Lamar Jackson

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Lamar, Steelers

In a press conference this past Thursday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta spoke to the future of several Ravens players as the team heads into the offseason. Although the free agency of quarterback Lamar Jackson is obviously the main headline of Baltimore’s offseason, DeCosta still has plenty on his plate from key free agents like cornerback Marcus Peters and offensive guard Ben Powers to veterans flirting with retirement like defensive tackle Calais Campbell.

Peters is headed towards free agency this offseason after three seasons in Baltimore. The Ravens have been fairly top-heavy at the cornerback position in the past few years with Peters and Marlon Humphrey. They invested some draft capital in the position last year, selecting rookies Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams, but due to experience and injuries, they were still forced to rely on contributions from the likes of Daryl Worley and Kevon Seymour. The team signed free agent Kyle Fuller in the offseason, but a Week 1 knee injury knocked him out for the year. DeCosta hinted that the team will continue to try and add more talent at cornerback regardless of whether or not they are able to re-sign Peters.

Powers continued his play this year as a full-time starter and had his best NFL season in a contract year. He may follow the likes of former Ravens’ linemen like Ryan Jensen and Kelechi Osemele, who priced themselves out of a new contract in Baltimore in the past.

The Ravens were able to sign trade acquisition Roquan Smith to a long-term deal and now are faced with the contract situation of fellow linebacker Patrick Queen. Queen’s play elevated substantially while playing alongside Smith and has the Ravens considering his future going into this offseason. DeCosta said he isn’t ready to announce that they will pick up Queen’s fifth-year option, but he made sure to clarify that Smith’s contract won’t preclude them from signing Queen long-term.

Lastly, the Ravens have two esteemed veterans that could consider hanging up their cleats. Campbell mulled retirement last season and will likely kick the idea around a bit once again this offseason. Pass rusher Justin Houston is under contract for another season but could potentially call it a career. He stated recently that he does intend to keep playing, and both athletes met with DeCosta before leaving town for the offseason.

Here are a few more rumors from around the AFC North, starting with the main storyline for the offseason in Charm City:

  • Ryan Clark referenced a debate on ESPN’s first take recently about the details of offers made to Jackson. A source provided knowledge that the Ravens’ initial offer had $113MM in guaranteed money and that offer was eventually upped to $133MM. That guaranteed amount doesn’t come anywhere close to Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s $230MM guaranteed contract, but the second offer would be the most guaranteed money to any quarterback in the NFL besides Watson.
  • The Steelers’ coaching staff is set to undergo some changes this offseason. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one coach on his way out is assistant wide receivers coach Blaine Stewart who is set to join the staff at West Virginia University. Stewart’s father, Bill, served as head coach of the Mountaineers from 2008-10.
  • The Buccaneers parted ways with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich at the end of this season. The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly speculated that, unless Leftwich finds work elsewhere as an offensive play caller, the former Steelers quarterback could find a role as an offensive assistant on Mike Tomlin‘s staff. Kaboly posits that a role as senior offensive assistant/passing-game coordinator could be in play for Leftwich. Leftwich would essentially be a coordinator-in-waiting as current offensive coordinator Matt Canada is in the final year of his contract.

Ravens Expect Lamar Jackson To Stay In 2023; QB To Have Input In OC Search

While this offseason presents the third round of Ravens-Lamar Jackson negotiations, key variables are part of the 2023 equation. Jackson is due for free agency (well, the franchise tag) in March, and the Ravens now have an offensive coordinator vacancy.

Greg Roman‘s departure will lead to Jackson, his status as a free agent-to-be notwithstanding, having input on the team’s next play-caller, GM Eric DeCosta said Thursday. Jackson endorsed a tweet indicating his Louisville years involved a pro-style offense, and while this could complicate the Ravens’ OC search — as Roman ran a run-heavy offense that capitalized on Jackson’s historic ground-game impact — the team has some major issues to sort through.

As could be expected, both Ravens power brokers expect Jackson back in 2023. DeCosta said (via ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley) he does not see any reason why the former MVP would not be back, while John Harbaugh offered a stronger stance.

