Ravens leave all options open on Lamar Jackson contract impasse

The Baltimore Ravens’ brass talked on Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, and the main topic was the future of quarterback Lamar Jackson.

INDIANAPOLIS — Lamar Jackson was talked about ad nauseam, but nothing was said.

Unless you paid close attention.

On Wednesday, general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh took turns at the podium expressing their love for Jackson. Each said they’ve been texting with him throughout the offseason. Both said they weren’t bothered by Jackson’s absence from the AFC Wild Card Game loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

However, DeCosta did give a bit of insight into their honest thoughts on Jackson when stating all options remain available with Jackson in contract talks, including the use of either the exclusive or non-exclusive tag.

The difference is very important. Under the exclusive tag, Baltimore pays Jackson $45 million for the 2023 season, but he can’t negotiate with any other teams. The non-exclusive tag pays Jackson  $32.4 million, but he can sign an offer sheet with any club. If the Ravens don’t match the sheet within a week, Jackson leaves and Baltimore receives two first-round picks in return. If the Ravens do match, they sign him.

When asked if he’d have fear a team could sign Jackson under that scenario, DeCosta bristled, saying there’s no fear when good preparation has been put into a decision.

But DeCosta even considering the non-exclusive says plenty. Essentially, DeCosta is thinking about daring another team to give Jackson the offer he wants — the Ravens wouldn’t confirm or deny reports Jackson is seeking a fully-guaranteed deal — which shows extreme confidence in his position.

Ultimately, it would be a massive gamble. It takes only one team to make Jackson such an offer, forcing Baltimore to either sign a deal it doesn’t want, or to allow Jackson to leave for far below market value.

The smart play? Give Jackson the exclusive tag and negotiate over the next month. If the two sides can’t find common ground, begin shopping the 2018 MVP with the starting point being three first-round picks.

Last offseason, we saw Russell Wilson traded to the Denver Broncos with the Seattle Seahawks receiving two first- and second-round picks, defensive tackle Shelby Harris, tight end Noah Fant and quarterback Drew Lock. We also saw Deshaun Watson fetch three first-, one third- and a fourth-rounder for the Houston Texans, despite being embroiled in an ugly legal situation.

The price for Jackson should be significantly higher, considering he is 26 years old (Wilson was 33) and has no off-field concerns. DeCosta could get a record-setting haul for his star, helping him remake his roster with cheap contracts and ample cap space.

For the Ravens, their entire offseason and outlook for years hinges on what happens with Jackson. The first domino, and a big one, comes when they place the franchise tag on him before the March 7 deadline.

Because which one it is speaks volumes about their stance without saying a word.

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