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A Highly Anticipated Presser

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By: Tony Lombardi

The Ravens announced yesterday that Head Coach John Harbaugh and GM Eric DeCosta will address the media Thursday at 2:30 p.m. This particular presser is a slight detour from normal protocol. Harbaugh typically addresses the media on his own within in week or so following the end of the season. Consequently, speculation is swirling. The two biggest topics of interest during the presser will be the respective futures of offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterback Lamar Jackson.

It is believed that Roman signed a one-year extension at this time last year with a club option for 2023. If the Ravens exercise that option, #RavensFlock will go into meltdown mode, and understandably so. The team has gleaned as much as they can from Roman’s skill set. He will never be even an average passing game architect. There’s a mountain of evidence to support this claim. The Ravens know who he is, what he’s capable of and perhaps more importantly, what he’s not capable of. And that missing ingredient is a prerequisite for postseason success.

Just look around at the teams still standing. All except the Giants, have passing schemes that completely dwarf Roman’s aerial attack. Even the Giants’ pass designs are more sophisticated. We’ve all watched the development of Daniel Jones while the Ravens quarterbacks just appear to regress at worst, flatline at best.

To G-Ro’s credit, his rushing attack is schematically brilliant even though his sequencing in play-calling is suspect. Couldn’t the Ravens maintain Roman’s run game design? Aren’t the other offensive coaches capable of assuring this? They better be. So why not find a coordinator who can build upon that foundation with a very competent and complementary passing attack?

Of course they can, but will they? Will Harbaugh venture outside of his comfort zone and bring in a new coordinator how can mesh the current run game with even an average passing attack? I’m not so sure. The bet here is that Harbaugh will want to promote from within. Maybe James Urban gets the call. Maybe it’s Tee Martin or Keith Washington.

I would be surprised if it’s Urban. If the goal is to retain Lamar Jackson, why would they make Urban a coordinator when Lamar has taken it upon himself to bring in his own personal throwing coach, Adam Dedeaux. Throwing coach, QB coach, what’s the difference? Shouldn’t a QB coach be able to refine the throwing mechanics of a quarterback?

As for Tee Martin or Keith Washington, what have they done? Martin is the WR coach. Has anyone seen any development in Devin Duvernay, James Proche or Tylan Wallace? Washington is the “Pass Game Specialist”. Specialist? There’s actually a specialist in the Ravens pass game? If I was Washington, I’d ask to change my title, STAT! Being a Ravens Pass Game Specialist is akin to calling the teenager flipping burgers at McDonald’s, “chef”.

The Ravens need to go outside of the organization, AND…they need to look towards someone other than those coaches with connectivity to anyone in the Harbaugh Family. One of those potential connect-the-dots-to-Harbaugh choices is Matt Weiss, currently Michigan’s (Jim Harbaugh’s) offensive coordinator, who was an assistant under John in Baltimore from 2009 through 2020. Weiss however, recently had his home raided and is currently being investigated for computer crimes that took place this past December at the Wolverine’s football facility. Weiss is now on administrative leave, pending further investigation. Raided? Really?

So, who might be a good candidate?

If I were making the choice, I’d look to offensive assistants currently employed by other NFL teams whose passing offenses actually resemble something closer to those in the 2000’s than those that emulate the passing attacks that emerged just after the invention of the forward pass.

Surely I jest. Well, sort of.

All kidding aside, I’d focus on teams like the Eagles, Rams, 49ers, Bills, Dolphins, Chiefs and Chargers who might have assistants to the coordinators looking for a new career opportunity with a great organization and a corresponding bump in pay. Or, the team could look towards the college ranks to bring in a fresh and innovative approach. Harbaugh must have been thinking along those lines for the past couple of months, right?

The Other Elephant in the Room

DeCosta’s presence at this presser suggests that either the Ravens will address the Lamar situation, but Harbaugh prefers to be accompanied by the GM, or, it could mean that there’s news about Lamar that the team believes is worth sharing. Lamar’s activity on social media has been rather cryptic, leading to widespread interpretation and speculation.

I’d be surprised if there’s an announcement at this particular presser regarding Lamar. DeCosta’s presence suggests a unified front and Eric is more capable and probably more comfortable addressing specifics about how the team plans to work with Lamar than Harbaugh is. But even there, I think the responses will be guarded and shrouded in secrecy. That’s the organizational style and really, it’s the right thing to do. These delicate matters, particularly those involving a franchise quarterback, need time to breathe and play out.