I want him here; Eric DeCosta wants him here; [owner] Steve Bisciotti wants him here, and Lamar wants to be here,” Harbaugh said. “One hundred percent, you know, 200%. Lamar Jackson is our quarterback. He’s been our quarterback.”

The Ravens have long been expected to apply the franchise tag to Jackson, who has been extension-eligible since January 2021 but just played out his fifth-year option season. DeCosta has not committed to using the exclusive franchise tag or the nonexclusive tag, indicating (via Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio) he thinks about that decision “every day.”

An exclusive tag is expected to come in at $45MM, which would place a historic cap figure atop the Ravens’ payroll ahead of free agency. A nonexclusive tag would cost the Ravens approximately $32MM. That gap will be notable for when the Ravens plot out their free agency course, though the lower amount would allow other teams to sign Jackson to an offer sheet. The Ravens would collect two first-round picks in the event they do not match an offer sheet.

Considering recent events — Jackson’s injury, team frustration about his inability to return, Jackson’s comments on the injury and his thinly veiled Instagram shot at the team’s attitude toward him — the Ravens’ full-fledged commitment is logical. They have maintained they have wanted to extend Jackson since 2021. DeCosta and Harbaugh met with Jackson on Thursday, but progress in these negotiations still appears elusive. DeCosta said (via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero) he is excited to resume extension talks but noted it “takes two to tango.” The GM said this last year as well.

The Ravens are believed to have offered Jackson a six-year extension worth $133MM fully guaranteed. That figure would place Jackson in second place but second place by a gargantuan margin. Deshaun Watson‘s $230MM full guarantee is believed to be Jackson’s target, but the Ravens — and other teams — are attempting to treat the Browns quarterback’s contract as an outlier. While Jackson has outpaced Watson in accomplishments thus far and has not run into any off-field trouble like the Cleveland QB has, the latter’s contract did come via a rare trade derby that involved a four-team bidding war.

As for the speculation Jackson did not return to action this season because of his contract, DeCosta denied this (via BaltimorePositive.com’s Luke Jones). Harbaugh added the three-time Pro Bowler was close to returning to action. Jackson said last week he had a grade 2 PCL sprain that bordered on a grade 3 sprain, which is essentially a tear.

The recent Jackson developments have led some around the league to believe the Ravens will entertain trade offers — likely in a tag-and-trade scenario. DeCosta said (via Hensley) the team will not discuss anything involving a Jackson trade but believes the 25-year-old standout wants to stay in Baltimore for the duration of his career. Jackson has said the same in the past, but recent events and the team’s upcoming negotiations with the still-agent-less player may test that commitment.

Harbaugh said (via The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec) the team will consider internal candidates to replace Roman. The team operated this way in 2016 (Marty Mornhinweg) and 2019 (Roman). The most recent external hire for the job was Marc Trestman, who held the role from 2015-16. The Ravens will look outside the organization this time; the team must interview at least one external minority candidate to comply with the Rooney Rule.

The team’s passing-game struggles may well be attributed to Jackson, Jackson’s backups and Roman, but its issues at wide receiver have been a consistent concern. Harbaugh pointed to the team needing more receiving help this offseason, Zrebiec tweets. The team will have its top two wideouts — Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay — coming off major foot injuries, and it looks like more help will be sought. Procuring said aid on the market has not been the easiest thing for the run-heavy team to do, but receiver will be again be a focus for the Ravens this offseason.

Teams Expect Ravens QB Lamar Jackson To Be Available

Following a prolonged injury absence (and a curious no-show during Baltimore’s playoff loss), many have questioned if Lamar Jackson has played his final snap for the Ravens. Many NFL GMs are asking the same question, and some executives have surmised that the quarterback is indeed available. “Rival teams perceive Jackson to be available,” executives told Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post. Some of these possible suitors have already started identifying assets that they could give up in a potential trade.

[RELATED: Ravens Still “All In” On Lamar Jackson Extension]

There are a handful of wrinkles when it comes to a potential Jackson trade. Besides preferring to send Jackson out of the AFC, the Ravens would also be eyeing a deal that nets them both draft picks and young talent. Further, Jackson would have a say in where he’s sent, as no team would sacrifice valuable future assets without an assurance that the quarterback would sign a long-term deal. Plus, assuming Baltimore hits Jackson with an exclusive franchise tag, he would have a de facto no-trade clause until he signs the tender.

