Lamar Jackson

AFC Notes: L. Jackson, Green, Fowler

Before the draft, new Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson refuted reports that multiple teams wanted to him to work out as a wide receiver. Perhaps that was simply because Jackson, who represents himself, wanted to downplay the notion that his quarterback skills will not translate to the professional level, because now that he is officially a first-round pick and is on a team that is committed to his future as a QB, Jackson’s story is a little different.

Jackson said in a recent interview with the Ravens’ official website (video link) that the Chargers were the first team to approach him about running routes during the combine. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner was taken aback by the request, which triggered his decision to not run the 40-yard dash and to rely on his game film instead.

Of course, Jackson may be deployed as a wide receiver on occasion this year. Joe Flacco remains the Ravens’ starter, but Baltimore wants to take advantage of Jackson’s elite athleticism, so the team is designing packages that will put both players on the field at the same time.

Now let’s take a look at several more AFC items:

  • Bengals WR A.J. Green is entering the fourth year of the five-year pact he signed in September 2015, which made him the highest-paid receiver in the league at the time. In terms of average annual value, Green is now the sixth-highest paid wideout in the game, and if Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. get their way, he will be the eighth-highest paid by the time the regular season rolls around. But as Paul Dehner Jr. and Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer write, it does not sound as if Green will be asking for more money until the expiration of his current deal at the end of the 2019 season. Green supports his colleagues’ efforts to rework their existing contracts, but as for himself, he said, “I don’t really get caught up in what’s the money like because I signed my deal and it was the highest paid at that point. It’s going to always go up. So you can’t keep up with that. At the end of the day [owner Mike Brown] took care of me. I’m still under contract for the next two years and we’ll go from there.” 
  • Yesterday, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com suggested that the Jets could flip Teddy Bridgewater to a QB-needy team for a pass rusher, and he named the Jaguars‘ Dante Fowler as one potential target. However, Florida Football Insiders does not buy the fact that Fowler will be on the move this offseason. 2018 is a critical year for Fowler, who is set for unrestricted free agency in 2019 since the Jags declined his fifth-year option last month. But Jacksonville believes he is an ascending player, and he did put up eight sacks last season, so the club is hoping for continued strong production from him in his platform campaign.
  • We rounded up a series of Patriots-related notes earlier today, and we asked you yesterday what team you think poses the biggest threat to the Pats’ hopes of repeating as AFC champs in 2018. Thus far, PFR readers believe the Steelers have the best chance.

Ravens Sign Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson is officially in the flock. On Tuesday, the Ravens announced that Jackson has signed his rookie contract. 

Heading into the draft, no one was quite sure where the quarterback would land. Some projected that he would wind up as a first round selection while others said he could slide all the way to the third round. With the final pick in the draft, the Ravens made Jackson a first rounder by trading their 52nd and 125th picks and a 2019 second-round selection to the Eagles for the No. 32 and No. 132 selections.

In Baltimore, the athletic QB will back up Joe Flacco. In time, the Ravens hope that he can blossom into their next starting signal caller. Already, the Louisville product has impressed teammates in practice.

He’s been great. Obviously you know why we took him,” safety Eric Weddle told NFL Network recently. “He’s as talented of a player that I’ve seen coming into my 12th year. He’s got a live arm, he can sling it. Obviously, his ability to run and shake guys — you see it in team drills where things break down, he gets out on the perimeter and guys aren’t even close to him.”

Per the terms of his draft slot, Jackson will earn $9.471MM over the course of his four-year deal. And, because he was a first-round choice, the Ravens can control him through 2022 via the fifth-year option.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Dolphins, RG3, Ravens, Browns

The Dolphins made a number of moves this offseason, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that the team was focused on improving the locker-room culture. The front office deliberately pursued team-first players who would “buy in, be diligent about studying and preparation, and do things the way the staff wanted.”

While the organization may have been focused on shifting the culture, quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t believe there was a culture issue in the first place.

“I don’t think we had a bad culture,” he said. “I think the guys that we brought in have already bought in and now we’re fully aligned and we can just drive forward. I think that’s a big factor in the performance of teams is everyone being on the same page.”

