Lamar Jackson’s market is unclear as the new league year begins

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

At 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is finally allowed to field overtures and contract offers from other teams. It feels more fair now than it did a week ago when the Ravens placed the non-exclusive rights tag on the quarterback, who will call up the league’s former consensus MVP?

As the NFL’s two-day tampering window looms at the start of the new league year, the market for the Ravens’ star signal caller remains unclear, even if quarterback-needy teams remain. Several teams that have looked to suit Jackson have acquired a starting quarterback or are poised to do so, making the list of potential suitors even smaller.

That list no longer includes the Carolina Panthers, who last week engineered a trade with the Chicago Bears for next month’s top draft pick, allowing them to select a new quarterback of their choice. That doesn’t include the Las Vegas Raiders, who now have veteran Jimmy Garoppolo replacing New Orleans Saints starter Derek Carr. The Miami Dolphins made several moves, including picking up the fifth-year option on starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, signing backup Mike White to a two-year deal and adding high-priced cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

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The Atlanta Falcons, who couldn’t wait to let everyone know that they walked away from Jackson last week, acted as a team that didn’t want to offer him a contract this week and plans to stick with Desmond Ridder. The Falcons used a ton of cap space and agreed to a two-year deal worth $20 million with Taylor Heinicke to back up Ridder.

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The New York Jets continue to work on acquiring Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, and the salary cap-strapped Tampa Bay Buccaneers are widely reported to be in the running for cheaper options like Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett. With Kyle Trask for early work. Armed with the No. 2 pick, the Houston Texans are in a position to draft a quarterback instead of giving the Ravens that pick and a 2024 first-rounder in exchange for Jackson.

So who does that leave? The Indianapolis Colts stand out. The Colts certainly created some salary-cap space in agreeing to release quarterback Matt Ryan and trade veteran corner Stephen Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday. However, after going with three straight players following Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, team officials have talked about wanting to develop their own signal caller. No. With the 4 pick, the Colts are guaranteed one of the top quarterbacks in the draft: Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Florida’s Anthony Richardson or Kentucky’s Will Lewis.

Another team that has been linked to Jackson is the Washington Commanders, who are poised to start second-year fifth-round pick Sam Howell. It’s not hard to see outgoing owner Daniel Snyder making such a move, and being willing to give Jackson a fully guaranteed contract would be hard for Ravens owner Steve Picciotti to match. However, NFL Network’s Sherri Burruss interviewed Commanders coach Ron Rivera on Monday and said Rivera was under “no pressure” to make a bid for Jackson.

The Tennessee Titans? New general manager Run Garthen has backed starter Ryan Tannehill, and the Titans don’t seem like a team that’s suddenly willing to pay a quarterback more than $200 million in guaranteed money.

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For another team to directly announce its intentions to make Jackson a prospect would be foolish, given the delicacy of the negotiations. It’s the offseason in the NFL, so it’s wise not to discount potential spots when a quarterback upgrade is available. Jackson is only 26 years old and one of the most dynamic players in the league. He would be a huge draw for a franchise struggling to fit and owners – who have to make the final decision on a deal of this size anyway – will surely understand what his addition means.

For their part, the Ravens haven’t done anything over the past two days to hurt their chances of matching any offer sheet for Jackson. They agreed to trade defense, Chuck Clark, release veteran defensive end Calais Campbell and running backs Gus Edwards and Michael Pierce to accept pay cuts. Guard Kevin Zeitler also amended his contract to create more cap space. In all three contract changes, the Ravens used void years, which have been avoided in the past. Their willingness to use them this year could easily be taken as a sign that Baltimore is willing to use every possible move to protect itself from an outside offer for Jackson.

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The Ravens’ only free-agent move was to re-sign cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who is Jackson’s cousin, to a one-year deal that would be very close to the league minimum. The Ravens will enter the new league year with nearly $10 million in salary-cap space, but there are other moves they could make to create more. Simple contract restructurings for left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey would double their available cap space.

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Ravens officials have expressed a quiet confidence that they could match any offer sheet for Jackson if they chose. But the questions remain: Will he sign, and with whom?

Some tenders were not forthcoming

The Ravens have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether to offer contracts to six restricted free agents, a group that includes quarterback Tyler Huntley, center Tristan Colon, linebackers DeShaun Phillips and Christian Welch, safeties Geno Stone and Long. Snapper Nick Moore. However, the expectation is that most, if not all of them, will be allowed to hit free agency without getting a contract.

Even the lowest tender would cost the Ravens less than $2.7 million, a healthy cost for a team against the cap. Obviously, the Ravens aren’t going to extend contract offers of that level to Phillips and Welch, who play almost exclusively special teams and recorded five defensive snaps last year. The highest paid long snappers in the NFL earn in the $1.4-$1.5 million range per year. The low tender is almost double that, so that explains why the Ravens won’t tender Moore, even though they’re happy with how he’s played in his role over the past two seasons.

The Ravens obviously like Colon, who has proven to be a solid presence and has held his own in four starts over three seasons. However, 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 proven to be a consistent contributor on both defense and special teams over the past two years. He started seven games for the injured Marcus Williams last year and caught well. With Clark being traded, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2023 behind Williams and Kyle Hamilton. Stone is the favorite for the 3 defense. Yet earlier in the week, the Ravens were leaning toward non-tendering Stone, according to people involved in the negotiations. They planned to reconsider the decision closer to Wednesday’s deadline.

And then there’s Huntley, who may represent the toughest decision of all. Assuming Jackson is back, Huntley will be the No. The Ravens have discussed bringing in a veteran backup who could leave 3 quarterbacks. That could certainly affect how much the team would be willing to pay Hundley. However, if the Ravens don’t tender him, the only quarterback on their roster in mid-March will be second-year undrafted free agent Anthony Brown.

Traditionally, the Ravens have had success re-signing some restricted free agents to team-friendly contracts without tendering them. All teams do it. But there’s no guarantee when those players will be allowed to pitch outside concessions. In his eight starts over the past two seasons, Hundley has shown enough to be attractive to other teams as a modest-priced backup quarterback. Few teams could easily see Stone as a starter and pay him. The Ravens’ ability to find and develop special teams players is well-documented around the league, so a guy like Moore would garner interest.

The Ravens are in a bit of a tough spot. They need to be frugal and selective with how they use their cap space, but losing guys like Hundley, Stone, Colon and Moore will create openings on their roster that they will need to fill.

Backup QB options

The Ravens aren’t behind spending some money on the backup quarterback position in terms of finding a replacement if Jackson leaves. A contingency plan is to look for a more experienced option if Jackson’s injury woes of late continue and the quarterback opts to sit out of training camp as a result of his contract impasse.

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As the contract impasse with Lamar Jackson continues, the Ravens are lining up contingency plans

With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Mongan, the Ravens should make good use of training camp and the preseason. An experienced quarterback who has been involved in different offenses and understands the acclimatization process, in fact, Jackson will help with that transition if he is a camper. However, the backup quarterback market has thinned since the tampering window opened.

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

The Ravens could easily tender Hundley and choose to spend their limited cap dollars elsewhere. However, if they go in a different direction, there are options.

(Top photo: Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

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