First appeared in BOXSCORE
By Aron Solomon
Lamar Jackson is an interesting study in every way. With an expiring contract, all eyes are on Lamar in this long NFL off-season to see where things will go.
This isn’t a new saga. The Baltimore Ravens and Lamar have been trying to reach a new agreement for over a year. For what must clearly be a variety of reasons, they haven’t.
Forgoing an agent, Lamar is self-represented. With credible reports that the two sides are $100 million apart in how they see the guaranteed money piece of Lamar’s next contract, by all reasonable indicators, we are heading towards the Ravens putting the franchise tag on Lamar.
So what is the NFL franchise tag and how does it work?
Attorney Robert Maider explains the legal concept of the franchise tag:
“The NFL franchise tag is a mechanism that allows teams to keep a player on their roster for one additional season each time the tag is applied, even if their contract has expired and the player is eligible for free agency. It isn’t something that the player needs to agree to – it’s the prerogative of the team under Article 10 of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement to apply the franchise tag.”
Here’s an in-depth look at how the franchise tag works:
Who can be tagged?
Only certain players are eligible to be tagged. The tag can be used on players who are set to become unrestricted free agents and have been with the team for at least one season.
This is a critically important point: The player can be tagged for up to three consecutive years, but after that, the team must either sign the player to a new long-term deal or let them walk in free agency.
What are the types of franchise tags?
There are two types of franchise tags: exclusive and non-exclusive.
An exclusive tag means the player cannot negotiate with any other teams and must either sign a one-year contract with their current team or sit out the season. A non-exclusive tag means the player can negotiate with other teams, but the current team has the right to match any offer. If the current team chooses not to match, they receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
How is the franchise tag amount determined?
The franchise tag amount is based on the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the last five seasons or 120% of the player’s previous salary, whichever is greater.
The player and the team can negotiate a long-term deal even after the tag is applied, but if they fail to reach an agreement by a certain deadline (usually mid-July), the player must play the season under the tag.
When can a team apply the tag?
The tag window usually opens in late February and closes in mid-March. The team must inform the player if they plan to use the tag, and the player has the option to sign the tag or hold out for a long-term deal. If the player does not sign the tag by a certain deadline (usually in mid-July), they are not eligible to play that season.
How many times can a player be tagged?
As mentioned earlier, a player can be tagged up to three consecutive years. After that, the team must either sign the player to a long-term deal or let them walk in free agency.
I want to make this as clear as possible: It will be a MASSIVE mistake for the Baltimore Ravens to use the franchise tag with Lamar Jackson.
Lamar Jackson’s achievements being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 place him firmly in the top echelon of NFL quarterbacks:
In 2019, Jackson became the youngest player in NFL history to win the league MVP award, at the age of 22. He threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,206 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Pro Bowl Selection:
Jackson has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice in his career so far, in 2019 and 2020.
In 2019, Jackson set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season, with 1,206 yards. He also became the first player in NFL history to produce multiple games with a perfect passer rating in a single season.
Jackson has led the Ravens to several playoff wins, including a victory over the Tennessee Titans in the 2020 postseason.
The slow (very slow for the Ravens) passing of time will show that failing to get a deal done now with Lamar Jackson will be the greatest franchise tag failures in the history of the National Football League – and there’s admittedly some pretty good competition.
Here are some of the most poignant examples of where an NFL team’s use of the franchise tag has horribly backfired:
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins (now Commanders):
Washington used the franchise tag on Cousins in 2016 and 2017, paying him a total of nearly $44 million for those two seasons. However, they were unable to come to a long-term agreement, and Cousins eventually left for the Minnesota Vikings in free agency. Washington was left without a franchise quarterback and had to start over at the position.
Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers:
The Panthers used the franchise tag on Norman in 2016, but were unable to come to a long-term agreement with him. They eventually rescinded the tag, making Norman an unrestricted free agent. He signed a big contract with the Redskins, and the Panthers were left without a Pro Bowl cornerback.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers:
The Steelers used the franchise tag on Bell in 2017 and 2018, paying him a total of $26 million for those two seasons. However, Bell refused to sign the tag in 2018 and sat out the entire season. He then left for the New York Jets in free agency, and the Steelers were left without one of the best running backs in the league.
In each of these cases, the team used the franchise tag to keep a key player on their roster, but ultimately failed to come to a long-term agreement with that player. As a result, they lost the player in free agency and were left with little or nothing to show for their investment in the franchise tag.
Here’s how the Lamar Jackson saga should end:
It’s very simple. He has earned the exact same contract Deshawn Watson currently has.
That’s a 5 year, $230,000,000 contract, including a $44,965,000 signing bonus, $230,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $46,000,000.
The Ravens have spent far too long overthinking this. They need to get the deal done or make a deal that will get Lamar Jackson to a team that will appreciate his talents.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.