- Radio DePaul Sports
The Lamar Conundrum
Ah, Lamar Jackson. To pay the man or to let him walk?
Do you give all the guaranteed money he wants, or do you try to negotiate that total down? And if you do pay him, what are you getting? The former MVP or modern Cam Newton?
It's clear to me, as a Ravens fan, that the Ravens don't want another Joe Flacco situation on there hands. If you remember, Flacco was the previous starting QB for the Ravens. He won the 2008 Rookie of the Year, lead the Ravens an AFC Championship appearance in his fourth season, and final claimed a Super Bowl in the final year on his rookie deal with a legendary playoff performance (1,140 yards, 11TDs, 0 INT, 117.2 QBR). Despite the defense leading the way for Ravens during their Super Bowl run, and in hindsight, the past three seasons, Flacco was still a serviceable QB, and while his numbers never screamed elite (his best season at that point was in 2010 when he threw for 3622 yards for 25 Touchdowns, only 10 picks, with QBR of 93.6), in five years prior to the contract, he was making some small signs of growth. I mean he was ranked #74 in that seasons NFL Network's Top 100 NFL Players list's for a reason. Seeing as Flacco was literally the first quarterback the Ravens could ever call a franchise quarterback, the six year, 120.6 million dollar contract they gave him after the Super Bowl made some sense.
To illustrate how that went, let's look at each year of Flacco under that original contract:
2013: 8-8 record, no playoffs. WORST SEASON EVER! More picks (22) than TD (19).
2014: 10-6 record, one playoff win. Now with Steve Smith (Sr.!), has the BEST (statistical) SEASON EVER!!! [27TD's to 12 INT]. Invited to Pro Bowl (declined the invitation, so he technically doesn't have a Pro Bowl to his name)
2015: 3-7 record (as a starter), no playoffs. Gets injured in Week 11. Hi Matt (Schaub), Jimmy (Clausen), and Ryan (Mallet)!!!
2016: 8-8 record, no playoffs. Signs a three-year extension. 4,000 YARDS!!!...with 15 picks, (second-worst) and 6.4 YPA (T-worst).
2017: 9-7 record, no playoffs. Has back surgery, misses most of training camp. The Kiko Alonso hit happen this season. Also the damned Week 17 Bengals game happened this year as well (Bills fans, you qualified for the playoff because of this, you're welcome.)
2018: 4-5, got injured, gets replaced as the starter by you know who has the hot hand, playoffs...but doesn't play.
And then Flacco was traded to the Broncos for a fourth round pick. He played eight games, got hurt, got released, and has been a backup ever since. Yes, there was that 2014 season, and sure, if you want to nitpick the 2016 season because "4,000 yards", then fine, he had two good seasons. But as a whole, in that initial six-year contract, Joe Flacco gave you got one playoff win, two seasons with a winning record, two injured filled seasons, no Super Bowls, no MVP's, no Pro Bowls, and no awards. The playoff run in 2012 was amazing and will live on in Ravens history, but that was well off in the distance by the time that contract ended. And remember, the Ravens gave him an three-year extension in 2016. They were lucky that they found Denver, who were still on that on that tall, white starting QB phase, or they might have been forced to pay him for three more years!
Joe Flacco is still, statically, the most successful quarterback the Ravens ever had. The memories of those first five seasons, still live with me today. But by the end of 2017, it was clear the Ravens needed a new voice behind center.
The Ravens were lucky in the 2018 draft, let's just say it. From All-Pro's Orlando Brown Jr. and Mark Andrews, to serviceable starters like Kenny Young and Bradley Bozeman, even their first pick in that draft, Hayden Hurst (a TE who I will die on a hill saying he was use far too sparingly in Ravens system) continued the boon when he was eventually flipped for a 2020 second and fourth round pick (the second turned into current starter J.K. Dobbins). And yet the best was saved for last, for when the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles wanted to trade out of the first round, the Baltimore Ravens swooped in, and with the 32rd pick in the NFL Draft, Baltimore selected...Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville.