Still, there will surely be some teams that are willing to make the blockbuster move. Executives pointed to the Panthers and Falcons as potential suitors, with both teams having made strong runs in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. For Carolina, La Canfora tosses out an idea of a package based around Jaycee Horn, the No. 9 pick, a future first-round pick, and a future second-round pick, and an NFL GM suggested that’s the kind of trade haul it will take.

“You’ve got to find an owner who hasn’t been able to find his guy [at quarterback] and won’t be scared off by the price tag,” one GM told La Canfora. “And it’s probably a team that is going into next year on the brink. It’s kind of a make-or-break year for the coach or the GM.”

On the flip side, Joel Corry of CBS Sports believes the Ravens won’t trade Jackson in 2023, with the former agent describing 2024 as the “year of reckoning.” A second franchise tag would have the QB eyeing a whopping $54MM haul for the 2024 campaign, and Jackson would still have the ability to finally hit the open market in 2025. Corry opines that the Ravens don’t have to rush a trade right now (especially when they’re in a position to compete), but they’ll be eyeing a significant decision in 2024. If Baltimore doesn’t trade Jackson next offseason, then they’d be running the risk of committing more than $100MM to him for 2023 and 2024 and then being left with just a compensatory pick when he signs elsewhere as a 2025 free agent.

There’s even a chance that Jackson re-signs with the Ravens. It was just last week that we heard the Ravens were still “all-in” on an extension for their franchise player, even with the “powers-that-be” having become “frustrated to the point of exasperated” with the player’s absence. Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic cautions that any new deal between the two sides surely won’t be agreed to by the March 7 franchise-tag deadline.

Latest On Ravens, Lamar Jackson

The Ravens’ season came to an end last night, but there remains a major storyline which is likely to surround the franchise well into the offseason. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was absent from the game against the Bengals, and his latest comments on his contract status have added further to the speculation regarding his future.

The 26-year-old suffered a PCL sprain in Week 13 and was immediately believed to be facing a multi-week absence. His prognosis changed over time, however, and with each passing week at the end of the regular season it became increasingly noteworthy that he did not return to the lineup. Not long after he personally provided an update on the status of his injured knee (including, specifically, the matter of swelling not reducing as hoped), he was ruled out for the wild-card round. He did not travel with the Ravens to Cincinnati.

That stood in contrast to what the team had hoped with respect to Jackson’s recovery timeline and invited plenty of questions concerning the former MVP’s willingness to return to action as the offseason — and, therefore, the latest round of contract negotiations — approached. In response to public backlash and reports of internal frustration on the matter, the Ravens made it clear they remain “all-in” on committing to him on a long-term deal. Such a move clearly remains the target from Jackson’s perspective.

“When you have something good,” he said in an Instagram post, “you don’t play with it. You don’t take chances losing it. You don’t neglect it. When you have something good, you pour into it. You appreciate it. Because when you take care of something good, that good thing takes care of you too” (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk).

Those comments can certainly be construed as a less-than-subtle directive to Baltimore’s front office, which has been in talks with the agent-less signal-caller on and off for multiple offseasons. The matter of guarantees has long been known to be the sticking point in contract talks, with the historic Deshaun Watson deal (five years, $230MM fully guaranteed) representing precedent for a similar mega-extension, though the summer’s other QB deals pointed to the market heading in a different direction.

Jackson is scheduled to hit free agency for the first time when his rookie contract expires in March, but Baltimore is expected to use the franchise tag on him to prevent his departure. With the drama surrounding this situation suggesting a long-term deal may not be likely, the central question could become which tag (exclusive or non-exclusive) the Ravens use. The former would carry a substantial one-year cap burden, while the latter would open the door to an offer sheet coming into play.

With the Ravens now turning their attention to an evaluation of their offense – one which was far less productive during Jackson’s absence – the matter of his contract will dominate headlines for weeks to come.