On the flip side, Jackson writes that safety Reshad Jones did admit that he’s already seen improvements to the team’s mindset.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the AFC…

  • Jackson notes that Dolphins undrafted rookie cornerback Jalen Davis received a $20K signing bonus on top of his $25K in guaranteed money. The writer wonders if the defensive back could end up sticking around, especially since he earned the most money among the team’s undrafted free agents. Linebacker Mike McCray received $12K in guaranteed money and and a $1oK signing bonus.
  • The Ravens added quarterback Robert Griffin III earlier this offseason, and they subsequently drafted signal-caller Lamar Jackson. While the rookie will surely provide the 28-year-old with some competition for backup reps, Griffin told Mike Jones of USA Today that the draft selection wasn’t a slight at himself or Joe Flacco. “When they drafted Lamar, I didn’t look at it as a shot at me or a shot at Joe,” Griffin said. “It was ‘OK, Lamar is coming in here, and it’s our job to help him learn the offense and help him compete.’ So, for me, my job is to show them that I’m an asset to the team and not a detriment. … One (reporter) asked me if I was trying to showcase for other teams. No, my focus is, ‘I’m a Baltimore Raven. I’m showcasing to them that this is where I’m supposed to be.’ ”
  • The Browns made several personnel changes today. ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi writes that personnel executives Chisom Opara and Bobby Vega (as well as area scout Patrick Moore) have left the organization. Grossi also notes that general manager John Dorsey could end up pursuing former NFL linebacker and current radio host Matt Wilhelm for a front-office gig.
  • We heard earlier today that the Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski were zeroing in on a new contract.

Poll: Which Rookie QB WIll Log The Most Playing Time In 2018?

Six quarterbacks were taken in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft, including the Browns taking Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick.

Though teams spent high-value picks on quarterbacks in 2018, not every quarterback will be in a position to take over a starting role in 2018, though each seemingly has a decent possibility at finding the field in their rookie year. Along with the Browns selecting Mayfield, the Jets selected Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick, the Bills took Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick, the Cardinals took Josh Rosen with the No. 10 overall pick and the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson with the No. 32 overall pick. The Steelers also selected Mason Rudolph in the third round of the draft.

Each quarterback has a roadblock to finding playing time in 2018. The Browns acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor via trade, the Jets re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinals signed Sam Bradford and the Bills traded for A.J. McCarron. The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger entrenched in the starting role, though he’s missed eight games over the last three seasons.

So, which quarterback do you think will receive the most playing time in 2018? Will injuries to Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Flacco force Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph into action? Or can Mayfield, Darnold, Rosen or Allen win battles in crowded quarterback rooms?

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Draft Notes: 2019 QBs, Browns, Jackson

A possible dearth of quarterback talent in the 2019 draft class may have contributed the first-round aggressiveness of teams in recent years. The Bears, Chiefs, Texans, Jets, Bills and Cardinals traded up to land their hopeful quarterbacks of the future the past two drafts, and Albert Breer of SI.com notes some of the impetus behind these moves may be coming from issues teams have with the crop of passers likely set to populate 2019 big boards.

Not right now, there isn’t one (that would go in the first round as it stands),” an AFC college scouting director told Breer. “The kids at Auburn (Jarrett Stidham), Missouri (Drew Lock) and N.C. State (Ryan Finley), by the end of it, could work their way into the conversation. But on the surface, based on current performance, it’d be a no. Now, if they ascend, which they should, those three guys have a chance to get there.”

Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.com (Insider link) has both Lock (No. 16) and Oregon’s Justin Herbert (No. 18) in his early top 25 for 2019. Issues with Lock’s completion percentage (57.8 percent is the senior-to-be’s career high) and Herbert’s toughness, per Breer, are early concerns for respective first-round hopefuls. While events of recent years show it’s a good bet a quarterback will be taken in the 2019 first round, Breer compares this crop — at this early juncture — to the 2013 group that saw only E.J. Manuel chosen in Round 1 instead of other recent classes that saw the likes of Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston emerge as obvious down-the-line high draft choices in advance of their final college campaigns.

Here’s more on this year’s draft, courtesy of Breer:

