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SPORT NEWS : Deciphering the Lamar Jackson franchise tag and moves for Daniel Jones, Derek Carr and more

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SPORT NEWS : Deciphering the Lamar Jackson franchise tag and moves for Daniel Jones, Derek Carr and more


NFL free agency doesn’t kick off officially for another week, but it’s been a busy few days around the league as the quarterback market has heated up and teams have used their franchise tag designations.

A new home for Derek Carr, new deals for Geno Smith and Daniel Jones and a franchise designation for Lamar Jackson will now set off another round of dominoes.

The Athletic’s Mike Sando and Mike Jones discuss what these moves mean and what we could now expect.

The Ravens used the non-exclusive franchise tag for Lamar Jackson, raising the possibility Jackson has played his final down for Baltimore. Meanwhile, a flurry of reports suggested various teams would not pursue the former MVP. What are the key takeaways for you regarding this situation?

Jones: The first thing that stands out is that Baltimore went with the non-exclusive tag rather than exclusive tag. There are big differences here for several reasons. The Ravens would have had to commit to a salary of just more than $45 million with the exclusive tag versus around $32 million for the non-exclusive. But in addition to the money saved, the Ravens’ decision stands out because they seemingly are signaling they may be open for business after months of professing their love for their franchise quarterback.

But I also found it interesting that in no time, quarterback-needy teams like the Falcons, Panthers, Commanders, Raiders and Dolphins made it known through various channels that they do not intend to pursue trades for Jackson. Multiple people around the league found this curious because to them, this many denials of interest for an MVP-caliber quarterback under the age of 30 seemingly lends credence to the NFLPA’s collusion claims.

Last week at the combine, there was a good deal of chatter in NFL circles that the owners — angered by the Browns’ signing of Deshaun Watson to a $230 million, fully guaranteed deal — had agreed among each other to not hand out another fully guaranteed, multiyear contract to a quarterback. Collusion is hard to prove, but suspicions were high a week ago, and Tuesday’s actions certainly look like something is up. Did the Ravens already know that they didn’t have to worry about losing Jackson to some foe willing to give him a fully guaranteed deal?

Sando: My read is that the Ravens and Jackson fundamentally disagree over his value, and the relationship between the parties is fractured. Baltimore is calling Jackson’s bluff regarding his worth, but that is not all. Had the Ravens gone the exclusive route, the status quo would have prevailed, because there would not have been a mechanism available for a third party to jump-start talks. The stalemate likely would have continued. Now, there could be movement. The Ravens could have options. I think they would prefer moving on from Jackson to paying him the type of deal Watson received, which is why they are willing to use the non-exclusive tag. Mostly, they wanted movement and saw no better way to get it.

As for the collusion component, there is zero doubt the NFL and its owners want to make the Watson contract a one-off, not a trend. Some execs from teams around the league think Jackson, in the absence of an agent, is most likely taking advice from the NFL Players Association, which would love to see the Watson contract become the norm for top quarterbacks. Whereas an agent would have incentive to get a deal done in order to collect a commission, the NFLPA cares most about precedent and could be offering advice accordingly, in the eyes of these execs. There is widespread belief in the league, and among agents, that Jackson would already have a deal if he had an agent.

Typically, a player in Jackson’s situation would have had his agent working the combine on his behalf, meeting with teams on the down low, clarifying his position, mapping out possibilities, maybe leaking a few things to reporters. Jackson has no agent. He could not practically represent himself at the combine. One year ago today, the Seahawks and Broncos executed the Russell Wilson trade after working out parameters during face-to-face meetings at the combine. It seems unlikely any such groundwork has been put into place regarding Jackson’s future.

Another team could still come after Jackson with an aggressive offer. I’m not reading too much into the quick reports suggesting various teams have no interest in Jackson. Would we expect teams to advertise their interest in a player under these circumstances? We would not, but in a typical situation, Jackson’s agent would have connected with teams and potentially leaked news of interest. I think Jackson and the Ravens are in the dark regarding this situation, which means other teams likely are in the dark as well.

Jackson’s recent injuries and concerns about his long-term durability reduce the likelihood any team would make a fully guaranteed offer lasting longer than three years, in my view. Yes, it takes only one team, but it also takes skill to build and manipulate a market. I don’t think Jackson is in position to handle those components, but we shall see.

The Giants’ signing of Daniel Jones to a four-year extension with an average salary of $40 million sparked a wide range of responses. One league insider said, “I have no idea what the Giants are thinking,” while another surmised, “They really didn’t have a choice.” What do you make of this decision out of Giants headquarters?

Jones: On one hand it sounds absolutely crazy to give Jones this much money after one solid — not at all dominant — season. He did help the Giants break their postseason drought, but he managed only 15 touchdown passes (tied for 21st in the league) while passing for a very pedestrian 3,205 yards (a career high). Jones did rush for another seven touchdowns and 708 yards. But it’s pretty wild to consider that he’s now paid like Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott, and not far off of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes.

The Giants couldn’t use the franchise tag to allow for one more year of growth before committing a massive amount of money over an extended time period? That would have been a smarter move, at least one talent evaluator believed.

