Why Ravens’ Lamar Jackson makes sense for Colts
INDIANAPOLIS — Within hours after the Baltimore Ravens tagged quarterback Lamar Jackson with the non-exclusive franchise tag on March 7, reports surfaced that numerous teams were uninterested in negotiating with Jackson.
The Indianapolis Colts, who had not had a consecutive season-opening quarterback since Andrew Luck in 2015-16, were not among those teams.
Unlike the exclusive franchise tag, the non-exclusive tag allows Jackson to negotiate a contract with other teams, and the Ravens would have five days to either finalize the deal or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
If the 26-year-old former MVP leaves Baltimore, there’s reason to believe the Colts would be a good fit. Owner Jim Irsay is determined to solve a quarterback problem that has defined Indianapolis for the past five years, and he’s proven willing to pay top dollar. But Jackson, who has missed 11 games in the last two seasons through injury, is reportedly looking for a fully guaranteed deal. And Jackson is representing himself rather than hiring an agent, which would seemingly complicate negotiations.
According to a team source, Indianapolis did not rule out discussions with Jackson. However, the club have not taken any significant steps regarding Jackson and it is unclear if they intend to do so. Sources from the team have expressed skepticism about the pursuit of Jackson.
But there are compelling reasons for the Colts to investigate Jackson’s availability. After all, it doesn’t cost them anything to just have a conversation. And can a team that’s had the Colts’ troubles as quarterback afford to rule out any path to landing a proven starter — even if the process is complicated?
“When you change quarterbacks every year, it’s tough,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard admitted after last season. “It’s tough for everyone.”
The Colts’ dizzying quarterback carousel is on the verge of another revolution after 2022 starter Matt Ryan was fired last week. With a quarterback change already on the horizon, the Colts should have the idea of taking on Jackson — or not.
Why it makes sense
A rare opportunity
Ask Yourself: Do you see the Kansas City Chiefs allowing Patrick Mahomes to come on the market? Can you imagine the Buffalo Bills making Josh Allen available for a trade? Would the Cincinnati Bengals Consider Running Joe Burrow?
This trio represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the depth of quarterback talent currently residing in the AFC. And you still have to factor in players like the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa, and potential rebound seasons from the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson and Cleveland Browns’ Deshaun Watson.
The Colts have fourth overall pick in the draft, but with the Carolina Panthers at No. 1 and the Houston Texans at No. 2, they have at least two quarterback-needy teams ahead of them. Indianapolis is expected to be the quarterbacks’ third pick at best. Landing Jackson would be the quickest way to close the quarterback gap the Colts are currently facing in their conference. It would be a safer bet than relying on a quarterback pick that may or may not fail.
The Colts are irrelevant
The Colts’ last deep playoff run ended with their appearance in the AFC Championship Game in 2014. They’ve been 61-68-1 (0.473 winning percent) since then. They made two playoff appearances in that span, going 1-2.
The Colts’ years of insignificance continue. With the team coming off a 4-12-1 season in 2022 and with no major upgrades so far this offseason, dramatic improvement could be difficult. The question arises: What does the immediate future hold for Indianapolis?
With many of the Colts’ core players in the prime of their careers — like running back Jonathan Taylor and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner — the typical time frame it takes to develop a rookie quarterback is less than optimal. Adding a player like Jackson could mean an immediate return to relevance and competitiveness in a deep conference.
One of the most compelling arguments for the Colts to go after Jackson is his potential match-up with first-year head coach Shane Steichen. During Steichen’s two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, he helped maximize the talents of another dual threat quarterback, Jalen Hurts.
Steichen’s track record of adjusting his plan and playcalling his quarterbacks at the Chargers and Eagles suggests he could develop a creative attack with Jackson at the heart. Jackson had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2019 and 2020 and is the first NFL player to pass 5,000 yards and rush for 2,500 yards in the first three seasons of his career. Meanwhile, Hurts led all quarterbacks in rushing attempts (165) and was fourth in QBR under Steichen last season (66.4).
