The Ravens made the move many of us saw coming on Wednesday by putting the franchise tag on Lamar Jackson. Where this got interesting is how Baltimore chose to use their non-exclusive tag, essentially allowing any team to negotiation with their quarterback when the 2023 league year officially starts.
With every QB-needy team being asked whether they’re interested in Jackson the league appears to be circling the wagons. Everyone is denying that they’re pursuing him, which could either be collusion among NFL owners over guaranteed contracts, or simply everyone covering their asses since they can’t officially discuss Jackson until after the year begins.
That non-exclusive tag is essentially like restricted free agency in the NBA. Any team can reach a contract agreement with Jackson, and the Ravens can then choose to match the offer — or allow him to go to a new team. If Jackson leaves, Baltimore will receive two first round picks in 2023 and 2024 as compensation. It’s here the Miami debacle comes in.
The Dolphins are without a doubt the most exciting landing spot for Jackson. Only the most die-hard, card-carrying member of TuAnon could deny that Jackson is vastly better than Tua Tagovailoa. If you put Lamar with Miami’s weapons, on a team led by Mike McDaniel, we could see one of the scariest and least-predictable NFL offenses in years. The Dolphins were already a good team, and with a quarterback of Jackson’s caliber it would easily catapult Miami into the conversation for best team in the AFC East — and perhaps more importantly, keep them in the hunt, especially if the Jets manage to land Aaron Rodgers.
One can only imagine the havoc a Dolphins offense would cause when teams are having to account for the YAC ability of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, while also needing to ensure Jackson doesn’t take off and gash them for 40+ yards on any given down.
There’s one huge problem though: Miami doesn’t have its first round pick.
The Dolphins were penalized for tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton, part of a scheme to get both the quarterback and coach to come to Miami. This while both parties were already under contract with their respective teams. This breach led to the Dolphins losing their 2023 1st round pick, as well as a 3rd round pick in 2024. That is critical, because under league rules compensation for signing a player on a non-exclusive franchise tag must be two successive years of first round picks that were originally owned by the team. Meaning Miami can’t try and swing a trade now to get a 1st, then turn around and sign Jackson.
As it stands, the Dolphins couldn’t sign Lamar Jackson if they wanted to. At least, not before the NFL Draft. The team could still negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with the Ravens, but that process is infinitely more complicated (and could mean a lot more compensation) than simply meeting Lamar, inking him to a deal, and waiting to see if Baltimore would match.
The alternative option is waiting until after the draft, then negotiating with Jackson. In this case the Dolphins would give up their 2024 and 2025 picks. However, that requires no other team signing Jackson to a contract at any point between now and April 30, because when Jackson signs a contract the Ravens have five days to match, or the contract with the new team is made official.
Whether Miami’s punishment was fair is inconsequential. The reality is that by messing around and trying to convince Tom Brady to come to the Dolphins there is a very real chance Miami shot themselves in the foot when it comes to landing a 26-year-old quarterback who is perfectly suited to running their offense and would instantly make the team a perennial playoff staple, potentially even more.