The Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs last night in a game that raised more questions than it answered about quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s ability to win in the playoffs. Although it appeared that Jackson had put that narrative to bed with his team’s victory over the Titans in last week’s wildcard round, the naysayers are back in full force following Baltimore’s loss to the Bills, which included a Jackson pick-six that turned what could have been a tied score or a 10-6 deficit into a 17-3 game.
Never mind that the game also featured a plethora of bad snaps from center Patrick Mekari, poor pass-blocking from the Ravens’ O-line, two missed field goals by the normally automatic Justin Tucker, and a dropped pass that set up the Bills’ first score. Never mind that offensive coordinator Greg Roman, whose passing game concepts and questionable play-calling undermine his strengths in the run game, seems to get outcoached against good teams. Never mind that Jackson’s best skill-position players are also playing on their rookie deals, and that Peyton Manning didn’t win his first playoff game until his sixth professional season.
Yes, Jackson still needs to improve as a passer. The pick-six was on him and was a devastating blow. But he won the league MVP last year, his age-22 season. He is a dynamic playmaker who has shown plenty of flashes of top-tier ability throwing the ball, even if he never becomes Manning in that regard. He posted nearly a 3:1 TD-to-INT ratio this year en route to a 99.3 quarterback rating, and he became the first QB in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in multiple seasons. He is also a high-character leader who has the full respect of his teammates, and there is reason to believe he will continue polishing his right arm.
The Ravens appear to agree, as they are expected to explore an extension for their young signal-caller this offseason, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link). That would seem to fall under the “no duh” category of NFL reports, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta has made it a point to be proactive with extensions for key players, and locking up Jackson in a year when the salary cap will decrease or remain the same could be to the Ravens’ advantage.
As Rapoport notes, Jackson represented himself when negotiating his rookie deal, and it remains to be seen if he will hire an agent before discussions about his second contract commence. One way or another, it would seem that Deshaun Watson‘s re-up with the Texans is the best comp. Watson’s extension was a four-year add-on worth $156MM (a $39MM AAV) and featured $73MM guaranteed at signing. Look for Jackson’s new deal to include similar figures.
Assuming player and team do not have an extension in place by the deadline to exercise fifth-year options in May, that will obviously be a no-brainer decision for the Ravens. Jackson’s fifth-year option, which would go into effect for the 2022 season, would be fully guaranteed — since he is a member of the 2018 draft class — and would be worth about $25MM (as Albert Breer of SI.com notes on Twitter). But that will almost certainly be more of a placeholder than anything else, as a new deal should be consummated prior to the 2022 campaign.
The Ravens will have plenty of other contractual issues to hash out in the coming months. Pass rushers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue are eligible for unrestricted free agency, and TE Mark Andrews and OT Orlando Brown may be seeking extensions of their own.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.