Lamar Jackson's five-year run as the Ravens' quarterback has been so electrifying -- better yet, so defining, in the age of the dual-threat MVP types -- that he and Baltimore seem almost inseparable. Fresh off the team's opening-round playoff loss to the Bengals, a game Jackson did not attend while nursing a lingering knee injury, the dynamic feels different.
Both sides have talked for a long time about their appreciation for each other. And yet now, with 2023 free agency on the horizon and Jackson without a long-term contract, the quarterback is giving more hints than ever that a split could be coming. Days after publicly ruling himself out for the Ravens' playoff game despite reports he'd be at minimal risk of reinjury, the former MVP took to Instagram with a cryptic message about not taking a "good thing" for granted.
Hurt feelings don't have to ruin big-money negotiations; just last offseason, Kyler Murray landed a lucrative deal from the Cardinals despite publicly feuding with the organization. And odds are, Baltimore will at least exercise a franchise tag -- likely the projected $45 million exclusive tag -- to prevent Jackson from testing the open market.
But there are several scenarios where Jackson moves on after a half-decade as the face of the Ravens. The team could use a non-exclusive tag that permits other clubs to negotiate with him, knowing a pair of first-round draft picks would be guaranteed as compensation. Baltimore could also tag and trade Jackson, allowing another team to meet the tantalizing but injury-riddled QB's demands for a new deal, which figures to cost at least $45M-$50M per year.
In the event he's actually available, here are 10 of the most logical suitors, plus five wild cards:
|Under Brian Daboll, Daniel Jones has done almost everything possible to earn a new deal as New York's improbably composed face of the franchise. But with so much money at their disposal ($54.2M), it might be hard for them to avoid the temptation of adding Jackson's lightning speed to Daboll's attack, which prioritizes QB movement. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale notably spent four years with the Ravens, getting a firsthand look at the MVP QB from 2018-2021.|
|Like their NFC South-rival Bucs (more below), they've got so much cap debt it seems wrong to even entertain the possibility, but this team also pursued Deshaun Watson a year ago, looking to spend big for an upgrade. They'd allow the Ravens to move Jackson to the NFC while outfitting the QB with not only a winnable division but proven play-makers such as Alvin Kamara and Chris Olave.|
|It's hard to fathom how GM Jason Licht would keep Tampa remotely intact while getting under the cap to afford Jackson, but financials aside, it makes sense: Tom Brady may well be headed for his own new pasture, the Bucs probably aren't gonna wanna pivot to rebuild mode after three straight playoff runs, and Jackson would theoretically still have top weapons like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, not to mention while playing in his sunny home state.|
|Josh McDaniels may prefer a more prototypical QB in the mold of, say, Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo. But either way, Derek Carr is headed elsewhere, and they'll have plenty of cash to throw at a replacement. An added benefit of adding Jackson, even at a premium price, would be the speed with which he often offsets inconsistent pass protection, which the Raiders have endured for years.|
|Few franchises are quicker to explore the veteran QB market, and while rookie Sam Howell may be a reasonable candidate to open 2023 under center, Jackson is the kind of star power they've long lacked. Coach Ron Rivera hit his peak in Carolina utilizing a mobile QB in Cam Newton. They'd also offer Jackson at least one premium weapon in Terry McLaurin, as well as close proximity to the Baltimore community.|
|Bill Belichick has gone on record praising Jackson as MVP-level material, and he's about to reset the offensive structure after 2022's failures, with incumbent QB Mac Jones a middling prospect at this point. He's also 70, and surely ready to make a win-now pivot after three forgettable years post-Tom Brady. Best of all, he's got more than $30M in 2023 cap space at his disposal.|
|Owner David Tepper has to be getting impatient with these half-hearted QB gambles, and now a new coach is incoming, making them ripe for a full-on reset at the spot. Despite failing to match teams like the Falcons and Patriots in cap space, they have the kind of ascending lineup that could intrigue -- and grow with -- Jackson, starting with D.J. Moore out wide. In an open NFC South, they could easily convince themselves they're a big-time QB away.|
|Tua Tagovailoa took steps under Mike McDaniel, but with such an extensive injury history, his availability -- let alone his off-script accuracy -- can't be trusted. Jackson, meanwhile, would give McDaniel's 49ers-bred offense a lethal X-factor on the ground, and the QB would gain easily the best receiving corps he's ever had, not to mention a team located less than an hour from where he grew up. The only question would be making the money work, and, of course, identifying Tua's fit.|
|If Arthur Smith can operate a decent ground game with Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder under center, imagine what he might do with Jackson. A year after pursuing Deshaun Watson, they have the cap space ($56.8M) to make a major splash. They would allow Lamar to be a bit closer to home. And they could be especially motivated considering this year's top QB prospects could be off the board by the time they pick on Day 1.|
|They're not flush with cap space, but they are in dire need of a proven talent under center, where Zach Wilson has repeatedly lost the top job. Few teams would offer Jackson such a quick path back to the postseason, with Grade-A pieces at every level. The big market would be a bonus. And GM Joe Douglas, who's made blockbuster deals before, has an extensive history working with the Ravens, spending 15 years with the club as a scout.|
|Everyone, including their leadership, knows they've gotta stop with the veteran QB carousel. But Jackson would represent a splashy long-term investment. Still, odds are, GM Chris Ballard would rather do his homework on top prospects, get a young gun on his rookie deal and rebuild the supporting cast.|
|The NFL's feistiest spoiler, Detroit could -- and probably should -- be in the market for a top QB prospect, even with Jared Goff's underrated, gritty turn as its starter. Jackson would be a more proven version of that, perhaps instantly vaulting the Lions into the playoff race. But with such good draft positioning, they might rather handpick their own signal-caller to groom, especially with Goff also available as a placeholder.|
|Geno Smith had a surprise breakout as Russell Wilson's successor, and he figures to be rewarded for it, even if on a franchise tag. But GM John Schneider would surely be intrigued at the idea of turning some of their assets from the Russ deal into a long-term option like Jackson, who's six years younger than Geno. With more than $35M already in 2023 cap space, they wouldn't necessarily be hurting for money. But the defense also needs massive reinforcements, and they should have the chance to add a top QB prospect in the draft.|
|Ryan Tannehill is under contract, but very expendable after a disappointing injury-riddled season in which GM Jon Robinson departed. A full-on rebuild could be in the cards, but with Mike Vrabel always in the playoff hunt, perhaps a veteran swing is more likely. Projected to be more than $20M over the cap, however, with big needs on both sides of the ball, they may be forced to settle for a lesser alternative.|
|Kirk Cousins' numbers were actually less efficient under Kevin O'Connell, but he proved more resilient than perhaps ever before. Still, fresh off an early playoff exit, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who's publicly pondered Cousins' ceiling in the past, could be a candidate to explore trades. And Jackson might be one of the few vets worth pursuing, considering Minnesota isn't in a great position to draft a long-term prospect.|