If the Ravens tag Lamar, it can go one of three ways:

1. The Kirk Cousins’ Approach

Back in March, Steve Bisciotti shared a few things that in many ways reveal the Ravens position on Lamar.

“Unless [Lamar] has a change of heart, calls Eric and says ‘I’m ready, Eric can’t keep calling him and going, ‘Hey Lamar, you really need to get in here and get this thing done.’ It’s not a GM’s job.”

That to me, suggests that the Ravens have drawn a line in the sand, contractually speaking. Maybe Lamar has as well. Since March, it could be debated who has the upper hand at this point. Lamar’s play was sub-par when he was on the field but despite the fall off, the Ravens offense struggled to score, managing just 13 points per game without him. That said, we’ll never know what the team might have scored with a more experienced backup besides Tyler Huntley.

Bisciotti continued:

“What if Lamar says that, I’ll play on the fifth-year, I’ll play on the franchise, I’ll play on another franchise, then you can sign me. That gives me three years to win a Super Bowl, so you can make me a $60 million quarterback, because that’s where it will be four years from now. That might be the case.”

I get where Steve is coming from but here’s the thing. Lamar showed us in 2022 how he might approach a season when there’s no guarantee about the next. We’ve all seen the smoke about Lamar not playing when he isn’t 100%. Those who cover the team on a daily basis will tell you that his conservative approach to playing slightly hurt was an issue in the Ravens locker room. I’m told that it is a sore subject for Bisciotti.

Harbaugh, speaking to Rich Eisen and Kurt Warner before the NFL Network presentation of the Ravens at Cleveland on Saturday Night, December 17, shared that Lamar could have played with a brace but refused to do so.

It was and still is all about the contract.

Some have pointed at the unfortunate career twist of former teammate Robert Griffin, III when he played with an injured knee and brace. The results were devastating. But Griffin’s injuries were different and more severe. Do you really think that given the Ravens conservative approach to injuries that they would risk their franchise quarterback if they and their doctors didn’t believe that Lamar wouldn’t risk further injury, playing with a brace?

It was and still is all about the contract.

Which leads me to No. 2…

2. Lamar Doesn’t Sign the Franchise Tender

As part of a ploy to get a long-term deal, Lamar could choose to wait until the very last moment to sign his franchise tender. If he adopts this negotiating ploy, he’ll miss OTA’s and a potentially a portion of or all of training camp. If he misses this time, Lamar will slay an opportunity to develop a rapport with any new additions to the wide receiver room, something that nearly anyone not named Duvernay, Proche and Wallace believes to be an absolute must for the club. The missed time could also derail Lamar’s rapport with a potential new offensive coordinator.

And one more thing…

If Lamar wants to, he can choose not to show up until the very last moment needed to assure that 2023 will count as an accrued season for him. That could be as late as November and it would serve to eat up one of the two years of franchise tags the Ravens have at their disposal. Adding to all of this detrimental potential, is the fact that the value of the tag ($45M for exclusive) sits on the team’s cap regardless, handcuffing the opportunity for other potential signings.

3. Tag and Trade

Should the Ravens and Lamar continue to sit at the crossroad of a contractual impasse, the two could agree to explore potential suitors for a tag and trade. In such a scenario, I would expect DeCosta to line up as many interested partners as possible to drive up the asking price and for Lamar, it probably drive up the amount of guaranteed money.

Ebony Bird recently posted the following trade scenarios. No one asked me but if any of these are available in the real world, I’d take any one of them. No disrespect to Lamar, but every single one would be a major coup for DeCosta.

Ravens presser Lamar Jackson
Image courtesy of Ebony Bird

Think of it this way. The Ravens have the potential to look back at a surprise 32nd overall pick in 2018 for a quarterback many thought would never amount to much as an NFL signal caller, get five productive years out of him including an MVP season and a (45-16) record, and then parlay that into any of the deals shown above? Yes, please!

No disrespect towards Lamar, but enthusiastically sign me up for door No. 3.

Hopefully tomorrow’s presser is exciting.

[Related Article: Ravens Offseason Preview]

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Originally posted on Russell Street Report