  • Breer reports the Browns “loved both” of the Denzel Ward/Bradley Chubb duo, but the team felt the Ohio State cornerback possessed upside potential the N.C. State defensive end didn’t. Ward started just for one season but sat behind Buckeyes cornerbacks that are now in the NFL. Cleveland brass also didn’t view Chubb as a Myles Garrett– or Jadeveon Clowney-like athletic specimen. Plus, Gregg Williams said the team’s need at corner was greater than the one opposite Garrett. Also noting Ward, who went to Nordonia High School in the Cleveland area, pitched his local ties and desire to help a Browns resurgence, Breer writes the Browns did their homework on this difficult decision and did not make an impulse call on draft night.
  • If the Eagles did not trade their first-round pick to the Ravens, they were going to consider eventual Broncos wideout Courtland Sutton at No. 32, per Breer. Sutton visited the Eagles in early April. Philly has Alshon Jeffery, a player to whom Sutton’s been compared, signed long-term and has Nelson Agholor controlled through 2019. However, the defending Super Bowl champions still signed Mike Wallace and Markus Wheaton, the latter a post-draft addition.
  • Ravens brass needed to hear from John Harbaugh the coaching staff was confident the team could win with Lamar Jackson before trading up to take him, and Breer reports Harbaugh, OC Marty Morhinweg, senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and QBs coach James Urban all developed a plan for the rookie before Ozzie Newsome made the trade with the Eagles. Both Mornhinweg and Urban were in their same positions under Andy Reid on the 2010 Eagles, when Michael Vick resurfaced as a top-flight weapon after previously working intermittently in certain packages. Roman’s work adjusting the 2012 49ers’ offense for Colin Kaepernick also played a role here, Breer writes. The Ravens look to be preparing Jackson sets already.
  • The first four rookies to sign their deals all had offset language built into the contracts, Breer tweets. Da’Ron Payne, Josh Rosen, Marcus Davenport and Quenton Nelson saw their teams include offsets in their deals. Offset language provided one of the sticky points in Joey Bosa‘s 2016 holdout, and the Chargers won out. So far, teams are doing the same with their 2018 top picks.

AFC North Notes: Jackson, Browns, Steelers

It didn’t take the Ravens long to start implementing some unique Lamar Jackson-centric packages. But instead of lining the first-round pick up at quarterback in a wildcat-type look during their rookie minicamp, Mike Jones of USA Today notes that Jackson was playing different positions around the formation in a 1995 Kordell Stewart fashion. It’s clear the Ravens, who do not plan to move him to another position long-term, have designs on getting their unique weapon onto the field early.

We do it in the laboratory. Obviously, we’ve had coaches who have had a lot of experience with that, so that’s helpful to us,” John Harbaugh said this week. “We do it on the practice field. We ran a lot of stuff out here today you guys probably saw. We’re going to always try to get our players making plays for us, and Lamar is a guy that can help us win games.”

OC Marty Mornhinweg served as assistant Eagles HC during Andy Reid‘s final Philadelphia years, when the team coaxed electric play from Michael Vick. While Vick eventually supplanted Donovan McNabb, he initially returned to the field in special packages while McNabb started. Jones notes Joe Flacco‘s attitude toward the Ravens’ usage of Tyrod Taylor in wildcat formations was not exactly positive when the team tried this years ago. However, Jones writes the Ravens do not have a defined timetable for when Jackson will make a legitimate push to usurp Flacco.

Here’s the latest from some of the Ravens’ top rivals:

  • Corey Coleman was not believed to be on the trade block during the draft, but Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports the Browns haven’t been pleased with the 2016 first-round pick. They’ve called for the Baylor product to elevate his work ethic and production. Twice missing extensive time due to hand breaks, Coleman has not lived up to his No. 15 draft slot. And now that a new regime is calling the shots, one that drafted Antonio Callaway in the fourth round last month, Cabot notes Coleman could become expendable.
  • Additionally, the Browns are open to Joel Bitonio replacing Joe Thomas at left tackle, per Cabot. However, the main plan remains to try second-round pick Austin Corbett there. Corbett replaced Bitonio as Nevada’s left tackle in 2014 and started four years there for the Wolf Pack. Both Bitonio, a well-paid guard, and Corbett are almost certainly going to start for the Browns this season, Cabot writes. It’s just unclear where. This would make 2017 right tackle starter Shon Coleman a swing player, with Chris Hubbard set to man the right tackle job.
  • The Steelers‘ draft was too light on defensive help, Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. In particular, Zeise zeroes in on Pittsburgh’s third-round Mason Rudolph pick — one he calls a wasted selection because it may do nothing to help the team capitalize on its closing championship window. Ben Roethlisberger made this point earlier this week, and with the Steelers taking more of an upside project in Round 1 in safety Terrell Edmunds and wideout James Washington in Round 2, Zeise writes that the franchise should have devoted a bit more help to its needs on defense as Roethlisberger’s career winds down.
  • In a series detailing every team’s biggest post-draft issue, ESPN.com’s Charles McDonald writes (Insider link) the edge-rushing group sits as the Steelers’ trouble spot. Despite the Steelers leading the NFL with 56 sacks in 2017, and housing upper-echelon defensive ends in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, McDonald writes Bud Dupree‘s inconsistency and the lack of depth at this spot could pose a problem for the defending AFC North champs.

