Lamar Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens and a clumsy 12 months in limbo

OWINGS MILLS, Md. The Baltimore Ravens entered wild-card week in opposition to the Cincinnati Bengals with cautious optimism. Quarterback Lamar Jackson had injured his left knee in Week 13, however gamers and coaches figured he’d be again for the playoffs, in line with a number of workforce sources.

Four to 6 weeks appeared like a worst-case situation for restoration, and for a workforce that closed the common season dropping three of 4, together with Week 18 vs. the Bengals, assist was wanted.

But indicators of a return weren’t evident. Some within the constructing have been involved when Jackson did not apply in any respect throughout Week 18. Over latest weeks, Jackson had attended quarterback conferences however wasn’t a fixture in workforce settings as he rehabbed in relative isolation, in line with workforce sources. The solely recreation he traveled to was at Pittsburgh the week after he injured the knee in opposition to Denver. Jackson wasn’t on the sphere for workforce work through the week.

Players took the sphere for his or her first apply of the postseason on Wednesday, Jan. 11, to seek out Jackson nonetheless absent. He was gone that week, due to sickness. Once-hopeful workforce members began to marvel what was happening. Players who spoke with Jackson bought indications he would not have the ability to go.

Then, hours after Thursday’s apply session, at 5:41 p.m. ET, Jackson dropped a now-famous tweet, describing his damage as a Grade 2 PCL sprain with irritation surrounding the knee and asserting he wouldn’t be taking part in.

Players had wrapped post-practice conferences by that time; many have been headed house. Coaches have been of their places of work or in conferences.

“Whoo, boy — I was shocked by that,” a workforce supply stated.

Coach John Harbaugh stated he wasn’t conscious Jackson was going to tweet about his damage and hadn’t “paid much attention to it.”

One workforce supply was underneath the impression Jackson might have performed with out risking additional injury to the knee, however as soon as it turned clear that Jackson did not really feel proper, “how do you dispute that?” the supply stated. “You have to respect the player’s outlook on his own injury.”

The Ravens misplaced 24-17 to the Bengals in a recreation that turned on backup quarterback Tyler Huntley’s fourth-quarter fumble on the aim line. Jackson didn’t journey with the workforce to Cincinnati, however he was again within the locker room the day after the sport for the ultimate workforce assembly.

Jackson was his typical pleasant self, dapping up teammates, even having amusing with extensive receiver Sammy Watkins over his pregame feedback urging Jackson to play. “Damn, Sam,” Jackson advised Watkins with a smile.

While all Ravens personnel interviewed by ESPN thought-about Jackson’s damage authentic, just a few questioned whether or not a brand new contract granted 5 months earlier might need made taking the sphere within the playoffs a little bit simpler for Jackson.

“Lamar can speak to that, but my feeling is no,” Ravens GM Eric DeCosta stated after the season. “I think Lamar was hurt. We see him every single day — he’s hurt.

“And his distinctive model as a participant, as a quarterback, however as a cellular quarterback … having a knee damage — a severe knee damage — makes it troublesome. And so, it is simply unlucky that he bought harm [and] the timing of it. I do know he was making an attempt to come back again. … It was simply dangerous timing, and I feel dangerous luck for us and dangerous luck for Lamar.”

If this past season was supposed to provide clarity about Jackson’s future in Baltimore, it achieved the opposite. The question of whether the two sides will agree on an extension is as unclear as ever. But a couple of things are clear: The Ravens will have to place the franchise tag on Jackson by March 7 to keep him from becoming a free agent; and there will be no long-term deal unless the Ravens or Jackson — who is not represented by an agent — back off their stance regarding guaranteed money.

Jackson — who has vowed not to speak publicly about his contract since the start of the 2022 regular season — wants a fully guaranteed deal in line with the five-year, $230 million contract the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson in March. The Ravens, meanwhile, are balking at guaranteeing the full amount, according to team sources. Jackson turned down a five-year, $250 million contract in September that included $133 million guaranteed — far less than Watson’s deal, but more than the guaranteed figures awarded to Russell Wilson ($124 million) and Kyler Murray ($103.3 million) last offseason.

According to a source with knowledge of Jackson’s contract negotiations, all of his counteroffers to the Ravens last year were for fully guaranteed contracts that exceeded that of Watson, who signed his deal with the Browns after being traded from the Houston Texans and before serving an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the league, on massage therapists.



Stephen A., Keyshawn clash over Lamar’s next contract

Stephen A. Smith and Keyshawn Johnson break down how they would structure a deal for Lamar Jackson.

“Just as a result of the Browns have been determined doesn’t suggest that the Ravens are,” one high-ranking NFL executive said. “They are a secure franchise. They aren’t about to leap at one thing simply because Cleveland did it.”

