NFL free agency hasn’t officially started for another week, but it’s been a busy few days around the league as the quarterback market heats up and teams use their franchise tag designations.
A new home for Derek Carr, new deals for Gino Smith and Daniel Jones and the appointment of a franchise for Mar Jackson will now trigger another round of dominoes.
the athleteMike Sandow and Mike Jones discuss what these moves mean and what we can expect now.
The Ravens used Lamar Jackson’s non-exclusive franchise tag, raising the possibility that Jackson may have played his final home game in Baltimore. Meanwhile, a series of reports indicated that various teams would not be going after the former MVP. What are the main points for you regarding this position?
Jones: The first thing that stands out is that Baltimore chose the non-exclusive tag instead of the exclusive tag. There are big differences here for several reasons. The Ravens had to commit to a salary of just over $45 million with the exclusive label versus about $32 million for the non-exclusive. But in addition to the money saved, the Ravens’ decision stands out because they seem to indicate they might be open for business after months of professing their love for being a quarterback.
But I also found it interesting that at no point did teams in need of a quarterback like the Falcons, Panthers, Chiefs, Raiders, and Dolphins announce through various channels that they had no intention of pursuing Jackson’s trades. Many people throughout the league found this intriguing since several instances of refusing interest in an MVP-caliber quarterback under the age of 30 lend credence to allegations of NFLPA collusion.
Last week at the combine, there was quite a bit of chatter in NFL circles that the owners — infuriated by Brown’s signing of a $230 million all-in guarantee deal — agreed among themselves not to hand over another all-out, multi-year contract to the quarterback. . It’s hard to prove collusion, but suspicions were high a week ago, and Tuesday’s actions certainly looked like something was up. Did the Crows already know that they didn’t have to worry about Jackson losing some enemies willing to give him a pretty sure deal?
Sando: My reading is that Crows and Jackson fundamentally disagree about his value, and the relationship between the two is fractured. Baltimore calls Jackson’s bluff as to his worth, but that’s not all. Had the crows taken the exclusive route, the status quo would have prevailed, because there was no mechanism available for a third party to initiate conversations. The stalemate is likely to continue. Now, there could be movement. Crows can have options. I think they’d rather go from Jackson paying the kind of deal Watson received, which is why they’re willing to use the non-exclusive tag. Mostly, they wanted movement and couldn’t see a better way to get it.
As for the collusion element, there is no question that the NFL and its owners want to make Watson’s contract a one-off event, not a trend. Some executives from teams across the league believed that Jackson, in the absence of an agent, would be more likely to take advice from the NFL Players Association, which would like to see Watson’s contract become the norm for top quarterbacks. While an agent would have an incentive to complete a trade in order to collect a commission, the NFLPA cares more about precedent and can advise accordingly, in the eyes of those executives. There is a widespread belief in the league, and among agents, that Jackson would actually have a deal if he had an agent.
Typically, a player in Jackson’s position will have his agent work the consolidation for him, meet the teams at the bottom, explain where he stands, set the odds, and maybe even leak some stuff to the reporters. Jackson does not have an agent. He practically couldn’t represent himself in the gathering. A year ago today, the Seahawks and Broncos executed a trade for Russell Wilson after setting standards during face-to-face meetings on the set. It seems unlikely that such fundamental work could ever be laid regarding Jackson’s future.
Another team could still come after Jackson with a strong showing. I don’t often read into flash reports that various teams have no interest in Jackson. Do we expect teams to announce their interest in the player under these circumstances? We won’t, but in a typical case, Jackson’s agent has been in contact with the teams and may have leaked interesting news. I think Jackson and the Ravens don’t know about this situation, which means other teams are likely in the dark as well.
In my view, Jackson’s recent injuries and concerns about his long-term durability reduce the likelihood of any team making a fully guaranteed offer that lasts longer than three years. Yes, it only takes one team, but it also takes skill to build and manipulate the market. I don’t think Jackson is in a position to handle those ingredients, but we’ll see.
The Giants’ signing of Daniel Jones to a four-year extension at an average salary of $40 million drew a wide range of responses. One league insider said, “I have no idea what the Giants are thinking,” while another predicted, “They really had no choice.” What do you think of this decision from Giants headquarters?
Jones: On the one hand, it seems absolutely insane to give Jones that much money after one solid – and not at all dominant – season. He helped the Giants break their postseason drought, but only managed 15 touchdown passes (tied for 21st in the league) while passing for 3,205 yards (a career high). Jones rushed for another seven touchdowns and 708 yards. But it’s pretty hard to think that he’s now getting paid as much as Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott, and not far behind Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes.
Can’t the Giants use the franchise tag to allow for another year of growth before setting aside a huge amount of money over a long period of time? This could have been a smarter move, at least one talent evaluator believes.