Lamar Jackson To Miss Wild-Card Game

JANUARY 15: The Ravens plan to play both Huntley and Brown in their contest against the Bengals, sources tell Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Huntley was a full participant in practice on Friday, and Baltimore did not elevate Brett Hundley from the practice squad.

JANUARY 13: As expected, the Ravens ruled Jackson out for a sixth straight game. After practicing in full Friday, Huntley should be expected to return to Baltimore’s starting lineup. Though, the Ravens will not name a starter until Sunday.

JANUARY 12: Jackson missed another practice Thursday and opted to provide his own update on his injury, calling it a grade 2 PCL sprain “on the borderline of a [grade] 3” (Twitter link). The fifth-year passer said swelling remains and the knee is unstable. A grade 2 sprain is a partial tear, while a grade 3 is essentially a full tear. A setback that was initially rumored to cause a one- to three-game absence is almost certainly set to sideline Jackson for a sixth.

I wish I could be out there with my guys more than anything but I can’t give a 100% of myself to my guys and fans,” Jackson said (on Twitter). “I’m still hopeful we still have a chance.”

This update will undoubtedly be followed by Jackson being declared out for Sunday night’s game. Even if the Ravens are to upset the defending AFC champions, Jackson’s comments make it sound like the next time he takes the field will be in Week 1 of the 2023 season.

JANUARY 11: In what is becoming a weekly update, Lamar Jackson looks to again be heading toward a Sunday in street clothes. The injured superstar is facing an uphill battle to play against the Bengals, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link).

Out with a PCL sprain since Week 13, Jackson has not practiced since the injury. Attempts to get some work in recently have not gone right, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com adds (via Twitter). While the Ravens have held out hope for a return ahead of their wild-card rubber match with the Bengals, it once again looks like it will be Tyler Huntley or Anthony Brown who receives the call for the offensively limited team.

Jackson did not practice Wednesday, and Huntley did not throw during the portion of the workout open to media, Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com notes. Jackson has now missed 16 consecutive practices. Huntley, who missed Week 18, is battling tendinitis in his throwing shoulder.

The Ravens were not exactly soaring prior to losing Jackson, but they have been historically limited — for a playoff team — offensively without the former MVP. They are averaging 12.5 points per game without Jackson, a mark ahead of only the Jets during that period. Baltimore’s 75 points over its final six games are the second-fewest in the Super Bowl era, per NFL Research, painting a bleak picture for a game the NFL slotted in the Sunday-night window.

Over the past day, sources around the situation have become more pessimistic regarding Jackson’s availability, Rapoport adds. With Jackson’s knee still “not quite right,” it obviously makes sense for him not to play at significantly less than 100%. Jackson’s game hinges on his running ability, making this injury more of a hindrance for him compared to most quarterbacks. The fifth-year passer also is unsigned beyond this season, a situation that has long pointed to — particularly now that Roquan Smith is locked down — a franchise tag. The Ravens’ performance without Jackson has certainly not hurt his value.

If Jackson sits out this wild-card game, he will have missed 11 games over the past two seasons. An ankle injury sidelined him for the close of Baltimore’s 2021 campaign, which saw the team lose its final six games — despite receiving reasonably effective Huntley play — to finish 8-9. The Ravens have relied more on their defense this year, reaching the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. But this season is starting to look like a missed opportunity for the Ravens, who will need to decide on re-upping Jackson on a contract with guarantees in the Deshaun Watson ballpark ($230MM).

Ravens Still “All In” On Lamar Jackson Extension

Despite growing frustration in Baltimore surrounding Lamar Jackson‘s PCL injury, the Ravens are still interested in a long-term pact with their franchise quarterback. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the organization’s stance on their quarterback hasn’t changed, and whenever the season ends, the front office plans to “begin negotiating with Jackson with hopes of striking a long-term deal.”

[RELATED: Lamar Jackson To Miss Wild-Card Game]

A source told Rapoport that the Ravens are “still all in” on Jackson, even “despite the disappointment with Jackson not being able to play in the first round.” While the team made significant progress on negotiations before the 2022 season, Jackson ended up playing out this season on his $23MM fifth-year option. The former MVP has reportedly been eyeing a Deshaun Watson-like deal.

