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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Ravens & Lamar Jackson

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By: Rob Shields

With the Super Bowl now past us, the NFL offseason is here and the #1 topic across the NFL, not just in Baltimore, is Lamar Jackson. What will the Ravens do? What does Lamar want? Who blinks first? This is a decision, no matter what they do, that will alter the future of the organization in both the short and long term.

The battle appears to be about Lamar wanting his contract to be fully guaranteed, a la Deshaun Watson, against the Ravens being prepared to make him one of the top three highest paid players in the game and #2 in guaranteed money, while also giving the team flexibility to restructure and/or extend the contract down the road as they look for ways to find cap space several years from now. The Ravens were in cap hell for several years after their Super Bowl 47 win and they have vowed to not be in that position again.

There are many sides of this to explore. What happens if the Ravens move on from Lamar? There are no certainties that they will ever find another franchise-level quarterback, at least not any time soon. There are organizations that have been searching for that guy for decades and still can’t find him.

If you go back to the 2000 season, not many teams have won a Super Bowl without a quarterback that is likely headed for the Hall of Fame. The Ravens have done it twice, Tampa Bay did it with Brad Johnson, and the Eagles with Nick Foles. I believe with the rule changes, a Trent Dilfer or Johnson situation (a great defense carrying a middling QB to a title), is highly unlikely to happen again.

Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning (who likely will get in) and perhaps Russell Wilson are borderline Hall of Fame guys. Other than that, it’s all definite Hall of Fame quarterbacks that have won rings. Now, that’s not to say Lamar is at that level, but some think he is trending in that direction and I do think it’s fair to say that teams need one of the elite guys to win a title.

Not that it can’t be done without one…but it’s tough, and unlikely.

Do we know how good he is?

Another side to this kind of goes with what I just talked about.

Just how good is Jackson? Some may see that as a silly question, but I disagree.

First of all, please stop talking about his 2019 MVP season. At this point, he’s played three additional seasons, and that was a special case where teams had never seen a running game like that and hadn’t yet adjusted.

On top of that, that may have been peak Lamar in terms of speed and athleticism. ESPN had an article years ago that talked about how the average athlete will see speed peak in their early 20s. That’s not to say Lamar isn’t fast now or isn’t a great athlete now (because he is amazing), just that it may be a little off from four years ago. Add to that the lower body injuries and the hits he has taken, and it’s not out of the question that he isn’t the same athlete he was in 2019.

We all agree that Lamar is as exciting a player as there is in the league. We all agree that when he is running the ball and getting into the open field, he is electric.

But is he an elite passer?

Well, unfortunately when it comes to that, there are more things Ravens fans can agree on…

  • The passing schemes have been poor.
  • Lamar has lacked a #1 WR.
  • Injuries to Rashod Bateman have exacerbated that the last few years.


However, if you give Lamar another outside weapon and a better passing scheme (which I believe Todd Monken will provide) can he improve his accuracy? Can he beat defenses on all levels of the field? Can he be the guy to win a shootout against the bevy of upper echelon AFC quarterbacks in less than optimal January conditions?

I have my doubts but admittedly, without ever seeing him in a real passing offense in the NFL, I don’t even trust my own opinion on that matter.

15+% of the Cap on 1 Player?

And lastly, the other side to this is simply, is it worth it to sign a player to a deal that takes up 15+% of the salary cap, no matter who it is?

Patrick Mahomes just became the first player since Steve Young to win a SB with a cap hit over 12%.

(The Rams did it last year if you want to combine Stafford and Jared Goff’s salaries, which is fair to do. That said, the Rams had extraordinary circumstances to win last year and I am not sure a team could ever count on that again. They had arguably the greatest WR season ever by Cooper Kupp. Aaron Donald, a top five defensive player ever, anchored the defense. They got Von Miller for next to nothing and Odell Beckham Jr. for nothing in the middle of the season. They also stayed very healthy, especially on the offensive line. Speaking of that line, they had a 40-year-old LT who was still playing at a high level, which is essentially unheard of. It was a perfect storm. It is certainly not a formula I would want to rely on.)

What the Chiefs and Mahomes just could provide a blueprint in terms of how to build a team around a QB making that much money. However, Mahomes may also be the GOAT and Andy Reid may be the best offensive coach we have ever seen, so that makes it tough to replicate.

Maybe this is a new trend. Maybe we will start seeing quarterbacks making huge money on winning teams unlike we have ever seen before. However, we just went through a period of NFL history that was dominated by future or current Hall of Famers Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger and none of them won titles taking up that much of the cap.

(Manning did make it twice making more than 12% of the cap. He just lost both times. Roughly 35 years of the NFL being in the salary cap era and a single player has done it twice. I have my doubts that this is the way to build your team.)

These are all things to think about.

The question we always hear is: If you don’t pay your QB, what do you do at the position?

Maybe the question should instead be: If you do pay him, what do you do with the rest of your team? It’s a tough position for the Ravens, especially since they could trade him, get a huge package of picks and players and have tons of cap space long term to build a more complete team.

On the other hand, they just had that opportunity, with Jackson on his rookie deal, and blew it because they are stuck on the idea that they can win in the NFL the same way they did 10+ years ago. They are wrong about that and they need to acknowledge it and move on.

It’s just so odd to me that a team that relies heavily on analytics can’t see this.

“The best ability is availability.”

Jackson has also ended the last two years missing the final month-plus of the season, including the playoffs this year. You can’t pay a guy huge money and have him not be available.

Between COVID, being sick with stomach issues, and the lower body injuries, Lamar has missed a lot of practice and game time the last few years. That can’t happen.

It all adds up to a big problem, and no matter what decision the Ravens make, there is risk. No matter what they do, it could blow up in their faces. As of today (and admittedly, this changes all the time for me), I think he is gone. I have my doubts that he even wants to be here and I don’t think either side blinks at the negotiating table (if anyone does, it has to be Lamar backing off his fully-guaranteed demands).

I also don’t think they bring back Lamar on the franchise tag, although they may see 2023 as the last year with him and to go for it. I just don’t think, with that cap hit, that 2023 could be a go-for-it year. With Jackson under the tag, EDC can’t build enough around him.

So, to me, it’s either find some common ground on an extension, or he is traded. I just don’t see another scenario playing out here.

If they are able to come to terms on an extension, I think the cap hit would be manageable for a few years and that would give them a chance to really go for it. If they trade him, they will likely get three first-round picks, plus other picks and players. That could also allow them to go after it and win but obviously, they have to figure out the QB position.

This is a fascinating situation, and the way its playing out is causing lots of drama amongst the fan base. This will continue for probably another three weeks or so but luckily, we should be nearing an end to all of this.

I, for one, am tired of talking about it and am ready to move on to the next stage of these discussions. Whichever way it ends up going.

The post Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Ravens & Lamar Jackson appeared first on Russell Street Report.

Originally posted on Russell Street Report