While it is unclear when or if the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson will reach an agreement on a long-term contract, the Ravens reportedly won't let him hit free agency this offseason.
Speaking Saturday on SportsCenter, ESPN NFL insider Jeremy Fowler said the Ravens are expected to place the franchise tag on Jackson if they can't sign him to a longer deal:
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Fowler noted that sources have indicated Baltimore does indeed want to keep Jackson, but it may be open to trading him if a new contract can't be reached.
The Ravens would reportedly consider an exclusive or non-exclusive tag for Jackson, the latter of which would open up more trade possibilities, per Fowler.
Both sides worked on a contract extension last offseason to no avail. Jackson reportedly wanted a fully guaranteed deal like the one Deshaun Watson signed with the Cleveland Browns, according to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post.
Despite having won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville, questions about Jackson as a passer coming out of college saw him fall to the Ravens at No. 32 overall in the 2018 NFL draft.
Selecting him paid immediate dividends for the team, as they reached the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. That included the 2019 campaign when he was named NFL MVP after throwing for 3,127 yards, an NFL-best 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions while also rushing for 1,206 yards and seven scores.
Jackson's production dropped off a bit in 2020, but he won his first career playoff game and provided some hope that he could be a quality postseason quarterback moving forward after losing each of his first two career playoff contests.
As good as Jackson's first three NFL campaigns were, the past two have been frustrating for him and the Ravens due to injuries.
In 2021, Jackson missed Baltimore's final four games of the regular season, and the team failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in his career.
The Ravens returned to the playoffs this season, but he missed the final five games of the regular season and last week's AFC Wild Card Round loss to the Cincinnati Bengals because of a knee injury.
Given Jackson's durability concerns the past two seasons and his high-risk style of play, it is fair to wonder if the Ravens will ever be willing to give him the type of guaranteed money he desires.
Regardless of what the long-term future holds, the Ravens have essentially no choice other than to franchise Jackson if they can't sign him long-term, as it would allow them to either keep him for 2023 and buy more time or trade him for assets they could use toward finding another franchise quarterback.