Sources told Rapoport that the franchise tag is still the most likely scenario. However, it’s uncertain whether the organization would hit Jackson with the standard franchise tag (allowing him to negotiate with other teams while promising compensation if he leaves) or the exclusive tag (which provides exclusive negotiations but with a higher tag price).

Jackson hasn’t seen the field since early December while he’s continued to recover from a PCL injury. Rapoport observes that “Jackson would be at minimal risk of reinjury if he played” tomorrow against the Bengals, although the QB clarified this week that he’s not playing because he’s still not at 100-percent health. Last year, Jackson missed the Ravens’ lone playoff game while dealing with a bone bruise in his ankle. We could end up seeing a similar scenario this year, leading to some natural frustrations within the organization.

Yesterday, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com wrote that the “powers-that-be” are “becoming frustrated to the point of exasperated with Jackson’s inability (or unwillingness) to play.” Veteran Sammy Watkins also had some strong words about his quarterback, saying that “everybody is pretty much banged up” at this point of the season. The wide receiver also seemed to question how Jackson’s impending free agency has played into his absence.

“I think the world is ready to see Lamar back on the field, doing what he do best, and get all the stipulations and contract stuff behind him,” Watkins said (via Florio). “I pray somebody talks to him like, ‘Man, just sign the deal.’ You know what I mean? And he get out there and hopefully, if . . . he’s healthy, he can just come play this Sunday. We all know that’s up to Lamar and whatever goes on. Hopefully, they get something done. The world wants to see Lamar be a Baltimore Raven for the rest of his life. . . . [T]he world wants to watch Lamar Jackson. That’s a phenom talent, a talent that you rarely come by. Things that he do on the field and things that you see, to be quite honest when he’s out there, he makes everybody play better, just to have him in that huddle. I pray that somebody reach out to him or that he’s really truly getting healthy and can play, that he wake up Thursday and be like, ‘All right, forget it. I’m playing.’ I think that would change the whole trajectory of our season.”

AFC North Rumors: Lamar, Clowney, Rudolph

The PCL sprain heard around the world continues to dog Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s Ravens are headed to Cincinnati next week for a rematch against the division-winning Bengals. Yet the question remains: will Jackson be the one under center for Baltimore’s wild-card matchup?

Jackson suffered his knee injury in a Week 13 win over the Broncos. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the former MVP hasn’t practiced since. The initial prognosis saw him sitting out for one to three weeks. Five missed games later and panic is growing as the playoffs approach. To many in the media, it sounded after three weeks that the Ravens had such a simple road to the playoffs that they were simply resting Jackson for an eventual playoff run. But starting a quarterback that hasn’t seen the field in five weeks is far less than ideal.

Jackson has done everything that’s been asked of him in rehab sessions, but his knee reportedly still hasn’t quite felt right, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Rapoport asserts that PCL injuries take a bit longer than MCL injuries and that perhaps, due to Jackson’s explosive and agile nature of play, the standards for being back to 100% are different for Lamar than they would be for other quarterbacks.

Regardless, Jackson indicates that he’s confident he’ll be able to return in the playoffs, even if others involved in the recovery aren’t quite as sure. If Jackson isn’t available next week, a familiar refrain continues as Rapoport reports that the belief is that he will be able to go the following week, should Baltimore advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.

Here are a couple of other rumors from around the AFC North concerning the two teams in the division who played their last football of the season against each other today:

  • Browns edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney made headlines when he announced he was “ninety-five percent sure” he wouldn’t return to Cleveland and was sent home by the team. Although a likely change in defensive coordinator could improve his views on returning, Clowney has likely burned those bridges with his reported behavior, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. In the team’s October loss to Baltimore, Clowney reportedly told defensive line coach Chris Kiffin that he was hurting after the first series of the game and, as a result, Kiffin only sent Clowney in on third downs for the rest of the game. It was later revealed that Clowney told Kiffin he was hurt because he was upset that the Browns lined him up on the left side over Ravens star tackle Ronnie Stanley instead of the right side with Morgan Moses. If the anecdote is true, a moved like that, which could be viewed as manipulative or petty, would almost guarantee that Clowney’s future was determined in way back in October.
  • During a Q&A with fans this week, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hit on an intriguing note concerning Steelers third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph. A fan inquired about the chances of Rudolph accepting a deal to be the team’s backup in future seasons. Dulac’s response indicated that Rudolph likely doesn’t have “any interest in staying (in Pittsburgh) after the way he was demoted/treated.” This assertion is nothing new from Dulac who posited early in December that Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky may both find themselves in new homes next year.