Lamar has been nothing but stellar for the Ravens since. Considering that he was playing in a system built for "Checkdown Joe" in 2018, Lamar won six of the seven games he started that season. Despite at one point being held to 25 passing yards in the fourth, Lamar passed for two touchdowns to cut Chargers lead to a touchdown. If not for being stripped sacked during the Ravens last drive, who knows if Lamar could have lead Ravens to a win. At the very least, the team fired Marty Mornhinweg, hired Greg Roman, and revamped the offense to fit Lamar's skillset. And well, we all know about the unanimous MVP season Lamar had in 2019, but in case you hadn't I'll leave the stats here: 13-2 record as a starter, 3,127 PASSING yards on 66.7% completion, 36 PASSING Touchdowns to 16 Interceptions, 1,206 RUSHING Yards and 7 Touchdowns. Despite an early exit to the playoffs that season, a 2020 season that wasn't anywhere close to him 2019 season, and whatever the 2021 and 2022 season was, it has become clear that Lamar is the X-Factor in how the Ravens season will go. With no disrespect to RG3, Tyler Huntley, Trace McSorley, Josh Johnson, and Anthony Brown, the Ravens heavy RPO offensive style they have used the past four years requires a very mobile quarterback with either an accurate or powerful enough arm to keep the defense honest. Lamar has that ability. At 26, he has already set several team and NFL records. He's on pace to be the Ravens leader in almost all quarterback leaderboards. Considering that no one on the potential free-agent QB board has that kind of raw talent on them, why haven't Ravens extended Jackson yet?
Honestly...I'm pretty certain I know why. If you have to blame anyone in this situation, you need to blame Deshaun Watson, whose five-year, 230 million dollar contract set the new standard for largest guaranteed contract in the league. And look, I think Lamar should seek out as much money as he can. Football is a dangerous game, you are not guaranteed another day playing football. So he might as well seek as much money as you can. And he is good, so he should get a lot of money.
But...is he 250 million dollar guaranteed good? I don't think so. I think the Ravens are right for...stalling...out the negotiating process. Some thoughts:
The big thing about dual-threat QB's like Jackson is they are a lot like a BMW: nice to look at but they don't last long. A run dominate QB will lose their athleticism as they age, and if they weren't great passers to begin with, well...you see where the problem. This is the same if they start dealing with arm injuries, as they lose the element of surprise as a runner. Think Cam Newton once his shoulder fell off or RG3 once he tore up his knee. Speaking of injuries...
One of the big knocks against Lamar when he drafted was he didn't have the frame to take hits like he was in college. Additionally, Lamar needed to slide more to survive the physicality of the league. Cam actually was the same was when he was drafted in 2011, but Cam realized that even though he was a physical anomaly, he needed to slide more. And that probably would have extended his career into his thirties if not for the previously mentioned shoulder injury. RG3 has publicly stated that he wished he would have slid more earlier in his career, as he could have avoided some of the later injuries he would suffer in his career. Yet Lamar, doesn't do that. He runs with the same style that he has been doing since Louisville. And while that is fun to see, this has lead to injures. It started with a knee sprain in 2020. Then it became back-to-back long-term injuries, with an ankle injury in 2021 and a PCL strain in his knee this year. The past two seasons the Ravens had a 8-3 record before the injury. This year they made the playoffs without Jackson, but couldn't get past the Wild Card round. Would the Ravens be in the Championship round this weekend if Lamar was playing? I'd like to think so. But if his injury was severe as some of his teammates was saying? I'm glad he wasn't playing. But still. Do you really want to give 200+ mil on someone who relies on his athleticism and plays a physical game, who recently had injuries to his ankles and knee, important body parts for, I don't know, RUNNING?!
Let's continue the last point and pretend that he wasn't injured and was protesting that he wasn't getting a long-term deal, as some in the media has said. If that's true, would you give 200 mil to someone how hasn't played in more than 15 games in a season other than his rookie year and hasn't started more than 12 games the past two?
