The Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson on Tuesday. Jackson is now free to negotiate a contract with competing franchises while the Ravens will retain an opportunity to match an offer or receive two first-round selections in exchange for a departing Jackson. Teams who are considering trading up for a quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft like the Las Vegas Raiders and Carolina Panthers should consider signing Jackson instead.
The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are two additional franchises that may trade up for a quarterback. But with Houston and Indianapolis picking second and fourth respectively, they’re likelier to secure one of Bryce Young, Will Levis, Anthony Richardson, or C.J. Stroud. It’s a bit murkier for Vegas and Carolina, who pick seventh and ninth.
The asking price for Carolina or Vegas to move up to their desired draft positioning may include two first-round selections. It’s identical, or at least awfully similar to the price Jackson can be signed for. Isn’t there value in paying for a known commodity like Jackson, a former MVP winner, as opposed to the mystery box that is a rookie quarterback?
The price tag for Jackson ($45-plus million annually) versus a rookie QB-friendly contract is the rebuttal, but it’s a scenario worth exploring at minimum. Nobody complains about paying a franchise quarterback. It’s the pursuit of one that will drive you crazy.
Vegas and Carolina especially stick out to me for differing reasons. Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels will be under pressure to deliver immediate results in 2023 after disappointing in 2022 with Derek Carr, who they’ve officially moved on from. The Raiders made a sizable investment in McDaniels. They even traded for Davante Adams and signed Chandler Jones to bolster his roster.
It’s safe to assume another 6-11-like campaign and retaining his job is out of the question for McDaniels. The Raiders released Carr partially for his inability to master McDaniels’ complex scheme. Is a rookie quarterback a better fit to deliver immediate results in the AFC West? Or will a first-year quarterback go through the typical growing pains, especially when placed in a scheme that asks a lot of its quarterbacks? The latter is likelier.
McDaniels coached a quality season out of an aging Cam Newton in 2020. Newton completed a near-career-high 65.8% of his passing attempts and rushed for 12 touchdowns. Now imagine that magnified with a dual-threat Jackson, that unlike Newton then, is still in the prime of his career. The Raiders also possess nearly $40 million in cap space and unlike many teams, haven’t peculiarly denied public interest in Jackson.
The Panthers aren’t expected to pursue Jackson, according to reports, but I’m not convinced they should quickly rule it out. General manager Scott Fitterer faces an uphill battle (although not impossible) to ensure Carolina drafts their quarterback of the future. Competition to move up will be fierce. The Texans, Colts, and Raiders have the advantage of picking before Carolina. These quarterbacks are too good to survive until ninth overall.
New Panthers head coach Frank Reich is inheriting a roster that’s ready to win now, especially when considering the shifting power balance in the NFC South following the retirement of Tom Brady. Reich’s defense is loaded with high-end playmakers. The offense has weapons, although it needs a few more.
We know the Panthers aren’t 100% in on drafting a quarterback. They pursued Carr, who chose their division rival Saints instead. The Panthers could pivot toward the newly-available Jackson.
Reich is establishing an excellent staff in Carolina. Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero will have full control of the defense. First-time offensive coordinator Thomas Brown spent years learning under Sean McVay. Josh McCown, Duce Staley, and Jim Caldwell are also on Reich’s offensive staff. This is an excellent environment for Jackson to deliver playoff aspirations in 2023.
Lamar Jackson’s murky future added another layer of intrigue following Baltimore’s decision to utilize the non-exclusive franchise tag. Several teams must weigh signing Lamar Jackson versus drafting a rookie quarterback. The Raiders and Panthers are among the potential suitors that should do their due diligence.
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