MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Call it what you will – a big gamble, a huge gamble or a game of chicken – and it would all seem to apply, as the Baltimore Ravens stunned much of the #NFLTheTVShow world on Tuesday by applying the nonexclusive franchise tag to Lamar Jackson to keep their quarterback off the free-agent market, yet giving him the chance to pursue a contract with another team.

Baltimore will have five days to match any offer sheet Jackson signs, or they could let him walk and receive two first-round draft picks in exchange.

“Having not yet reached a long-term deal with Lamar Jackson, we will use the franchise tag,” Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement. “There have been many instances across the league and in Baltimore when a player has been designated with the franchise tag and signed a long-term deal that same year.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith with Lamar, and we are hopeful that we can strike a long-term deal that is fair to both Lamar and the Ravens. Our ultimate goal is to build a championship team with Lamar Jackson leading the way for many years to come.”

The Ravens could have used the exclusive franchise tag to keep Jackson off the market, which would have cost about $45 million, but instead used the nonexclusive tag, which will be for $32.4 million. It also allows the Ravens and Jackson time to agree to an extension before a July 17 deadline and seems to indicate DeCosta is confident he will be able to match any offer the quarterback receives from another team.

It doesn’t appear another team will offer Jackson the fully guaranteed deal he is said to be seeking, as the braindead Cleveland Browns got this ball rolling when it signed troubled quarterback Deshaun Watson to a fully-guaranteed $250 million deal.

On top of that, it wasn’t long after the Ravens announced they were applying the nonexclusive tag with Jackson that teams in desperate quarterback straits, the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Washington Commanders and Las Vegas Raiders all announced they will not pursue him.

And you wonder why the NFLPA says NFL owners practice collusion?

This is the ball the Browns got rolling, as there doesn’t seem to be another owner in the league, other than, perhaps, Miami Dolphins renegade owner Stephen M. Ross, who wants to hand out fully guaranteed money — to any player, much less a highly-paid quarterback.

For Jackson to leave, to go, to make the Ravens sweat, or any number of other things, much would have to happen, including the Ravens having to restructure existing contracts on the team, or release valuable veteran players from the team, if Jackson is to return to Baltimore.

This much is clear, the Ravens and Jackson are getting no closer to making progress on the quarterback’s fully-guaranteed contract demands. Thus, the Ravens appear to be allowing the rest of the league to show Jackson what his market is in hopes of finally coming back together to agree to a deal the Ravens seem to believe they will be able to match and exceed.

I do not blame the Ravens for not being willing to guarantee all of the money, particularly in light of the games Jackson has missed the past two seasons. Of course, a very sound argument can be made that perhaps Jackson would not have missed that time if the Ravens had not done such a poor job of securing better players to help their quarterback and to keep him healthier.

After all, both seasons, Jackson’s season-ending injuries came on passing plays, not running plays, because he had to try to buy more time since very few of his receivers have been able to get open, due in both parts to their lack of ability and the absolutely horrible passing schemes the Ravens have employed in their offense for the past four seasons.

Say what you will about Jackson, and it seems that any time a Baltimore quarterback comes closer to making big money, everybody has something to say, but he is a singular talent and one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL, which the numbers tell us when Jackson is on the field.

Two first-round draft picks for a player the magnitude of Lamar Jackson is nowhere near fair value.

I laugh when fans say the Ravens should just let him go and bring somebody else in to do what he does, then rely on the running game to get them to the playoffs. Have they not been paying attention the past two years? There is nobody who does what Jackson does, and he is the one who makes the Ravens’ running game so strong, as evidenced the past two seasons with Tyler Huntley under center.

“You can’t let a guy like him go,” said veteran defensive end and team leader Calais Campbell, who will likely be one of the players to go should Jackson stay. “I know it’s football and there’s always some new exciting toy, a new exciting kid that has potential to go out there and be great, but this is a for-sure, a known. You know Lamar Jackson is an incredible player. I think it’s in the best interest of the Ravens organization to give him a long-term contract and make him our guy.”

Yes, the Ravens are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. I only hope they understand just how damned they will be if they don’t.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT