Baltimore Ravens

How Lamar Jackson’s nonexclusive franchise tag affects the Ravens’ roster-building decisions

The Ravens have officially placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson, the first step in what might be the most pivotal offseason in franchise history.

By eschewing the more commonly used exclusive tag, the Ravens keep their star quarterback off the market but give him an opportunity to pursue a contract with another team when free agency opens March 15. If Jackson, who represents himself in negotiations, signs with another team, the Ravens would have five days to match any offer sheet. If they decline, they would receive the signing team’s next two first-round draft picks.


It’s a significant bet for the Ravens, who must operate this offseason without knowing whether their starting quarterback will return — and at what price. It could also be a long time before a resolution is reached. Teams have until July 17 to agree with Jackson on a long-term deal, but he could wait as late as the Tuesday following Week 10 of the regular season to sign the franchise tender or another team’s offer sheet.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith with Lamar, and we are hopeful that we can strike a long-term deal that is fair to both Lamar and the Ravens,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement Tuesday. “Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come.”


Here’s a look at how Jackson’s franchise tag affects the Ravens’ roster-building decisions this offseason:

Salary cap space

By designating Jackson with the nonexclusive franchise tag, the Ravens must account for a salary cap hit of $32.4 million, the projected average of the top five quarterback salary cap hits over the previous year. With the league’s salary cap set at $224.8 million for the 2023 season, Baltimore would be tying up roughly 14% of its salary to Jackson for the right to match an offer sheet he signs with another team.

It’s a significant raise for the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player, who earned $32.7 million in his first five seasons in the league thanks in large part to the Ravens picking up his fifth-year option in 2022 at a cost of $23 million.

According to Over The Cap, the Ravens entered Tuesday with $22.5 million in cap space, which doesn’t account for Jackson’s salary or future expenses, such as draft picks. Teams have until 4 p.m. next Wednesday to get under the salary cap before the free agency period officially opens.

Defensive end Calais Campbell, left, and quarterback Lamar Jackson greet each other during the Pro Bowl on Jan. 26, 2020, in Orlando, Florida. Campbell is among the veterans the Ravens could release to open cap space to afford Jackson.

Veteran cuts

For the Ravens to be cap-compliant with Jackson’s salary on the books, they’ll need to make some difficult decisions. That will likely involve releasing veteran players.

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell, running back Gus Edwards and safety Chuck Clark are the most logical cuts, as releasing all three would open up roughly $14.9 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap.


Campbell, a locker room leader who turned 37 in December and committed to return for his 16th NFL season, would represent $7 million in savings. Edwards, a 2018 undrafted free agent who has played just nine games since suffering a season-ending torn ACL before the 2021 season, would represent $4.4 million in savings. Clark, the defense’s signal-caller and a reliable starter the past four seasons, would represent $3.5 million in savings.

The Ravens could also choose to part ways with wide receivers Devin Duvernay ($4.3 million) and James Proche II ($1 million), linebacker Malik Harrison ($1.1 million) and offensive lineman John Simpson ($1 million), among others, to open up additional cap room.

Restructured deals

A common, albeit risky, way for NFL teams to get under the salary cap is by restructuring existing contracts. Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, teams can convert part of a player’s salary into a prorated bonus that can be spread out more evenly over a long contract. The Ravens saved $13 million last year by restructuring deals for cornerback Marlon Humphrey and left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

This year, according to Over The Cap, the Ravens could create roughly $19.2 million in salary cap space by once again tweaking deals with Humphrey ($7.3 million) and Stanley ($7.5 million), as well as tight end Mark Andrews ($4.5 million).

While such moves would greatly benefit the 2023 Ravens, they would leave future iterations of the team in peril. Along with pushing those inevitable salary cap hits into the future, the Ravens would be inviting risk if a player is severely injured or struggles over the course of his contract, as any salary that is converted into a bonus becomes guaranteed money.

Right guard Kevin Zeitler, who is entering the final year of his deal, could also help the team open cap space by agreeing to a new contract with the Ravens.


Jackson is not the only Ravens player in line for an extension this offseason. Right guard Kevin Zeitler, who is entering the final year of his deal, could also help the team open cap space by agreeing to a new contract.


After signing a three-year, $22.5 million deal in 2021, Zeitler is set to make $9.5 million against the salary cap this season. The soon-to-be 33-year-old has been one of the league’s best guards in Baltimore and has become a crucial part of the offensive line. With left guard Ben Powers entering unrestricted free agency and expected to earn roughly $40 million on his next deal, according to Pro Football Focus’ projections, the Ravens can ill afford to lose another offensive lineman.

According to Over The Cap, an extension for Zeitler could help the Ravens save roughly $4.2 million in 2023.

Free agency and trades

Given their glaring need at the position, the Ravens will be linked to many wide receivers who hit free agency this month. According to NBC Sports, they have already shown interest in Allen Lazard, who is coming off a career-best season in which he caught 60 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers.

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According to PFF’s projections — which correctly predicted the three-year, $105 million deal Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith received Monday — Lazard is expected to earn a three-year, $30 million deal with $18.5 million guaranteed. Other free-agent wideouts commonly linked to the Ravens, such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Odell Beckham Jr. and D.J. Chark Jr., are also projected to earn somewhere around $35 million, with roughly $23 million guaranteed. With Jackson’s contract terms in limbo, that would likely prove too steep for the Ravens.

There’s also the possibility Baltimore trades for a wide receiver, such as the Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins, the Houston Texans’ Brandin Cooks or the New York Jets’ Elijah Moore. Hopkins carries a $30.7 million salary cap charge in 2023, while Cooks’ is a slightly more palatable $24.6 million. Moore is the most reasonable option of the bunch, since he stands to earn $2.8 million as part of the final year of his rookie deal.

The Ravens have traditionally been more interested in signing players cut from other teams, since it won’t cost them a compensatory draft pick. Wide receiver Robert Woods has already been released while wideouts Michael Thomas and Adam Thielen are likely to be cut and could sign more modest one-year deals.


The draft

This is the most difficult part to project with Jackson’s nonexclusive franchise tag, since it would be greatly affected by a potential trade for the star quarterback or whether the Ravens decline to match an offer sheet he signs with another team. As of Tuesday, the Ravens are projected to have just five picks in April’s draft, with no expected compensatory picks for the first time since 2010.

The Ravens are at least guaranteed two first-round picks as compensation by opting for the nonexclusive tag, but where those picks fall in the draft order is dependent on the record of the team signing Jackson. (Only teams with first-round picks in the next two drafts would be allowed to enter into negotiations before April’s draft, which would exclude the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers.)

The Ravens have the 22nd pick in the draft, which begins April 27 in Kansas City, but will not select again until Round 3 after dealing their second-round selection to the Chicago Bears in return for linebacker Roquan Smith. If Jackson signs his franchise tender and the Ravens tade him to a quarterback-needy team at the top of the draft — perhaps the Texans (No. 2 overall), Indianapolis Colts (No. 4), Las Vegas Raiders (No. 7), Atlanta Falcons (No. 8) or Carolina Panthers (No. 9) — they stand to receive a top-10 pick they could use to select a rookie quarterback or trade for additional picks to bolster their war chest.