On March 7th, the Baltimore Ravens announced they would be placing the non-exclusive franchise tag on former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. With this designation, Jackson is allowed to negotiate a long-term deal with other teams around the league. However, the Ravens still hold the keys to his future with the organization able to match any offer Jackson receives. Even if the Ravens didn’t match the offer, they would receive two compensatory first-round picks from whichever organization Jackson agrees to a deal with.
One would think with a 26-year-old, superstar-caliber quarterback on the market, teams in need of a dynamic signal-caller would be throwing cash at Jackson left and right. Oddly enough, the exact opposite happened. As soon as the report of the non-exclusive tag broke, four teams immediately came out and said they would not be pursuing him. The quartet of teams included the Atlanta Falcons. Dianna Russini of ESPN was the first to report their disinterest stating, “The Atlanta Falcons will not be pursuing QB Lamar Jackson.”
Why would the Falcons come out and immediately display their disinterest in Jackson? A Falcons’ team that finished last season at the bottom of the NFC South with a 7-10 record and a young, inexperienced quarterback who the front office isn’t sold on as the long-term answer. Do the Falcons think losing two first-round picks isn’t worth a franchise-altering player like Jackson? Do the Falcons see a more cost-efficient option in the form of an NFL draft prospect or is the “fully guaranteed contract” label scaring them from negotiating?
Reasons why the Falcons Should Pursue Jackson:
- Jackson is 45-16 as a starter in the NFL, ranking second among current QBs who have started over 30 games in their career. The Ravens constructed a system around Jackson and it resulted in immediate success. He changed the tides of the organization when he took over, guiding them to three straight playoff appearances, and has remained a viable threat anytime he touches the field. Not to mention, Jackson’s career record against the NFC is 15-1.
- His ability to do more with less. Throughout his first five years in the league, Jackson has yet to play with a Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver. A weapon he can depend on to create space consistently on the outside hasn’t found its way to Jackson, unlike the other highly regarded quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet this hasn’t hindered his success. He led the league in passing touchdowns without a pro bowl caliber receiver in 2019.
His ability to run and create after the play breaks down poses a huge threat that defenses must account for when playing against him. Atlanta has young pieces on offense that can cater to Jackson’s game, allowing for a high-powered offensive attack if the QB were to come to town. Jackson’s arrival could also expedite the development of Kyle Pitts seeing the chemistry Jackson has with Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews in Baltimore.
- The uncertainty moving forward with Desmond Ridder or an NFL Draft prospect. Ridder started the final four games of the season with the Falcons going 2-2 in that span. During this four-game stretch, Ridder threw two touchdowns, both of which came in the week 18 victory against Tampa.
While these four games are a small sample size of the player Ridder may become, the production the Falcons would be getting from Jackson is night and day when comparing the two QBs. Part of the blame for Ridder’s low passing numbers could be attributed to the Falcons’ offensive scheme combined with a lack of confidence in the rookie but with Jackson given the reigns to the offense, the limitations are finite and the possibilities are limitless.
Perhaps, the biggest risk would be attempting to draft a QB in this year’s draft. The Falcons have the eighth pick, and seeing that most mock drafts have the first four QBs off the board before then, the Falcons would be boxed in, having to select whichever one is left. Is saving money and drafting a player deemed a “project” really worth avoiding the pursuit of a superstar on the open market? If the Falcons have any interest in ascending into playoff contention then it won’t be.
Why they Shouldn’t
- Jackson has suffered season-ending injuries in back-to-back years, and seeing how much of a threat Jackson poses with his ability to run, teams may be skeptical to give him a long-term deal. If Jackson’s injuries cost him his mobility, he won’t be the same dynamic threat he once was, but that is a huge ‘if.’ Both Jackson’s injuries came in the pocket, behind the line of scrimmage, where he landed awkwardly. These instances were more like anomalies than common occurrences. Nonetheless, missing out on five or more games two seasons in a row does render a question mark around his future availability.
- Pursuing Jackson could be a waste of time. The Ravens have leverage with the franchise tag. Even if the Falcons were able to reach a deal with Jackson, the Ravens would have five days to match the offer sheet, which would circumvent whatever deal both parties agreed on. This essentially would be doing the Ravens’ work for them and getting nothing in return. But with Jackson announcing he requested a trade on March 2nd, any bargaining power the Ravens had may be in serious jeopardy regarding the QB’s long-term future in Baltimore.
There’s always an excuse not to do something, but in this case, the Falcons and their fans desperately need a deal that will change the course of this franchise. This is a rarity; a former league MVP at the apex of his prime, testing the waters of free agency. This may be Atlanta’s best chance to find its way back to relevance. The bottom line is if the Falcons are serious about winning, then it’ll have to at least consider reaching out to the 26-year-old at some point this off-season.