AFC Draft Fallout: Browns, Jackson, Colts

The Browns listened to offers for their No. 4 overall pick, but the talks for that spot did not escalate too far. Four teams contacted John Dorsey about potentially moving into that position, Peter King of SI.com reports, noting just one offered a package including a 2019 first-rounder. King estimates the Cardinals were that team. However, Dorsey said the franchise interested in moving up to No. 4 was interested in a quarterback that the Browns GM knew going to be available.

I’m coming up for one player and one player only, and that’s Baker Mayfield.” the anonymous exec told Dorsey, who relayed this to King. “I knew all along it wasn’t going to happen.”

Mayfield visited the Cardinals before the draft, and while it’s uncertain if they were the team that offered a 2019 first-rounder, their No. 15 draft position being the lowest of the QB-needy teams would make such a proposal logical. Arizona ended up with Josh Rosen, moving up five spots without having to sacrifice a first- or second-round pick to do so.

Here’s more from Cleveland and the rest of the latest draft fallout.

  • New Browns vice president of football operations Alonzo Highsmith said for months he had Sam Darnold rated ahead of Baker Mayfield in a succession that went Darnold, Mayfield, Rosen, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. But Mayfield’s visit changed the new Cleveland exec’s tune. “From the start of this college football season to the end of the season, I had Darnold No. 1 and Baker No. 2On our way through everything, you couldn’t tell me Darnold wasn’t the best,” Highsmith said (via Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository). “Then comes the part where you meet them off the field. You watch their workouts. You watch everything. And Baker blew me away. Highly, highly intelligent. Highly competitive. And he had a trait that some of the good ones have. I call it efficacy. That includes the power to effect other people. I thought that of all the quarterbacks I watched, he stood out far and above the other guys. When he walked into a room, you knew he was there.”
  • Lamar Jackson‘s pre-draft process did not go smoothly, with CBS Sports’ Joel Corry reporting teams had trouble scheduling workouts and meetings with him. The quarterback also experienced difficulties breaking down plays on teams’ whiteboards at the Combine. Corry notes Jackson’s decision to not hire an agent could have cost him some money on his rookie contract, with the Ravens being able to get him at No. 32 after a contingent in their draft room lobbied for him at 16.
  • Chris Ballard said, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, the Colts‘ decision to make Quenton Nelson this year’s No. 6 overall pick was the easiest draft decision he’d made in 19 years (Twitter link). However, if Bradley Chubb would have remained on the board, Ballard admitted (via Holder, on Twitter) it would have been a much tougher call. Had the Broncos and Bills been able to swing a deal, the Colts would have been faced with that decision. But when the Bills contacted the Colts about a trade for No. 6, Ballard appeared to intimate he was fixated on Nelson.
  • Fort Hays State defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd will be stationed at defensive end in the Jets‘ 3-4 scheme, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News notes. Despite weighing 315 pounds, Shepherd will be in line to potentially take Muhammad Wilkerson‘s spot opposite Leonard Williams come training camp.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Ravens, Steelers

The Browns have long committed to deploying trade acquisition Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback in 2018, but head coach Hue Jackson didn’t exactly dismiss the idea that No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield could usurp Taylor under center, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes.

“I respect (the speculation),” Jackson said. “Anytime you draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall, everyone wants to see him play, but I’ve made a true commitment to our football team. Tyrod Taylor’s going to be the starter. Baker’s going to compete and however that unfolds it unfolds, but right now Tyrod is the starter.

“If Baker can understand the National Football League and all the rigors and the grinding that you have to go through, I’m not going to ever stop a player from being the best he can be. But we have a plan and I want to work that plan as much as we can,” he said. “Now, can a player supersede that? You never know. I haven’t had that happen, but right now this team is going to be led by Tyrod Taylor.”