Ravens Hoping QB Lamar Jackson Back For Playoffs

Lamar Jackson has been sidelined for more than a month with a knee injury, but the Ravens are still holding out hope that their franchise quarterback will be back for the postseason. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley that he wouldn’t put it past Jackson to play in the first round of the playoffs.

“He’s a special guy,” Roman said. “I think if somebody’s got a chance to do it, he does.”

“I would say, I would bet on him. I would definitely bet on him,” Roman added. “It’s not an ideal situation, obviously, but it’s a great opportunity when he does come back to get him back in the lineup and get moving.”

Jackson last saw the field on December 4th and hasn’t been spotted at practice since. The Ravens have kept Jackson’s progress close to their vest, with the coaching staff merely admitting that the QB could be back at some point this season. The QB wasn’t practicing again on Friday, and he had a “hitch in his walk” as recently as last Sunday, per Hensley. The coaching staff will obviously get more clarity on Jackson’s condition once he returns to the practice field, with John Harbaugh saying the team was “hopeful” that they’d get a look at the QB next week.

Meanwhile, backup (and fill-in) quarterback Tyler Huntley continues to be limited at practice with shoulder and wrist injuries. If neither of the Ravens’ top two QBs are good to go on Sunday against the Bengals, undrafted rookie Anthony Brown would get the start.

Ravens To Start Tyler Huntley In Week 17

1:58pm: It will be Huntley for a fourth straight game. The Ravens have ruled out Jackson for Week 17.

12:27pm: Lamar Jackson‘s return timetable looks set to be pushed back another week. John Harbaugh said Friday it is a “fair assumption” Tyler Huntley will start against the Steelers.

This will be Huntley’s fourth start this season and ninth over the past two. Jackson’s initial timetable did not indicate he could miss four games, but it appears the Ravens will now hope for a Week 18 return. Jackson has not practiced since suffering a PCL sprain nearly a month ago. The Steelers will be set to face Huntley twice this season; the Ravens won the teams’ first matchup.

The Ravens have been going week to week with Jackson, but his lack of practice time puts his availability for the regular-season finale in doubt. Initial reports pegged a two- or three-game absence as the scenario to expect. Jackson has not undergone surgery, as Zach Wilson did to address his PCL injury in August. Wilson, however, also ended up missing more time than was initially forecasted. He went down August 13 and was given a two- to four-week return timeline, but the second-year Jets QB did not come back until Week 4.

Baltimore has clinched a playoff spot, winning two of Huntley’s three starts. The team has not exactly seen much from its passing attack during Huntley’s second go-round under center. Huntley averaged 193 passing yards per game during his four starts last season. In three this year, the former UDFA is averaging 113.7 per game. Of course, the Ravens’ receiving situation has taken multiple hits. Rashod Bateman has been out since October, and Devin Duvernay joined him on IR recently. Both wideouts are done for the season, increasing Huntley’s degree of difficulty.

The Ravens are 10-5, but if Jackson does not return until the postseason, the team will be unlikely to hold onto the No. 5 seed. Football Outsiders still gives the defensively powered team a 38% chance to stay in the 5 slot, where a Jaguars or Titans matchup would await, and views it as slightly more likely the Ravens win the AFC North than drop to the No. 6 seed. The 10-7 team will continue to hold out hope for Jackson to return, but a Bengals win and a Ravens loss this week would clinch a second straight division title for Cincinnati.

Latest On Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

Baltimore was able to clinch a playoff berth today following their win over the Falcons, combined with a loss by the Patriots, but many are focused more on the team’s long-term future. More specifically, many are still glued to the ever-evolving situation concerning quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is currently playing out the final year of his rookie contract.

Early in the season, it appeared that Jackson was on his way to outpacing the numbers from his 2019 MVP season. Impressive offensive performances against the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots had people wondering just how high Jackson was going to push his value, as he and the Ravens are set to continue negotiations for a potential new deal at the end of the season.

