What would it cost Patriots to acquire Lamar Jackson from Ravens?
What would it cost Patriots to acquire Lamar Jackson from Ravens? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
It's fun to talk about the New England Patriots potentially adding Lamar Jackson. He's a former NFL MVP and one of the league's most exciting players who in theory would vault the Patriots back into contention.
But is Lamar Jackson-to-New England actually feasible? How could the Patriots, who currently have about $ 13.8 million in cap space and need to devote at least $ 5 million of that space to signing their 2023 draft class, acquire a player who said he recently turned down a contract worth $ 44.3 million per year, fully guaranteed?
The good news (if you're a Jackson fan) is that there's a way to make the financials work. First, let's reset Jackson's current situation in Baltimore.
Kraft reveals text that suggests Lamar Jackson wants to join Pats
The Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson earlier this month, allowing any team to sign Jackson to an offer sheet. If the Ravens match that offer sheet within five days, Jackson returns to Baltimore on a one-year, $ 32.4 million deal. If the Ravens don't match, the signing team has to send its 2023 and 2024 first-round picks to Baltimore as compensation.
Jackson said he requested a trade on March 2, however, opening up a few more options: The Ravens can give Jackson his $ 32.4 million deal then immediately trade him for a return other than two first-rounders. The acquiring team then can restructure Jackson's deal by signing him to an extension, as the Cleveland Browns did with Deshaun Watson in 2022 when they inked him to a five-year, $ 230 million deal that was fully guaranteed.
According to multiple reports, the belief is that Jackson seeks a deal similar to Watson's. And here's where the Patriots come in.
While Watson's average annual contract value is $ 46 million, his cap hit was just $ 9.4 million in 2022 with a base salary of just $ 400,000. His cap hit jumps to $ 19.1 million in 2023, then is backloaded to average $ 64 million from 2024 to 2026. This is common practice in the NFL -- especially in New England, where the Patriots repeatedly restructured Tom Brady's contract to keep his base salary low while backloading his cap hit.
The Patriots are projected to have nearly $ 130 million in cap space in 2024 (second-most in the NFL), so as long as they can lower Jackson's cap hit to fit their 2023 budget, they can afford to pay him much more in 2024 and beyond. If New England sends current quarterback Mac Jones back to Baltimore in a potential trade for Jackson, that would free up about $ 4.25 million in cap space, which should be enough to bring Jackson in without releasing other impact talent.
The question becomes whether the Patriots would give up either two first-round picks or their 2023 first-rounder (No. 14 overall), 2023 second-rounder (No. 46 overall) and Jones -- as ESPN's Bill Barnwell suggested this week -- to acquire Jackson, an immensely talented player who nonetheless has missed 10 regular-season games and one playoff game over the past two seasons.
But that's a matter of if Bill Belichick wants to bring in Jackson, because from a financial perspective, it appears his team can.