Here’s more from the AFC North, where every team selected a quarterback during the weekend’s draft:

  • Although the Ravens ultimately selected Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson with the final pick of the first round, there was a “movement” within the club’s draft room to take Jackson with their original No. 16 selection, reports Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Instead, Baltimore ended up trading back twice — once to No. 22, and again to No. 25 — before drafting South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst. To move back up, the Ravens sacrificed two second-round picks (one in 2019), but getting back into the first round will give the team a fifth-year option on Jackson. Baltimore has a plan as to how it will develop and utilize Jackson behind starter Joe Flacco, per Jim Trotter of NFL.com.
  • The Steelers moved up from pick No. 79 to No. 76 in order to draft quarterback Mason Rudolph, and Pittsburgh actually had a first-round grade on the ex-Oklahoma State signal-caller, general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters, including Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link). Rudolph could conceivably serve as Ben Roethlisberger‘s backup during the former’s rookie campaign, and his presence on the Steelers’ roster will force the club to make a decision on its depth chart. Pittsburgh only figures to keep three quarterbacks on its squad, meaning one of Landry Jones or 2017 third-rounder Josh Dobbs will almost certainly be cut.
  • The Bengals may have had their eye on Rudolph, as head coach Marvin Lewis said Cincinnati was considering selecting a quarterback in Round 3 before the Steelers jumped ahead of them, according to Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer (all Twitter links). Additionally, the Bengals thought about packaging their three late seventh-round picks to move up in the round for Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside, but he ended up slipping to Cincinnati at No. 249.

Draft Notes: Penny, Chiefs, Jets, Jackson

Excepting the Eli Manning-for-Philip Rivers exchange, NFL draft trades rarely unfold like NBA draft-night swaps, with teams making picks and then sending players elsewhere. But the Seahawks indicated such an offer emerged on Thursday night. After they’d made their somewhat surprising Rashaad Penny selection at No. 27, John Schneider said (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times) another team called them to try and acquire the running back. Schneider said that was the first time he’d seen such an offer as an NFL executive. Schneider said he would have authorized a Penny pick at No. 18, which would have been even more interesting since the San Diego State product was viewed as a fringe first-round prospect going into the night, and the Seahawks obviously held onto their new rookie after the surely strange phone call.

Here’s more from the draft world going into Night 2.

  • Despite talk connecting the Jets to Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and (to a lesser extent) Josh Rosen before the draft, Sam Darnold was the top quarterback on their board, Manish Mehta of the Daily News tweets. The Jets did not expect Darnold to be on the board at No. 3, hence the franchise’s late maneuvering to secure more face time with its top QB prospect.
  • The Chiefs made two blockbuster trades this offseason, and the team unloading Marcus Peters for second- and fourth-round draft choices deprives Kansas City of what was probably a top-three player on its roster. The now-Brett Veach-run franchise had discussions of moving up from No. 54 and all the way into the first round, and they’ve been reportedly considering a trade-up sequence in Round 2. Albert Breer of SI.com reports the Chiefs discussed moving into the Eagles‘ No. 32 spot last night before the Ravens did so and that a move north tonight will be with a cornerback acquisition in mind. The Chiefs traded for Kendall Fuller and signed David Amerson, but their defense — the No. 30 DVOA unit with Peters — still has a need at this spot.
  • Some evaluators think that Lamar Jackson‘s best position in the NFL would be at wide receiver, but don’t tell that to Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. When asked about his plans for the Louisville product, he said, “[Jackson] is a quarterback. Done.” (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). He also emphasized that Joe Flacco will remain the team’s starter.

Pats Met Twice With Lamar Jackson

It’s fair to wonder whether the Patriots’ reported interest in Lamar Jackson is a smokescreen, but the latest word indicates that they are legitimately considering the Louisville quarterback. In addition to their meeting at team headquarters, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also conducted a private workout with Jackson in South Florida, Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB tweets

A few weeks ago, it seemed likely that Jackson would still be on the board for the Patriots’ initial first-round pick at No. 23. Now, with talk that four QBs could be taken inside of the first five picks, it’s far from a certainty that Jackson will be available. Assuming that Sam DarnoldJosh RosenJosh Allen, and Baker Mayfield are taken inside of the top 10, the Patriots would have to hope that the Dolphins (No. 11), Bills (Nos. 12 and 22), Cardinals (No. 15), Ravens (No. 16), and Chargers (No. 17) pass on the speedy signal caller.

Some evaluators still believe that Jackson would fare better as a wide receiver in the NFL, but he says that he is solely focused on playing quarterback. He didn’t help his case at the combine as he performed poorly in interviews and whiteboard exercises, but that apparently has not dissuaded Patriots brass.

The Patriots own two first-round picks and two second-round picks in this year’s draft thanks to the Brandin Cooks and Jimmy Garoppolo trades.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.