Baltimore Sun

Jackson’s situation isn’t unpreceden­ted

Those who dealt with NFL franchise tag offer some insight

- By Brian Wacker

Wally Williams knows the feelings Lamar Jackson might be experienci­ng.

In the Ravens’ 28-year history, seven players have received the franchise tag. Williams, who spent 10 years in the NFL, including three in Baltimore from 1996 to 1998 before retiring after the 2002 season, was the first.

“The part that every player ends up having a problem with is, no matter who it is, with the negotiatio­n process and trying to find a number that’s good for you for that longterm contract,” the former offensive lineman said from his home in Florida. “It’s great to have a home; you just wanna know it’s there for more than a year. I was no different. I wanted to call Baltimore home. I was not intending to leave there.”

But after starting 13 games in 1998 under the tag, Williams signed a five-year, $18 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. Two seasons later, the Ravens won their first Super Bowl.

“New Orleans had a number that Baltimore, which had a certain number slotted for each position, could not pay,” Williams said. “They won the Super Bowl, but I got what I wanted. I have no regrets. It worked out for both sides.”

Since then, the Ravens have rarely used the franchise tag, which was introduced in the 1993 collective bargaining agreement

as a way for teams to keep star players from hitting free agency in exchange for a lucrative one-year deal. Jackson received the $32.4 million nonexclusi­ve tag last week, freeing the 26-year-old superstar quarterbac­k to shop around for the big-money, long-term deal he desires.

So far, though, there haven’t been any takers, with a handful of quarterbac­k-needy teams surprising­ly having no interest in

pursuing the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player at the cost of two first-round draft picks. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the wait continues, with no news from Jackson or the Ravens since free agency officially opened Wednesday afternoon — though Jackson did dispute an ESPN report from September that he turned

down a $200 million guaranteed deal from Baltimore and retweeted a post from Robert Griffin III on Thursday in which the former quarterbac­k suggested the New York Jets would be better served giving up two firstround picks for Jackson instead of four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.

What might be going on behind the scenes is anyone’s guess. Jackson operates without an agent, instead leaning on his mom, Felicia Jones, so there aren’t the usual agent leaks from what is an insular camp.

While Williams had a very good career, he never reached the same level that Jackson is already at entering his sixth NFL season. Still, he can relate to some elements of the process the star quarterbac­k is going through.

“During my negotiatio­ns, [the Ravens] talked about my Achilles [tendon] tear and being somewhat overweight,” he said. “That helped spark why I ended up not getting a deal done there.”

Similarly, critics of Jackson have pointed to his injury history — he missed 10 combined games the past two regular seasons, as well as last season’s wild-card playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals — and his career 1-3 playoff record in Baltimore.

Among the elements that also makes things more complex in Jackson’s negotiatio­ns with the Ravens is that, as mentioned, he does not have an agent, so the team is left to deal directly with its star quarterbac­k.

“It’s more personal and more standoffis­h when you’re dealing directly with the player,” Williams said. “That’s what brings a uniqueness to Lamar’s situation.”

That process can ruffle feathers, and not just between the two parties but within the locker room.

Former Patriots linebacker and current ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi spent 13 years in New England from 1996 to 2008, and four players were franchise tagged during that time. Most notable among them was cornerback Asante Samuel, who, like Jackson, was seeking significan­t guaranteed money at the time. The two sides were far apart, however, and he played out the 2007 season before bolting for the Philadelph­ia Eagles for a lucrative six-year deal.

“It takes away from a championsh­ip-goal oriented team; it changes the mentality,” Bruschi said of the general lingering effects of a player performing on a franchise tag. “You can tell there is something wrong with the player because he’s not making a commitment because he doesn’t feel the organizati­on has made one to him.

“If Lamar were playing the season on the tag, I think I can deal with a quarterbac­k playing on that because I can get in his ear and motivate him, but there’s so much going on with a quarterbac­k in terms of bringing guys along with him — rookies, free agents — in that commitment. So [then it becomes], what’s my my motivation to put in work?

“I didn’t even mention winning; and that’s what makes it hard to deal with from a team perspectiv­e.”

As for the team’s approach, general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh have publicly and repeatedly said they want to have Jackson back and would like for him to be there long-term.

At the NFL scouting combine earlier this month, DeCosta said that he’d recently met with Jackson and was “optimistic” about the two sides being able to reach a long-term deal. Ditto for Harbaugh, who said he’s “hopeful and excited, fervently hopeful” about that possibilit­y.

Mike Tannenbaum, who was the Jets’ general manager from 2006 to 2012 and is currently an NFL analyst for ESPN, concurred.

“[If you’re Baltimore] you’re pretty optimistic that he’s going to be there on a one-year deal [at least] but also have to think of the possibilit­y that if someone signs him, you’re making sure to monitor all your options,” he said. “Beyond that, I think deal fatigue has set in at the moment, and the [five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed] Deshaun Watson contract has a lot to do with that. I think it’s reasonable he’ll be back, but [Baltimore] can’t just put its feet up.”

The biggest advantage for the Ravens is that no team has made an offer to Jackson, and the number of potential destinatio­ns continues to dwindle. On Thursday, the Indianapol­is Colts, who own the No. 4 overall pick in the draft and are expected to take a quarterbac­k, signed veteran backup Gardner Minshew. One agent also noted that it’s not Indianapol­is’ philosophy to be aggressive when it comes to free agent quarterbac­ks.

Another benefit, perhaps for both sides, is that there’s time. Jackson and the Ravens have until July 17 to work out a long-term deal. After that, however, a new contract can’t be done until after next season.

It’s also certainly possible that Jackson plays next season on the tag and that the Ravens franchise tag him again in 2024, which is something Baltimore has done before, twice tagging cornerback Chris McAlister (200304) and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (2008-09). Both players ended up signing long-terms deals with the Ravens after that. What will happen with Jackson?

“That [July] deadline will get people to move in terms of bringing people back,” said Tannenbaum, who predicted potential progress between the two sides in about a week. So, too, perhaps will Baltimore’s desire to have Jackson get acclimated with new Ravens offensive coordinato­r Todd Monken, whom the team hired in February to replace Greg Roman.

“Lamar’s best leverage is not to come in [for training camp],” Tannenbaum said. “But [Baltimore] has a lot of reasons to get him in and get a deal done.”

 ?? KENNETH K. LAM/BALTIMORE SUN ?? Lamar Jackson and the Ravens remain at an impasse, for now, on a long-term contract after the Ravens placed the nonexclusi­ve franchise tag on the quarterbac­k earlier this month.
KENNETH K. LAM/BALTIMORE SUN Lamar Jackson and the Ravens remain at an impasse, for now, on a long-term contract after the Ravens placed the nonexclusi­ve franchise tag on the quarterbac­k earlier this month.
 ?? ELIZABETH MALBY/BALTIMORE SUN FILE ?? Wally Williams was the first player the Ravens franchise tagged, doing so in 1998. He left for the Saints the following year.
ELIZABETH MALBY/BALTIMORE SUN FILE Wally Williams was the first player the Ravens franchise tagged, doing so in 1998. He left for the Saints the following year.

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