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What's next for Lamar Jackson?

Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson's future is up in the air. Will he get tagged by the Ravens, agree to a new contract, or get traded to a new team?

The question of what sort of tag it is and how the former NFL MVP - who is +1600 to win the award again in 2023 - reacts to the move will determine the path of a player who is at a career crossroads whatever happens this offseason.

The exclusive tag comes with a higher price - a projected $45million compared to $32.5m for the non-exclusive version - but it would mean Jackson would not be able to listen to offers from rival teams.

The less expensive tag would mean he could negotiate a deal with another team who the Ravens would then have the option to either match, or lose him for the standard compensation of two first-round draft picks.

Jackson can be a 'Raven for life'

Last summer, against the backdrop of entrenched long-term negotiations, Jackson answered a reporter's question over whether he expects to spend his entire pro career in Baltimore.

"I expect so," he told the assembled media, but no breakthrough was made and he went into the season facing an uncertain future.

Team-mate Mark Andrews, who has been one of Jackson's most reliable targets during his five years in Baltimore, recently stated his belief that the 26-year-old will be a 'Raven for life' and even volunteered to deliver his paycheck when the dust settles.

But the organization has yet to show its hand. The Ravens would need to place the franchise tag on Jackson if a long-term deal - which both the player and team said this past offseason was still the goal - isn't finalized.

Some fans would see tagging their superstar QB as kicking the can down the road and delaying the inevitable divorce for perhaps just 12 months.  

That's because if Jackson does play on the tag next season, the cost of repeating the process next year - and the year after - becomes increasingly prohibitive in terms of the cost to the Ravens, who are +1400 to win the AFC Championship title.

The NFL collective bargaining agreement-mandated 20% increase over Jackson's projected 2023 exclusive number would see the price of a 2024 tag rise to over $54m and over $78m in 2025.

No GM in their right mind would even swallow the first of those numbers, as it would mean committing $100m to a player for the next two seasons who could then walk out of the building to pastures new.

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Jackson could sit out the 2023 season

Depending on how undervalued or irritated he feels about Baltimore's decision, Jackson could take the decision to sit out the 2023 season and prepare for a big free agent payday in 2024.

That approach would be an expression of his displeasure at not having found the long-term security he needed in Baltimore, while also protecting himself against any risk of injury.

Jackson has been no stranger to injuries during his five seasons as the Ravens' starting QB with his absences becoming increasingly regular these past two years, which could be a big factor in the team's reticence to open the wallet.

He missed only two games combined in his first three seasons in the league, but did not start seven of Baltimore's 17 games in 2021 because of back and ankle injuries, while he missed another seven games last year - mainly due to a knee problem.

However, if he was to follow in the footsteps of some other notable NFL players and sit out a year rather than play on the exclusive rights franchise tag, he would forfeit a lot of money.

As CBS Sports' Joel Corry, a former sports agent, pointed out: "Jackson has made just under $32.5 million in five NFL seasons. The exclusive franchise tag would be about 40% more than Jackson's football career earnings."

It is also worth considering how the careers of former NFL holdout stars like Le'Veon Bell worked out after they had missed an entire season.

Bell was never able to replicate the production of his Pittsburgh Steelers years at the New York Jets, although he did get more financial security from guaranteed money in the Jets contract.

Lamar looking for a new home

Another scenario that could play out this spring is the one that occurred in Green Bay last year when Davante Adams refused to play under the Packers' franchise tag.

The tag-and-trade option would be entirely dependent on how Jackson reacts to the situation - and then how much the trade partners out there would be willing to part with.

The market for Pro Bowl-caliber QBs will always be there - as we saw when the Denver Broncos gave up two first-round picks and two second-rounders for then-33-year-old Russell Wilson.

Jackson's market value should be more like that of Deshaun Watson, who was also 26 when the Houston Texans received first-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024; a third-round pick in 2022; and a fourth-round pick in 2024 in exchange for their QB and a sixth-round pick from the Cleveland Browns.

That blockbuster deal done last spring may well have impacted Jackson's thinking over his own worth, as Watson signed a five-year, $230m fully-guaranteed contract in Cleveland, with the Browns +2000 to win the AFC Championship.

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