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At 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is finally allowed to perform and offers from other teams. The question, and it seems more legitimate now than it did when the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on their quarterback a week ago, who would speak for the unanimous former MVP in the league?
With the NFL’s punting window turning two days into the start of the new league year, the market for the Ravens’ star signal caller remains unclear, even as teams remain in need of a quarterback. Many of the teams that seemed a good fit for Jackson either acquired a quarterback or were willing to do so, making the list of potential suitors even smaller.
That list no longer includes the Carolina Panthers, who last week engineered a deal with the Chicago Bears for the next month’s top overall draft pick, allowing them to pick the rookie quarterback of their choice. It no longer included the Las Vegas Raiders, who elected to replace Derek Carr, now a New Orleans Saints player, with veteran Jimmy Garoppolo. It no longer included the Miami Dolphins, who picked up their fifth-year option to starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, signed backup Mike White to a two-year deal and made a host of other moves, including adding high-priced cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
CJ Stroud, Bryce Young or someone else? The Panthers better be right with the #1 pick
The Atlanta Falcons, who couldn’t wait to let everyone know last week that they’re out for Jackson, have acted this week like a team that has no intention of making a contract offer and plans to continue the cycle with Desmond Ridder. The Falcons used a lot of their cap space and agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $20 million with Taylor Hynecke to back up Ridder.
The New York Jets continue to work towards acquiring Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, and it has been widely reported that salary-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers employees are looking for cheaper options, such as Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett, to come in and compete with Kyle Trask for the starting quarterback job. . Armed with the No. 2 pick, the Houston Texans are in a position to draft a quarterback, rather than give that pick and first pick in 2024 to the Ravens in exchange for Jackson.
So who do you leave? The Indianapolis Colts stand out. By releasing quarterback Matt Ryan and agreeing to trade veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmour to the Dallas Cowboys Tuesday, the Colts have certainly created some salary cap space. However, team officials have also talked about wanting to craft their own caller after going with three veterans in a row following Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement. With pick No. 4, the Colts secure one of the best quarterbacks in the draft: Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Florida’s Anthony Richardson or Kentucky’s Will Levis.
Slated to start in the fifth round as a sophomore, Sam Howell, the Washington Chiefs are another team associated with Jackson. It’s not hard to see outgoing owner Daniel Snyder making the move and preparing to offer Jackson a pretty sure deal that will be tough for Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. However, NFL Network’s Sherri Burruss interviewed Chiefs coach Ron Rivera on Monday and reported that Rivera said “there was no motivation” to participate in Jackson’s bid.
Tennessee titans? New General Manager Ran Karthon has backed rookie Ryan Tannehill, and the Giants aren’t behaving like a team that would suddenly be willing to give a quarterback more than $200 million in guaranteed money.
It would be foolish, given the sensitivity of the negotiations, for another party to directly announce its intentions to make an offer to Jackson. This is also the NFL’s lying season, so it’s wise not to discount any potential destinations when there is a quarterback promotion available. Jackson is only 26 years old and one of the most dynamic players in the league. It would also be a huge draw for a franchise struggling to fit in, and the owners — those who would have to make the final decision on a deal of this magnitude anyway — certainly understand what it means to add it.
For their part, the Crows have not done anything over the past two days that would jeopardize their chances of matching any Jackson bid. They agreed to trade safety Chuck Clark, released veteran defensive end Calais Campbell and recovered Gus Edwards and Michael Pierce to accept pay cuts. Goalkeeper Kevin Zeitler’s contract has also been modified to provide more cover space. In all three contract adaptations, the Ravens used spare years, which they had avoided in the past. Their willingness to use them this year can easily be seen as a sign that Baltimore is willing to use every measure possible to protect itself from an outsider’s bid for Jackson.