Maybe I'm being a bit unfair. Injuries are of the game and Lamar has had a few. The RPO works for Lamar, but maybe its a bit too reliant on Lamar's running ability and needs to start relying on his arm. He has shown the ability to push the ball downfield when he has the time. Given his receiving corps during his five years, I can see why they were probably hesitant to moving away from him. Outside of Mark Andrews, who has been the Ravens best receiver during Jackson's tenure? Hollywood Brown? Willie Snead? Rashod Bateman? Devin Duvernay? Jackson has never had a No.1 guy. Brown is probably the closest, as he was drafted to be that No.1 receiver and he did get 1000 yards receiving in his final year with he team, but there was a reason why he was traded.
Counterpoint, Good QB's can make bad receivers look good (i.e. Aaron Rodgers, or late-Patriots Tom Brady), so it fair to question if Lamar is a good passing quarterback. Lamar has never posted a season over 3,500 yards and outside of his MVP 2019 season, never over 3,000 yards. This has been another knock on Jackson since he entered the league: "if their run game is contained, you can more or less beat the Ravens, cause Lamar isn't beating you with his arm". Now he is 26, so I don't think it's impossible for him to improve as a passer, but how likely is that at this point?
Lamar, and the media, has stated that the team needs to invest more in the receiving game. And while that is true, its been true since Anquan Boldin left after 2012. The Ravens haven't been good in drafting wide receivers (Remember Breshad Perriman?), typically relying on the free agency to (poorly) that hole. Is it worth paying 11 million a year to a Ju-Ju, or Jakobi Meyers, or D.J. Chark, or Mecole Hardman just for them to not get the ball? Would the Ravens really want to invest the 22nd pick on a receiver when you aren't sure of Lamar's passing game?
The more I write, the more I think and the more things happen. Greg Roman, the architype of the MVP Lamar Jackson season in 2019, resigned recently (thank god, he system had more of less been figured out in his second season). The Ravens have apparently cast a wide net for their Offensive Coordinator, but will whatever system they install in make Lamar, or the receivers, or the offensive in general...look good?
They just inked Roquan Smith, who was instrumental in keep the defense afloat during the second half of the season, to a five-year, 100 million dollar deal. They still have to figure out what to do with Marcus Peters this year, Calais Campbell next year, and Tyrus Bowser and Patrick Queen the following year. The Ravens never have given a deal larger than Joe Flacco's six year deal. For some reason, the Ravens hardly ever give deals too far outside the 100-ish million range. My guess for why is because they want players to buy into their system and think of the long-term "good-for-the-team" picture. Reportedly, they offered Lamar $133 Million guaranteed, and I don't they they are going to offer him too much more that that for awhile. Now do I think the Ravens will let him walk because of the contract decrepancy? Absolutely not, I'd like to think they aren't that cheap. But are they negotiations causing the alleged "sour" relationship between Jackson and GM Eric DeCosta? I could see that, but I'll try to think that's not the case.
I expect to see Lamar in a Ravens jersey next year (not in a Falcons, Carolina, Jets, Dolphins, or whatever BS these experts tell you) at maybe 180 million guaranteed...or something. Look, I don't the Ravens going after Tom Brady, Jimmy G, Daniel Jones, Derrick Carr, or Aaron Rodgers. I don't any of those QB's give you the upside of Lamar. But I also want this team to be competitive as long as possible, and if that means letting Lamar go...I guess I would be okay with it.
Both sides should really find it deep within themselves to find some sort of compromise, but I have the feeling that one side will definitely blink first. I wish I could have more positive outlook at this, but being a fan of this team generally means keeping expectations low. So for now, I shall wait until I hear word of a contract being signed (or not). At the very least, I'll wait until February 21st, for that's when teams can first apply the Franchise tag to players.
But it shouldn't get to that point...right?