However, another rival member of the front office indicated that such a move would have had risks. It’s possible that the Giants may have set themselves up for another Kirk Cousins situation (frustrated with Washington’s perceived underestimation of his talents in 2016, Cousins refused to sign a long-term deal with his original team and played on the franchise tag in both 2017 and 2018 from before going to Minnesota on a fully guaranteed deal in 2019). A third opposing executive said Jones didn’t have much talent at wide receiver or a strong offensive line to back him up, so Jones didn’t miss much because of his poor pass total. The executive said that given how difficult it was to find a good starting quarterback, the Giants made the safe investment.
Sando: All else being equal, I’d much rather have Jones play on the franchise tag, then re-evaluate after another season. There were reasons why the giants did not go down this road. They wanted to save the label for Saquon Barkley. They wanted some short-term relief from the salary cap that comes with a long-term deal. And if the four-year structure holds the Giants’ options if Jones falters, the trade-off could be worthwhile.
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Would you rather be the Saints with Derek Carr, the Jets with a shot in touchdown Aaron Rodgers or the Raiders with the seventh pick in the draft?
Sando: The Saints’ position is very good as Carr lifts the floor enough for New Orleans to be the favorite to win the NFC South title, at a time when the Saints were not in a position to draft a quarterback early. Carr’s contract structure allows the Saints to escape the deal after two years and $60 million. New Orleans could make a quarterback in 2024, sit that quarterback behind Carr for a season and then move forward with the junior replacement. Or, if Carr plays exceptionally well, the Saints could choose a third season with him.
Jones: I’ll take Kar. He may not be elite, but he’s very good, and with enough support he has the potential to lead a team to plenty of wins in the regular season and postseason. In New Orleans, he is surrounded by a talented crew led by Chris Olaf, Michael Thomas (if healthy), Alvin Kamara and a very good defense. This division is wide open. Unlock the Saints as NFC South winners now.
Since it’s hard to say which direction Rodgers’ courtship will go, at the moment, the Jets face great uncertainty. If they get Rodgers, their offense certainly has to improve, but the Jets still have to go through Buffalo to get out of their division, and then compete with other powerhouses like Kansas City and Cincinnati. Hitting all of these teams is a daunting task, even for Rodgers.
And the Raiders at No. 7 are intriguing. But the quarterback of their dreams might be ripped off the board before they even make a choice. So since the Saints have the sure thing now, they’re optional.
The Seahawks signed Geno Smith to a three-year, $75 million contract extension roughly one year after trading Russell Wilson to Denver. How do you rank the NFC West quarterback positions?
Sando: It seems weird to say that, but Gino Smith played better longer than any quarterback in the NFC West last season, and now he’s cheaper than the others, too, when you count the money coming into Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford, along with the draft. San Francisco Capital invested in this position. Seattle getting Smith $25 million a year while carrying the ability to draft a quarterback with the fifth pick appeals to me.
Stafford has missed 16 games over the past four seasons and has $62 million to be fully guaranteed if he stays on the roster on March 17. This looks like a shaky position with the Rams in rebuilding mode along their offensive line, and Sean McVay looking year-over-year in his coaching commitment. I’ll still take the Rams QB situation next, based on how well Stafford played under McVay if all goes well.
I’ll take the 49ers’ quarterback position next, because Kyle Shanahan can do a good job with a bunch of guys. I am concerned about the rehabilitation of the Brooke Birdie facility and the development schedule for Tri Lance. If Purdy was healthy, I would rate the 49ers situation higher.
Arizona falls last for me, given the massive investment in Murray. His short-term injury status is worrisome, his long-term durability is in question and his own team doubts whether he’ll be willing to put in the effort to succeed. This seems like a difficult situation, and one that will likely involve future drama.
Jones: If healthy, Stafford leads the pack, followed by Murray, Smith and whatever the 49ers settle between Purdy and Lance when they come off with injuries. Smith could easily be pushed into second place, but based on each player’s cap, third feels right.
In addition to Baltimore, five other teams have used the franchise tag on players: Dallas for running back Tony Pollard, Jacksonville for tight end Evan Ingram, Las Vegas for running back Josh Jacobs, and the Giants for Barkley and Washington for defensive tackle Daron Payne. Which team strikes you as being selected against star player discrimination?
Jones: It’s interesting that the Chiefs leave tackle Orlando Brown to free agency. It’s important to Mahomes’ success, but the $19 million cap figure is daunting for a team that’s currently over $3 million. Philadelphia’s decision not to tag Javon Hargrave, who ranks among the best defensemen slated to hit the market, is also an interesting one. But hitting the $18 million cap is an important part for a team with a slew of free agents to keep while also trying to upgrade some areas in hopes of another Lombardi Trophy run.
Sando: The tag has long been a mechanism for keeping good players, not great ones, on the grounds that great players get long-term deals. I understand where the Eagles and Chiefs are coming from in deciding not to tag these aforementioned players. They simply have better uses of resources.
(Photo: Sarah Steer/Getty Images)
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