The Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson last week, allowing other teams to talk to him and attempt to sign him to an offer sheet. Had the Ravens used the exclusive tag, which costs significantly more, only they would have been able to negotiate with Jackson.
It raised more than a few eyebrows, however, when, hours or even minutes after the news came out, teams most associated with need at the quarterback position quickly leaked to reporters that they would not be pursuing Jackson. It seemed an unprecedented response when a player of his stature was made accessible. And it’s brought up the word collusion, which even Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward discussed yesterday on his podcast.
“It’s got to be the dumbest thing an owner or a team can do”, he said of reports about teams’ non-interest in one of the great talents of the game at a position of need. “If you don’t want to say collusion, don’t say collusion. But then don’t do the thing that would attempt collusion. That makes no sense”.
The primary grievance with Jackson’s pursuit of a new contract has been his reported desire to receive a fully guaranteed contract structured similarly to the deal the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson last year. The embattled former Pro Bowler got a five-year, $230 million deal from the desperate team, all guaranteed at signing.
Jackson himself has indicated that the most he has been offered by the Ravens in full guarantees at signing is $133 million, which would still be the second-largest guaranteed amount in NFL history for any contract. Injury guarantees and rolling guarantees were also included, but do not fall under the category of full guarantees.
“I don’t know if it’s as simple as, yeah, there’s a text thread, or, oh, they all met in a bar”, Heyward said about the seemingly coordinated team response to Jackson’s tag, “but it’s just crazy that so many teams have come out publicly—publicly—like, it’s probably on their Twitter handles that says, ‘We are not in the running for Lamar Jackson’. If that’s not screaming from the mountains, I don’t know what it is, because you’re literally just being way too open about collusion”.
While no teams directly issued statements, some did use their social media profiles to amplify reports about their organization’s intentions. Many around the league have publicly commented on the Browns’ decision to give Watson a fully-guaranteed deal in a negative light, and it’s clear that nobody wants to see that deal become a precedent.
There are reasons that teams might flinch when it comes to guaranteeing so much to Jackson. In spite of his enormous talents and proven success, his significant injuries in the past two years raise concerns about his durability. He is still improving as a true passer, as well, and some feel that they would have to make special exceptions in their offense to best accentuate his attributes.
But that doesn’t seem to explain why so many teams rushed to publicize that they would not be pursuing the first and so far only player in NFL history who has been dedicated to making a fully-guaranteed contract a reality.
For Watson, it was merely the tipping point when the Browns came in with that late offer, a cherry on top. He simply would have signed elsewhere for far less guaranteed. But in Jackson’s case, it seems to be about more than just the contract, and teams don’t want to break rank. Especially not after seeing how the Browns have been treated in league circles for the Watson contract.