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2023 NFL free agency: These teams are out on Lamar Jackson and the reason why seems painfully obvious

Every year we are reminded with absolutely zero uncertainty the NFL is ~a quarterback league~. This is a non-negotiable take. You have or you have not. And even when you have, sometimes it’s not enough. Just ask the Raiders, who shuffled Derek Carr into free agency a year into a newly signed contract extension. Teams routinely pay outrageous prices in terms of current and future draft capital to move up and take a flier on an unknown commodity in the draft.

And yet, when Lamar Jackson became available for any NFL team via Baltimore placing the non-exclusive franchise tag on their starting quarterback … not one NFL team is interested?

This is a former MVP we’re talking about, one of the most electric athletes in all of professional sports, a legitimate franchise quarterback who turned 26 years old in January.

We’ve never seen a case of a quarterback being dangled like this for all of the quarterback-needy NFL to come after him. This is a cutthroat league where the margins are thin and having a quarterback separates you, not just in the ability to pursue a Super Bowl, but also in fan interest, both locally and nationally.

The Carolina Panthers are largely irrelevant on a national stage. The Panthers with Lamar Freaking Jackson? That’s a team getting multiple prime-time games every year and the immediate favorite to win the NFC South. The exact same case could be made for the Atlanta Falcons. And, my goodness, Lamar recreating Vick 2.0 in some red, white and black unis would be incredible.

We’ll be denied that aesthetic, however, because Atlanta, much like Carolina – along with seemingly every other quarterback-needy team in the NFL – just isn’t interested in attempting to even pursue Jackson. They’re not even going to check in and see what Jackson might want.

The complete lack of interest in Jackson is even wilder than Jackson being opened up to the entire league for negotiation. And the reason seems painfully obvious: NFL owners are adamant about squashing out the idea of quarterbacks getting fully guaranteed contracts.

Jackson’s predicament was created when the Browns traded for Deshaun Watson and gave him a guaranteed $230 million deal, despite Watson facing double-digit accusations of off-field sexual misconduct. As our own Jason La Canfora reported in March 2022, the deal Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam gave Watson drew the ire of basically every other NFL owner.

The Browns weren’t really in on Watson until Haslam was willing to break rank – and precedent – and give Watson a deal no one else in the league was willing to offer up.

Watson hadn’t played football in well over a year, required multiple high draft picks to acquire, wanted a monster contract extension and was dealing with unprecedented off-field issues. Yet the Browns were in on him, as were the Falcons and Panthers according to plenty of reports.

Jackson is in the exact same spot, only he has been more productive, has a better injury history (Watson has multiple torn ACLs dating back to college), has an MVP and there’s no negotiation with the Ravens about the compensation if an offer sheet is signed.

Despite that, no less than five NFL teams very publicly leaked out their lack of interest in Jackson with an incredible quickness. Following the Ravens announcing on Twitter they were tagging Jackson at 3:02 p.m. ET on Tuesday, we got a flurry of reports from various reporters.

The Falcons – a consensus best landing spot for Jackson – let Dianni Russini of ESPN know they were out by 3:16 p.m. ET.

I can’t even pick out what I want for lunch that fast, much less make a franchise-altering decision. Jackson would THRIVE in Arthur Smith’s offense and make the Falcons immediately relevant, but sure. The Raiders quickly followed suit, letting it be known they were “unlikely” to chase after Jackson.

Acknowledging Mark Davis likely doesn’t have the liquidity to actually pay Jackson (more on that in a minute) and ignoring what his father would have done (trade for Jackson in a freaking heartbeat), I’d like to point out the only quarterback currently on the Raiders roster is Chase Garbers. I’d guess at least 50% of the people reading this can’t be 100% sure if I made that name up or not.

By 4:30 p.m. ET, the Panthers let it be known they weren’t likely in the Lamar Jackson business either.

David Tepper has been rejected multiple times in an attempt to trade for a franchise quarterback, including Watson, Matthew Stafford and – not even joking here – Carson Wentz. Lamar Jackson is on the block and he doesn’t even want to check in on what it might take to acquire him? Again, sure.

The Dolphins got the word out as well, citing their satisfaction at the QB position with Tua Tagovailoa.