If there is no compromise, the possibility of the Ravens trading Jackson, who in 2019 joined Tom Brady as the only unanimous MVPs in NFL history, has never been more likely. That’s assuming another team would be willing to make the necessary commitment, which likely would mean multiple first-round picks to the Ravens and a fully guaranteed deal for Jackson.

Which tag the Ravens choose could be telling. On a non-exclusive franchise tag, prospective teams can submit an offer sheet if willing to relinquish two first-round picks to acquire him in a deal with Baltimore. The exclusive tag, set at $45 million, lets the Ravens control the trade terms. If Baltimore wants more than two first-rounders for him, the exclusive tag is the way to go.

“A few months in the past, I’d have stated no method [that a trade will happen],” said a team source in the days after the playoff loss. “Now it looks like something is feasible.”

EARLY ON, IT looked like Jackson made the right choice by betting on himself and not signing a deal before the 2022 season. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in September after he became the first player in NFL history with at least three touchdown passes and 100 yards rushing in consecutive games.

Then Jackson hit the biggest rut of his career. Over his next nine games, he threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions.

Not surprisingly, Jackson no longer appeared to be the playful figure who famously danced with teammates on the sideline, handed out water to players during his first Pro Bowl and somersaulted into the end zone to finish off a touchdown run.

Even when things were going well, Jackson seemed to be more on edge. He got in the face of teammate Ronnie Stanley in a Week 9 win in New Orleans, after the left tackle told him to relax following a penalty. In the same game, Jackson threw his helmet down on the sideline multiple times after missing open receivers and throwing interceptions. Two weeks later, he angrily punted the ball after a delay of game penalty in the red zone against Carolina in a game that extended a four-game win streak.

Asked midseason about whether Jackson had become increasingly frustrated, Harbaugh said there is no measure for “more and more.”

“That’s the time period somebody can throw on the market to create a story, I assume,” Harbaugh said in November. “Lamar hates to lose. We all hate to lose, and we hate to not execute, and all of us hate to not rating touchdowns within the pink zone. So, if that is frustration, certain. I do not thoughts that form of frustration; I need us to be annoyed with that.”

Despite Jackson’s insistence he would not talk about his contract situation after Week 1, he found himself in the middle of that hot topic throughout the season.

In a Week 8 game at Tampa Bay, Jackson threw two touchdown passes in the second half of a 27-22 victory. As he jogged into the tunnel to leave the field, a fan’s sign broke off its string and landed by Jackson’s feet. It read: “Pay ‘Em Now.”

Jackson autographed it and gave it back to the fan.

“That was humorous,” Jackson said afterward. “I noticed that land proper by me and simply needed to decide it up.”

Four weeks later, Jackson was not in a joking mood after a 28-27 loss at Jacksonville in Week 12. In a tense postgame media session, he was frustrated about the ongoing troubles in the red zone and uncharacteristically cursed when reminded that EverBank Field was where he lost his final college game. “I misplaced once more, so f— this,” he said.

Jackson’s temper flared even more when he went on social media after the game and saw a tweet from a Ravens fan that read: “somebody asking for over $250 million assured like [Jackson] … video games like this could not come right down to [kicker] Justin Tucker.” The fan added, “Let Lamar stroll and spend that cash on a well-rounded workforce.”

Jackson snapped back shortly afterward with a profane reply, saying, among other things, that the fan “by no means smelt a soccer discipline.” Jackson’s tweet was deleted after 3½ hours, and he apologized later that week. That was the last time Jackson spoke to reporters.

Harbaugh said it was “out of character” for Jackson to respond this way, adding, “I’ve by no means heard him say issues like that earlier than.”

A week later, in a 10-9 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 13, Jackson hurt his left knee on the final play of the first quarter and limped to the locker room. He would not play again.

AS SOME OF the best players in the NFL gathered at the Pro Bowl Games in Las Vegas earlier this month, Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey gauged the interest of impending free agents in joining the Ravens.

“Every time I attempt I’m met with ‘Are y’all gonna pay Lamar,'” Humphrey tweeted.

At the Ravens’ season-ending news conference in January, DeCosta declined to give a percentage on the odds of getting a deal done with Jackson this year, adding, “It definitely takes two to tango.”

The two sides need to bridge their philosophical gap on guaranteed money to agree on a deal, and team officials have said it has been difficult to get Jackson to engage at times during their two years of negotiations since Jackson became eligible for an extension. Several veteran NFL agents say that Jackson has shown little to no interest in taking agent meetings, even as dozens have tried. It’s unknown whether there have been any substantial contract talks in the five weeks since the season ended.

Jackson’s teammate and friend Calais Campbell, who is a 15-year veteran and an NFL Players Association executive committee vice president, is among those who downplays the scrutiny placed on Jackson representing himself.

