The Baltimore Ravens' season came to an end last night at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. Now they have to deal with the Lamar Jackson situation. Jackson is an impending free agent and expects a very, very large contract as a former MVP with zero off-field questions and a long career ahead of him. But it's unclear if the Ravens will pay him and the fact that Jackson didn't travel with the team for their Wild Card game is not a good sign for the impending negotiations.
An agreement being reached by March is still a strong possibility because the Ravens just spent six weeks experiencing the gulf in talent between Jackson and the next guy. But Jackson's injury history is obviously concerning for his style of play. The fact that things seem chilly between Jackson and the organization heading into the offseason does not help matters. There is absolutely a universe in which the Ravens wish Jackson well and let another team pay an ungodly sum for his talents. Baltimore would undoubtedly franchise-tag Jackson and then trade him to the team who wanted to pay him, but the end result of Jackson in a different uniform is definitely in play.
Let us consider that alternate universe. If Jackson ends up on the open market, which teams would be best-suited to go after the 25-year-old superstar quarterback?
New York Jets
The Jets are the QB-needy team everyone will talk about this offseason because they sure look like a team ready to make the leap with a competent signal-caller. Robert Saleh's defense showed its teeth this year and the offense has a couple cornerstone pieces already in place. Adding Jackson to the roster would immediately make them contenders.
There are two other factors working in favor of this outcome. First, the Jets have basically zero big-money contracts. Quinnen Willliams is up for an extension this offseason and will be paid very handsomely as the NFL's top young defensive tackle, but otherwise all impact contributors are on reasonable or rookie contracts (with C.J. Mosley being the only exception). Second, the Jets have been a laughingstock for a long time and it would surprise nobody if Woody Johnson wanted to throw money at that problem to fix it. An ideal combination of means, opportunity, and motivation here.
Speaking of teams that are just a QB away, the Lions will be thrown around in all Lamar Jackson discussions until the situation is resolved. Jared Goff played great football this year but Detroit can get out of his contract for only $10 million this offseason and Jackson is obviously a huge upgrade from a talent perspective. The Lions have a lot of work to do defensively in order to be considered true contenders. The offense, though, is pretty much good to go and Jackson would thrive behind that offensive line with those skill position players.
The primary reason Detroit wouldn't do this is that it doesn't really fit the ethos of what Dan Campbell has been building. And GM Brad Holmes is a huge Goff guy. If Jackson didn't pan out there's a big risk that his contract would ruin everything good the Lions have done recently and for this franchise it's really hard to do things right on a consistent basis so there will be hesitation to rock the boat. Still, they have to consider it because if Jackson did pan out, the sky is the limit.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders need a quarterback. Why not Jackson? Josh McDaniels would surely love getting to work with the MVP's talents and Mark Davis would be ecstatic to have the NFL's premier highlight reel playing in his stadium. The only way to keep up in the AFC West is to boast an elite quarterback. Jackson would keep Vegas relevant while they build the defense back up. All good things.
The biggest obstacle is the fact that the Raiders made Davante Adams the highest-paid receiver in the league last offseason. Making Jackson the highest-paid QB in the league one offseason later would make things extremely difficult from a salary cap perspective, even acknowledging that all smart NFL teams can easily find ways to circumvent the hard ceiling to sign their guys. If the Raiders only care about butts in seats, then they'll make it happen anyway. Who cares if you can't afford to bolster the defense if Adams and Jackson are combining for 50 touchdowns?
The Falcons have over $50 million in cap space heading into 2023 and a glaring hole at quarterback. Marcus Mariota was never the long-term answer and Desmond Ridder did not show enough to suggest he is, either. Atlanta is set in the young pass-catching department with Kyle Pitts and Drake London. Crucial to this argument is that the team desperately, desperately needs an influx of talent defensively. Fixing up their QB spot in free agency while dedicating basically all their draft picks to defense would be the quickest way back to contention, and Jackson in Arthur Smith's offense could be very fun indeed.
There just may be some hesitancy on the part of Atlanta as far as throwing a lot of money around because they just got out of cap hell. All those big Matt Ryan and Julio Jones deals really took their toll and played a significant role in how bad the last few years have been for Atlanta. If Arthur Blank signs off on a massive Jackson contract then the Falcons should do it without blinking-- but that is far from a guarantee.