that occurs after the tag was designated.
    • For both tag types, Salary excludes performance bonuses other than roster and reporting bonuses.

The Nonexclusive tag, calculated using five prior years of data, is stable. Thus, the flurry of recent quarterback deals won’t have much impact on the 2023 Nonexclusive figure—expect it to be in the $31-$34 million range.

On the other hand, the more volatile Exclusive tag can reflect this market change. As of today, the 2023 Exclusive figure is over $45 million.

This of course could change. Uncertainty around Deshaun Watson remains high, and it’s likely that at least one of the quarterbacks listed above gets restructured. But as previously noted, any renegotiation made after the tag is placed is not reflected in the calculation of the Exclusive tag—an important fact because the franchise tag deadline occurs before the start of the league year and tags are almost always placed before restructures are filed.

There has never been an instance of Nonexclusive tagged player signing an offer sheet with a new team. Given the infrequency of quarterback tags, this is unsurprising. Sending multiple first round picks AND handing out a huge contract to any non-quarterback is unjustifiable (see Jamal Adams).

Evidenced by the compensation in recent quarterback trades, Lamar will break this trend if he is given the Nonexclusive tag. Thus, the Exclusive tag really becomes the benchmark for negotiations.

Blindly using the 3-year tag amount with respect to negotiations doesn’t really make sense, as the 2025 figure is significantly more than Lamar would make on the open market. Going year-to-year obviously shifts more risk onto the player, but remember Dak Prescott signed one of the biggest deals in league history after suffering a brutal injury while on the franchise tag. When it comes to quality quarterbacks demand always exceeds supply, so the 2-year/~$100 million Exclusive tag cost is a realistic starting point.

Tag Type202320242025Total3 Year Average

The Ravens could figure out a way to fit a $45 million cap hit for Lamar in March 2023, though doing so would leave them in a disastrous salary cap position. If no extension is done by then, it’s entirely possible they take two first rounders and move on—especially if the 2022 offense more closely resembles the 2021 version than the 2019-2020 editions.

Maybe Lamar wants to leave, though he’s explicitly said otherwise. Maybe he doesn’t think he’s worthy, as owner Steve Bisciotti speculated. Maybe his patience is strategic, though this requires there was some prior exchange of figures that he wasn’t happy with.  Whatever the reason, his patience should pay off.