This would be reasonable if there weren’t 1) medical concerns surrounding Tua’s future and 2) a persistent buzz about Tom Brady and the Dolphins constantly lingering.

Even Danny Snyder’s Washington Commanders don’t want in on the Jackson biz.

I’ve covered the NFL in some capacity for 15+ years. I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff, even if you just want to narrow it down to Tag Day. One time the Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil because they screwed up a fax to the league office. Never, ever have I seen an actual, legitimate franchise quarterback come available and have five-plus NFL teams *immediately* leak out their disinterest in him.

Either we’re all drastically undervaluing the concerns with Jackson or something else is afoot. So what are those concerns, exactly? Some of them are quite viable, but I’m mostly playing devil’s avocado in the interest of presenting both sides.

Draft picks

Giving up multiple first-round picks is not something NFL teams want to do. Two first-round picks for any NFL player is a fairly steep price, but it’s absolutely in line with what we’ve seen other franchise quarterbacks go for in the trade market recently. The Rams and Broncos gave up similar hauls for Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson. And this isn’t two firsts for a cost-controlled player you would get in the draft.

The contract

This is the big one here. Jackson, by all accounts, wants a fully guaranteed deal. The Ravens chose to let the market tell him what his value was and the market magically dried up! We won’t ever know what he might be willing to take because teams aren’t even floating out offer sheets. A fully guaranteed deal would require matching every dollar in escrow (an antiquated rule from a time when not every NFL owner had hundreds of millions of dollars), which is something even the wealthiest NFL owner doesn’t want to deal with (again, more on that in a second). If we’re talking max guarantees, that’s a potential problem with the salary cap, even though the salary cap more and more appears to clearly be a myth.

Lack of an agent

Jackson is representing himself. There’s nothing wrong with that and I applaud his entrepreneurship. But not having an agent makes it more difficult to get a deal done. Agents are incentivized – both in terms of their reputation and financials – to get a deal done. They’ve worked with most of these NFL teams before and can talk their clients into taking certain deals. Jackson is steadfast here. Good for him. It does make it tougher for NFL teams in negotiations.

Scheme/fit

Again, I’m just bringing up possible arguments, so don’t yell at me for this one. It is completely reasonable for some NFL coaches, front offices or owners to have concerns about fashioning an offense around Jackson’s particular skillset. I would tell anyone who makes that claim they’re a coward and any coach worth his salt could figure out how to make it work. Additionally, if a team doesn’t believe it’s a quarterback away and is in the middle of a rebuild, there’s a reasonable argument for not giving up the capital. Unfortunately, all of these teams have been aggressive in pursuing quarterbacks recently. What changed?!

Injuries

Jackson has only played in 12 games each of the past two years. He plays a style of football that, because of his running skillset, can justifiably be called concerning for his long-term health. He’s not built like Cam Newton or Josh Allen. If you wanted to tell yourself a story re: concerns for long-term health, you could do it. Maybe not a good story, but you could lie to yourself.

So …

What seems most likely: NFL owners want Watson’s deal with the Browns to quickly become an outlier and very much not the norm. The Bengals and Chargers are facing monster extensions for Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. Those two owners aren’t Tepper or a Wal-Mart heir. The liquidity to put $250 million (give or take a few millies) in escrow over a five-year span isn’t easy, even for someone worth a billion dollars.

The franchise tag was designed by NFL owners to prevent key players from becoming available to the rest of the league, specifically quarterbacks and very specifically young quarterbacks at the end of their contracts. Restricting player movement was a hallmark of NFL dynasties for years, until Reggie White busted free agency open. You don’t see a player of this caliber hit the market. You just don’t!

The idea of Baltimore dangling Jackson to the entire league, and no one having ANY INTEREST WHATSOEVER, is just wild. A 26-year-old former MVP simply DOES NOT become available in the NFL with no interest from other teams.

And not just no interest but a very quick lack of interest from a host of teams who have been aggressively pursuing quarterback solutions for the past 3-5 years.

There’s a virtually zero percent chance of anything happening here. Good luck proving a bunch of NFL owners don’t want to acquire Lamar Jackson simply to suppress a rogue contract given to another player in a similar situation just a year ago. But that reality makes a lot more sense than the idea of no one even wanting to consider acquiring a 26-year-old former MVP.

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