“It’s not like he is simply figuring that [contract stuff] out,” Campbell told ESPN during the season. “He’s spent effort and time to place himself in the very best place. … Most individuals do not do it in that method. It’s form of admirable.”

Jackson is broadly thought-about the very best dual-threat quarterback in NFL historical past, beating defenders together with his elusive strikes and velocity in addition to an underrated arm. He turned the primary participant within the league to supply 5,000 yards passing and a pair of,500 yards speeding within the first three seasons of a profession.

His affect on profitable can also be simple. Since 2019, the Ravens are 40-17 with Jackson, averaging 27.5 factors per recreation. Over that very same span, Baltimore is 4-9 with out him, totaling 17.2 factors per recreation.

The 13 missed video games communicate to issues about Jackson’s sturdiness, particularly after he failed to complete a second straight season. He has been sidelined for 10 of Baltimore’s previous 22 video games, together with the postseason.

Despite his latest accidents, Jackson’s incomparable expertise would make him the marquee quarterback this offseason ought to Baltimore make him obtainable, in line with a number of league execs.

“He goes to the front of the line,” an AFC government stated. “There’s nobody like him. Maybe there’s been some discord there between the player and the team, but overall he’s still a great player and he’s not a bad guy. The durability is a mild concern.”

But a number of rival workforce officers reached by ESPN stated the considered relinquishing at the very least two first-round picks — the baseline asking worth, based mostly on the non-exclusive tag — for the suitable to pay Jackson between $230 million and $250 million in assured cash might give groups pause.

“Teams always need quarterbacks, so there will be interest as a result, especially if the GM and the head coach need to win now,” an NFC government stated. “But when you factor in future collateral you have to give up, meeting his contract demands, plus the durability issues, that would be a hard sell. There’s a lot to sort through there.”

This offseason might additionally strengthen the Ravens’ place on not providing a completely assured contract. If quarterbacks such because the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow, Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert and Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts do not get totally assured extensions that exceed the $124 million assured determine given to Wilson, it might underscore how Watson’s deal was extra of an outlier than precedent. Watson’s potential to instantly negotiate with potential commerce companions and successfully select his vacation spot additionally made his scenario distinctive.

And it in all probability does not assist Jackson’s leverage that Watson, Wilson and Murray all struggled and posted the bottom QBRs of their careers after signing these offers. Denver and Cleveland gave up a mixed 5 first-round picks for Wilson and Watson and gained a mixed 12 video games final 12 months. Teams that imagine you may win with common quarterback play will cite these examples as a motive to not go all-in on Jackson.

For now, Jackson’s leverage is in doing nothing. If given the unique franchise tag, he can wait to signal — or not report back to the workforce in any respect, which is what former Pittsburgh Steelers operating again Le’Veon Bell did when he sat out the 2018 season.

“It could become a standoff, because I wouldn’t expect him to sign the tag for a while,” an AFC exec stated. “And [the Ravens] will be so far apart in the guaranteed money.”

IF JACKSON’S CONTRACT was the overarching storyline for the Ravens through the 2022 season, the way forward for offensive coordinator Greg Roman more and more turned some extent of competition amongst followers. Roman resigned Jan. 19, and the timing was noteworthy: Just as Jackson’s future with the franchise appeared unsure, the Ravens sought a brand new coordinator.

The Ravens spoke with Jackson after they parted methods with Roman, getting his ideas on personnel and his imaginative and prescient for the offense, a workforce supply stated. Baltimore then gave alternatives for Jackson to be concerned within the offensive coordinator search. But he didn’t have direct interplay with any of the candidates.

After interviewing 14 coaches, the Ravens employed Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who was arguably the most popular candidate obtainable, on Feb. 14. Multiple NFL groups courted Monken, however he prioritized Baltimore, with its stability underneath Harbaugh and DeCosta and the prospect to educate an elite quarterback. The Baltimore OC job was thought-about the prime place amongst these obtainable.

The group enormously respects Roman, whose Ravens have been among the many league’s greatest speeding offenses from 2019 to 2022. But a passing recreation closely reliant on tight ends and operating backs ranked twenty seventh or worse in NFL passing yards in three of Roman’s 4 seasons because the playcaller there. A workforce supply stated Jackson was not dissatisfied with the larger freedom and empowerment within the passing assault he skilled in a 42-38 loss to Miami (21-of-29 passing, 318 yards, three touchdowns) in Week 2, and a brand new coordinator would possibly have the ability to give him that. Another workforce supply added that since Jackson believes he can do something with a soccer, it may be laborious to gauge precisely what he needs, and suppressing his operating potential could be silly.