However, such a move would have carried a risk, another rival front-office member pointed out. The Giants potentially could have set themselves up for another Kirk Cousins situation (frustrated by Washington’s perceived undervaluing of his talents in 2016, Cousins refused to sign a long-term deal with his original team and played on the franchise tag in both 2017 and 2018 before going to Minnesota on a fully guaranteed deal in 2019). A third opposing executive said Jones really didn’t have much talent at wide receiver or a strong offensive line to support him, so he didn’t fault Jones as much for the feeble passing touchdown total. The exec said that given how hard it is to find a quality quarterback, the Giants made the safe investment.

Sando: All else equal, I’d rather have Jones play on the franchise tag, then reassess after another season. There were reasons the Giants did not go this route. They wanted to save the tag for Saquon Barkley. They wanted some of the short-term salary-cap relief that comes with a longer-term deal. And if the four-year structure preserves options for the Giants if Jones falters, then the tradeoff could be worthwhile.



NFL franchise tag deadline winners and losers: Lamar Jackson, bad news for RBs and more

Would you rather be the Saints with Derek Carr, the Jets with a shot at landing Aaron Rodgers or the Raiders with the seventh pick in the draft? 

Sando: The Saints’ situation is pretty good because Carr raises their floor enough for New Orleans to possibly be the favorite to win the NFC South, at a time when the Saints were not in position to draft a quarterback early. Carr’s contract structure enables the Saints to escape the deal after two years and $60 million. New Orleans could draft a quarterback in 2024, have that quarterback sit behind Carr for a season and then move forward with the younger alternative. Or, if Carr plays exceptionally well, the Saints could opt into a third season with him.

Jones: I’d take Carr. He may not be elite, but he is very good, and with adequate support he has the ability to lead a team to a lot of regular-season wins and the postseason. In New Orleans, he’s surrounded by a talented cast led by Chris Olave, Michael Thomas (if healthy), Alvin Kamara and a very good defense. That division is wide open. Slot the Saints as the winners of the NFC South now.

Because it’s so hard to say which way this Rodgers courtship is going to go, for now, the Jets face great uncertainty. If they do get Rodgers, then their offense certainly should improve, but the Jets still have to go through Buffalo to get out of their division, then contend with other powerhouses like Kansas City and Cincinnati. Knocking off all those teams is a tall task, even for Rodgers.

And the Raiders at No. 7 is intriguing. But the quarterback of their dreams may be snatched off the board before they even get to pick. So since the Saints have the sure thing right now, they’re my pick.

The Seahawks signed Geno Smith to a three-year, $75 million contract almost exactly one year after trading Russell Wilson to Denver. How would you rank the quarterback situations in the NFC West?

Sando: This seems wild to say, but Geno Smith played better for longer than any quarterback in the NFC West last season, and now he comes cheaper than the others as well, when factoring the money coming to Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford, along with the draft capital San Francisco has invested in the position. Seattle having Smith at $25 million per year while carrying the ability to draft a quarterback with the fifth pick appeals to me.

Stafford has missed 16 games over the past four seasons and has $62 million becoming fully guaranteed if he stays on the roster March 17. That feels like a shaky situation with the Rams in a rebuild mode along their offensive line, and Sean McVay apparently year-to-year in his commitment to coaching. I would still take the Rams’ QB situation next, based on how well Stafford can play under McVay if things go well.

I’d take the 49ers’ quarterback situation next, because Kyle Shanahan can do well with a range of players. I’m worried about Brock Purdy’s elbow rehab and Trey Lance’s development timeline. If Purdy were healthy, I’d rate the 49ers’ situation higher.

Arizona falls last for me, given the massive investment in Murray. His short-term injury situation is troubling, his long-term durability is in question and his own team has doubted whether he’s willing to put in the work to succeed. That seems like a difficult situation, and one that is likely to include future drama.

Jones: If healthy, Stafford leads the pack, followed by Murray, Smith and whomever the 49ers settle on between Purdy and Lance as they come off of injuries. Smith very easily could be nudged up to second, but based on each quarterback’s ceiling, third feels right him.

In addition to Baltimore, five other teams used the franchise tag on players: Dallas for running back Tony Pollard, Jacksonville for tight end Evan Engram, Las Vegas for running back Josh Jacobs, the Giants for Barkley and Washington for defensive tackle Daron Payne. What team catches your eye for opting against tagging a star player?

Jones: It’s interesting that the Chiefs let left tackle Orlando Brown hit free agency. He’s important to Mahomes’ success, but a $19 million cap figure is daunting for a team that is currently $3 million over. Philadelphia’s decision not to tag Javon Hargrave, who ranks among the top defensive linemen set to hit the market, also is an intriguing decision. But an $18 million cap hit is a significant chunk for a team with a good number of free agents to retain while also trying to upgrade a few areas in hopes of making another run at the Lombardi Trophy.

Sando: The tag long ago became a mechanism for retaining good players, not great ones, on the thinking that great ones get long-term deals. I understand where the Eagles and Chiefs were coming from in deciding against tagging those aforementioned players. They simply have better uses for the resources.

(Photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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