Ravens free agency tracker: Gus Edwards and Kevin Zeitler’s contracts have been modified to open up the cap space
The only move the Ravens made in free agency was to re-sign linebacker Trayvon Mullen, who happened to be Jackson’s cousin, to a one-year deal for what would have been very close to the league minimum. The Ravens are about to enter the new league year with about $10 million in salary cap space, but there are other steps they can take to create more. Simple contract restructuring of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey would more than double the available cover space.
Ravens officials expressed quiet confidence that they would be able to match any offer sheet for Jackson if they so chose. But questions remain: Does he sign one and with whom?
Some upcoming tenders
The Ravens have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether to offer their six tightrope clients a contract, a group that includes quarterback Tyler Huntley, quarterback Tristan Colón, linebackers Del’Shawn Phillips and Christian Welch, safety Geno Stone and long. Snapper Nick Moore. However, the expectation is that most, if not all, of them won’t get a contract, which would allow them to hit free agency.
Even the lowest bid would cost the Ravens just under $2.7 million, which is a healthy expenditure for a team against the cap. The Ravens clearly won’t extend contract offers of this level to Phillips and Welch, who play almost exclusively on special teams and combine to record five defensive snaps last year. The highest paid designers in the NFL earn between $1.4 and $1.5 million per year. The low bid is almost twice that, which explains why the Crows haven’t bid for Moore, and are also pleased with how his role has performed the past two seasons.
The Ravens clearly like Colón, the former undrafted free agent who has proven to be a solid backup holding his own in four games over three seasons. However, he fancies himself the eighth or ninth man up front. He’s valuable, but is his $2.7 million net worth for a team in distress?
Stone has also proven to be a consistent contributor over the past two years on both the defensive and special teams. He made seven appearances last year with the injured Marcus Williams and he’s put up with it really well. With Clark traded, Stone will be the favorite to be the team’s No. 3 safety in 2023 behind Williams and Kyle Hamilton, and that could be an important role. However, at the start of the week, crows tended toward no-bids, according to those involved in the talks. They plan to reconsider the decision as Wednesday’s deadline approaches.
And then there’s Huntley, which may represent the toughest decision of them all. The Ravens had discussions about bringing in a more experienced backup, which, assuming Jackson returns, would leave Huntley at third. That could certainly affect how much the team would be willing to pay Huntley. However, if the Ravens don’t bid for him, the only player on their roster in mid-March will be free agent Anthony Brown for the second year.
Traditionally, the Ravens have been successful in not putting up some restricted free agents and then being able to re-sign them to more team-friendly deals. All teams do that. But there are no guarantees when these players are allowed to bid outside. Huntley has shown enough in his eight starts over the past two seasons to be attractive to other teams as a modestly priced backup quarterback. There are some teams that could easily see Stone as a rookie and be able to pay him as such. The Ravens’ ability to find and develop special teams players is well documented throughout the league, so a guy like Moore is likely to garner interest.
Crows are in a bit of a rough spot. They have to be frugal and selective in how they use their cap space, but losing guys like Huntley, Stone, Colon and Moore will create holes in their roster that they’ll have to fill.
QB backup options
The idea behind the Crows spending some money on the backup quarterback position was not based on finding a replacement if Jackson left. It was about finding a more experienced option if Jackson’s injury problems continued late in the season, and a contingency plan if the quarterback chose to hold out from training camp as a result of his dead-end contract.
The Ravens are lining up contingency plans as the contractual standoff with Lamar Jackson continues
With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken, the Ravens will need to make good use of training camp and pre-season. An experienced quarterback, who has been on various offenses and understands the coping process, would help this transition if he was, in fact, a campy throwback to Jackson. However, the market for backup quarterbacks has weakened since the rig window opened.
Mayfield and Brissett are the top two remaining options, but both are looking for potential starting opportunities. Behind them are former linebackers Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. Then there are a bunch of younger options, like Cooper Rush, Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock, and Mason Rudolph.
The Crows could easily have made Huntley’s bids and stand their ground, choosing to spend their limited dollars elsewhere. However, there are options if you go in a different direction.
(Top photo: Ray Sibeck/USA Today)
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