But clear themes emerged from Baltimore’s coordinator search, in line with sources concerned: The workforce needs to develop Jackson as a passer, and Harbaugh felt offensive adjustments have been essential to attempt to get again to the Super Bowl.

Monken is not afraid to throw the ball. As offensive coordinator of the 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa tried the fourth-most passes within the NFL (625). But that workforce additionally threw probably the most interceptions (26). In reality, in Monken’s three years in Tampa (2016-18), the Bucs had the second-most turnovers within the league (89). That sample continued when he joined the Cleveland Browns in 2019 as Baker Mayfield threw 21 interceptions, second most within the NFL. Distorting that image is the truth that, although he known as performs for considered one of faculty soccer’s premier offenses at Georgia, Monken didn’t name performs for many of his NFL coordinator stints.



Should the Ravens put the franchise tag on Lamar Jackson?

Mike Tannenbaum and Domonique Foxworth talk about the opportunity of the Ravens placing the franchise tag on Lamar Jackson and whether or not he would even conform to it.

The matter of Jackson was a central piece of the coordinator interview course of. The Ravens probed candidates on how they might enhance Jackson and construct rapport with him, stated a supply with data of the method.

The coaches outlined plans for Jackson, from footwork to throwing on the run extra to offensive ideas for him to check.

One candidate stated he got here away with the sense Baltimore was planning for Jackson to be again. Another candidate introduced offensive plans with or with out Jackson, simply in case.

At a important juncture for Harbaugh, the Sixteenth-year Ravens coach should chart a path with Jackson or hope for fulfillment following the instance of the Seattle Seahawks, who constructed their roster round a brand new quarterback. After Wilson was traded following 10 seasons in Seattle, his alternative, Geno Smith, turned the shock story of the NFL, profitable Comeback Player of the Year after guiding the Seahawks to the playoffs. Such a route, in fact, would include appreciable threat for the Ravens.

If the Ravens parted methods with Jackson, the workforce would purchase sufficient draft capital to pick a high quarterback prospect both on this 12 months’s draft or subsequent. Baltimore can add a veteran stopgap such because the free agent Mayfield, who has ties with the brand new Ravens offensive coordinator. In 2019, Mayfield threw for a career-best 3,827 yards passing in his solely season with Monken as his coordinator.

A fallback, short-term choice is Huntley, Jackson’s major backup for the previous two seasons who’s a restricted free agent. But the Baltimore offense struggled mightily final season underneath Huntley, totaling 4 touchdowns in his 5 begins. Huntley’s fumble on the aim line was additionally the decisive play within the postseason loss in Cincinnati.



Ninkovich urges Ravens to ‘do the suitable factor’ and signal Lamar

Rob Ninkovich and Domonique Foxworth agree that the Baltimore Ravens ought to cease ready and signal Lamar Jackson to a brand new contract.

Harbaugh’s gamers have made their desire clear. During the NFL Network’s Super Bowl pregame present, Campbell stated Baltimore mustn’t take into account buying and selling Jackson, calling him “a legend” and the last word X issue.

“When we’re on the football field and we know Lamar Jackson is back there quarterbacking, we believe we can beat anybody,” Campbell stated. “We can’t just put anybody back there and expect to be a great football team.”

Campbell added, “In business, you’re going to have times when you have to entertain ideas, and somebody might come and say, ‘Hey, we’ll give you five first-round picks or whatever.’ But who do you replace him with?

“There’s no assure that considered one of these rookie quarterbacks will are available and be a Lamar Jackson. You go to get a free agent and you do not know how they’re actually going to suit. And actually, there is no free brokers on the market which might be Lamar Jackson. So no matter we have to do. Hey, Eric DeCosta, I like you. Let’s discover a method to make this occur, child.”

DeCosta has shown that he isn’t afraid to move big-name players. He traded Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and first-round pick Marquise Brown in the past two offseasons, receiving first-round picks in return.

Parting ways with Jackson would be on a different level, however. There have only been nine trades involving NFL MVP quarterbacks — from Roman Gabriel in 1969 to Matt Ryan last year — since the award was first given out 66 years ago. No MVP quarterback has ever been traded before the age of 30. Jackson is 26.

DeCosta did not shoot down the possibility when asked if the team would entertain trade offers.

“That’s one thing that we’re not going to speak about at this level,” DeCosta said in January. “Our focus proper now’s actually to get a long-term deal completed; that is our singular focus at this level.

“It’s going to take some time, it’s going to take some effort, it’s going to take great communication — give and take — but I’m confident that we’ll be on the right path to get that done.”

The subsequent step on that path is predicted to be the franchise tag — the window to tag gamers opened Tuesday and closes March 7. What occurs from there’ll body one of the vital compelling storylines of the offseason.

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