Over the next several weeks, Jackson would continue his high level of play, but the lack of offensive talent around him would hamper the team’s offensive success. In the running game, Jackson was forced to work the majority of games without his dependable 1-2 punch at running back. Through the 12 games Jackson would start, starting running back J.K. Dobbins and No. 2 back Gus Edwards would each miss eight games, only appearing in four apiece, none of which were together.

In the passing game, the Ravens have continually failed to surround Jackson with a legitimate array of pass catchers. Since being drafted, Jackson has depended on favorite targets like tight end Mark Andrews and wide receivers Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman. Brown was traded away during the first round of last year’s draft while Andrews and Bateman have both been nagged by injuries this year. Besides those three, Jackson has been asked to rely on such receivers as Demarcus Robinson, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, DeSean Jackson, Sammy Watkins, Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and Miles Boykin. One could argue that the best receiver group Jackson has ever gotten to work with was the group assembled for Joe Flacco in Jackson’s rookie season that was composed of Snead, Michael Crabtree, and John Brown.

Still, despite the lack of surrounding talent, Jackson has led the team to a franchise-best 14-2 record and five playoff berths while also winning an MVP-award for himself. He has certainly proven time and again in Baltimore that he is the team’s most valuable player by far. This was demonstrated most clearly last season when Jackson led the Ravens to a 7-4 start for games in which he played before suffering what would be a season-ending ankle injury. The Ravens would lose the game in which Jackson was injured and the following four games to end the year to finish 8-9 and miss the playoffs for the first time since Jackson was drafted.

This season was looking eerily similar to last year when Jackson went down for the second time in two seasons with an injury suffered in the pocket (not on the run). Luckily for Baltimore, the Ravens have been able turn three of the four games that Jackson has missed the majority of into wins. Regardless, the offense has been anemic without Jackson, averaging 11.5 points in those four games. While subbing in for Jackson, backups Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown have been efficient, completing two-thirds of their pass attempts, while also being utterly unexciting. Together they’ve averaged 130.5 passing yards per game, throwing one touchdown to two interceptions, adding 27 rushing yards per game and one rushing score.

Baltimore’s offensive struggles without Jackson are apparent. And, while many initially thought that a second extended absence due to injury would hurt Jackson’s value in contract negotiations, it may have done just the opposite. Jackson’s absence has once again proven just how crucial he is to Baltimore’s success and just how doomed the franchise would be without him.

Just how much will Baltimore be willing to shell out to maintain the success that Jackson brings to the city? The price point for the deal stands at about $50MM, according to Jason La Canfora of The Washington Post. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is currently the only passer with a contract that averages over $50MM per year. With quarterback contract rates rising each year, it makes complete sense for the average for an elite quarterback to be inching up towards the $50MM mark. The other sticking point in the deal is that Jackson will likely be seeking a record amount in guarantees, as well, following the astronomical example Cleveland set when signing Deshaun Watson.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has continuously balked at the idea of such a deal. He essentially set the requirements for such a lucrative contract to be a Super Bowl victory. Jackson, though, has shown MVP talent and will play next season at the age of 26. With a full season surrounded by a healthy running backs group and more than one legitimate receiving option, there may be no limit to what Jackson can accomplish. Not to mention that Jackson is still set to return this season. Although the Ravens have clinched a playoff berth, winning their final two games versus Pittsburgh and at Cincinnati will clinch the AFC North title for Baltimore, no matter what Cincinnati does next week against the Bills.

La Canfora has his doubts about the two sides being able to reach an agreement. The plan likely remains for Baltimore to place an exclusive rights franchise tag on Jackson in the offseason. La Canfora predicts that, if the two can’t come to a long-term deal by April, trade rumors will begin to circulate as the draft inches closer.

It seems like a bit of an extreme measure to take for two parties that sounded like amicable negotiations could lead to a few more years of tentative agreements before landing on the final big contract. If it starts becoming more and more apparent that the union is not made to last, though, it would likely benefit Baltimore to get what value they can out of Jackson’s incredible talent before letting him walk away for nothing.