A decade ago, the Ravens faced a tricky decision on whether to use the non-exclusive franchise tag or the exclusive tag on quarterback Joe Flacco. On the brink of the deadline of picking one or the other, they signed him to a long-term deal that made him the highest-paid player in the NFL, at the time.
This time around, the chances of getting a long-term deal done with quarterback Lamar Jackson remain remote, especially if Jackson continues to want a fully-guaranteed contract. So the Ravens will have to pick a level of the tag by Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET.
If they opt for non-exclusive, they run the risk of someone signing Jackson to an offer sheet they can’t or won’t match. On the bright side, they could match the offer and thank the other team for finally doing what the Ravens haven’t been able to do — get a multi-year deal done with Jackson. On the down side, someone else could offer the fully-guaranteed deal that Ravens apparently will never give to Jackson. They’d then have to settle for a pair of first-round picks.
If they prefer to keep Lamar instead of getting a pair of first-round picks, they could apply the exclusive tag, which would prevent anyone from talking to him or attempting to sign him. They could still trade him for more than two first-round picks, if they were willing to take that — and if another team is willing to give both the Ravens and Jackson what each wants.
In both cases, the Ravens have to account for the possibility that Jackson won’t get an acceptable long-term offer, and that he’ll play under the tag for this year — and potentially next year. The financial difference is significant.
Under the non-exclusive franchise tag, the Ravens would owe Jackson $32.416 million for 2023 and, with a 20-percent raise, $38.89 million for 2024. That’s a two-year investment of $71.31 million.
Under the exclusive tag, the Ravens would owe Jackson $45 million for 2023 and $54 million for 2024. This equates to $99 million for two years.
The difference between the two approaches is $27.69 million. In cash and cap space. For the same player. For the same two seasons.
There’s another question regarding the exclusive versus non-exclusive dilemma. If the Ravens offer $32.416 million instead of $45 million for one year, and if a long-term deal isn’t done, will he refuse to play?
What if, for example, the July 15 deadline for doing a long-term deal comes and goes and Jackson says to the Ravens something like this? “You’re squatting on me for $32.4 million when you could have used the $45 million tag instead. If you want me to play for you at all in 2023, you need to increase the payment to $45 million.”
So there’s significant risk to either option for the Ravens. The right approach ultimately comes down to whether they hope to keep him over the long haul, or whether they’re genuinely interested in exploring the possibility of life without him.
If it’s the former, they should use the exclusive version of the tag. If it’s the latter, they should apply the non-exclusive tag and, along with the rest of us, sit back and see what happens next.