Combining Jackson’s running ability with the presence of a star running back, like Taylor, could give the Colts significant vertical passing opportunities given the fast-paced defense threat.
Jackson’s acquisition would give Steichen a legitimate Year 1 lead and play to his strength: leveraging his quarterback’s skills.
You’ve done it before
Here’s a fun fact: The Colts have twice hired the NFL’s highest-paid player in the past two decades.
Both Peyton Manning and Luck signed extensions while with the Colts, which were the richest contracts in league history at the time. Both deals also included record-breaking amounts of guaranteed money. The two events set an important precedent for Irsay going beyond the economic limitations of a small market.
Granted, the Colts were heavily invested in Manning and Luck, having both been drafted with first overall picks in their respective draft years. And Jackson’s reported call for a fully guaranteed contract is an important distinction. But there are ways to navigate these deep financial waters, even for a team struggling to make massive profits outside of the NFL’s revenue-sharing system.
The Colts’ ability to pursue Jackson became more realistic when they freed about $17 million in salary caps last week by releasing Ryan and trading cornerback Stephon Gilmore. They have about $20 million in space left after recent signings and possess the ability to add more through roster changes as needed.
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Why it might not work
Worth the effort?
There is a risk in starting negotiations with Jackson. The Ravens have the right to match any offer, and might be inclined to do so, unless it includes terms the franchise categorically rejects, such as: B. A fully guaranteed deal.
What team would want to step into a situation where they know it might feel like it was being used to negotiate for the current team of players? Additionally, the fact that the Ravens have been unable to reach an agreement with Jackson after more than two years of negotiations will give teams pause.
There’s still a bit of complexity here: A team that signs Jackson on an offer sheet may need to move some salary caps in advance in case the Ravens decline to go along. Depending on how the deal is structured, it could affect other areas of the Indianapolis roster, although there’s no certainty the Colts would land Jackson.
The good news is that there are ways to circumvent the salary cap complications on the front end of a potential Jackson contract. Think of Watson’s deal with the Cleveland Browns. Although it included $250 million in guaranteed money, it was written in a way that reduced the salary cap to $9.4 million for the first year. The downside is that this type of structure has significantly inflated his salary cap in future seasons. Watson’s contract currently caps at over $60 million per year in 2024-2026.
Perhaps more problematic than the salary cap obstacles are the guaranteed payments Jackson wants to be sure. He reportedly wants a guaranteed deal in line with Watson’s.
Even if Jackson is willing to settle for anything less than a fully guaranteed deal, his contract is sure to include huge sums of guaranteed money. The future guarantees must be held in escrow according to league rules, which often limits the amount of money the owners are willing to guarantee. In the case of the Browns and Watson, that means as much as $185 million had to be deposited to account for the guarantees after the first year of his contract.
Does Irsay (or other owners) have that kind of liquidity? And even if he did, would he be willing to give away such a large amount of cash? You can see why the NFL Players Association hates this rule. But until it changes, it remains a reality in these kinds of conversations.
Finally, any team pursuing Jackson must offer a premium contract to keep the Ravens from matching. It remains to be seen what such a contract would look like.
Is some of the talk about Jackson’s injury history exaggerated? Perhaps. But for a team that could do anything to win the quarterback, his health needs to be an important part of the conversation.
Jackson has not played a full season since he was a rookie in 2018, although he was not out through injury until 2021. He missed the 2019 Finals after Baltimore earned the top seeds and he was forced to sit out a game in 2020 due to COVID-19. But in the last two seasons, Jackson has missed 11 combined games with ankle and knee injuries, including the Ravens’ wildcard loss to the Bengals in January.
When you consider the Colts’ possibility of going ahead with a draft pick at a much lower cost — and therefore less risk — there’s a lot to consider.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/35895924/why-baltimore-ravens-quarterback-lamar-jackson-makes-sense-indianapolis-colts Why Ravens’ Lamar Jackson makes sense for Colts