Lamar Jackson, the Ravens and the arrival at a crossroads - William C. Rhoden
Regardless of how the rest of the Ravens’ season unfolds, this much is clear: the franchise and its star quarterback, Lamar Jackson, have arrived at a critical crossroads in their relationship. The question is coming down to this: can the Ravens envision life without Lamar Jackson; can Jackson envision life without the Ravens?
Even in the cold business of NFL football, some players are harder to replace than others. This is true of the Ravens with Jackson: especially at a time when four AFC rivals have found potential generational quarterbacks: Cincinnati with Joe Burrow, Buffalo with Josh Allen, Jacksonville with Trevor Lawrence and the Los Angeles Chargers with Justin Herbert. On Sunday, the Ravens were beaten by their archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, when the Steelers’ rookie quarterback, Kenny Pickett, drove 80 yards and threw a game-winning touchdown. Pickett is 24 years old.
Much of that will depend on how the season ends. Will it end with an unexpected championship run with Jackson hoisting the Lombardi Trophy? Will it end in a deep playoff run with Jackson on the field? Will it end with an early exit?
Jackson remains popular among the Ravens fans, but how long will the good will last if the player who wants a record-breaking contract keeps missing championship moments?
Jackson and the Ravens have arrived at a crossroads in their relationship. Which of them can envision life without the other?
It’s difficult to envision the Ravens making noise in the AFC playoffs sans a healthy Jackson. They can’t beat Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes , Justin Herbert , or Josh Allen without Jackson. Even the Tennessee Titans or Jacksonville Jaguars would relish a first-round matchup with a Jackson-less Ravens.
Jackson’s injury also adds an intriguing layer of mystery to contract negotiations. Jackson, who represents himself, has failed to reach an agreement with the Ravens on a contract extension despite varying negotiations taking place for 12-plus months. He earned a fully-guaranteed $23.016 million via the fifth-year option in 2022 and is currently scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, per Spotrac. Jackson is looking to become one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in football via a long-term contract that pays him $40-plus million annually with $150-plus million in guarantees.
Jackson’s negotiations with the Ravens have already been complicated. When Jackson misses Sunday’s contest against the Bengals, he’ll have played in 26 of a potential 34 regular-season contests across the last two campaigns. Jackson’s new-found injury concerns further muddies contract discussions.
The Ravens have already qualified for the postseason. The chances of them reaching their Lombardi-related goals depends solely on Jackson’s health and availability. All signs indicate there’s legitimate cause for concern.
NFL free agency 2023: Early look at top 50 free agents features Lamar Jackson, Saquon Barkley as cream of crop - Jeff Kerr
1. Lamar Jackson (QB)
Are the Ravens really going to let Jackson hit the free agent market? They could just franchise tag Jackson and give themselves more time to work out a long-term deal with him. Until that tag comes, Jackson is a free agent. Any quarterback-needy team will covet him.
3. Roquan Smith (ILB)
Smith made an instant impact in the Ravens defense since Baltimore acquired him prior to the trade deadline. Smith and Patrick Willis are the only players to have 150-plus tackles, four-plus sacks and three-plus interceptions in a season. This is the best defensive player in free agency.
47. Justin Houston (EDGE/OLB)
Houston’s productivity has disappeared of late, yet he still has nine sacks and 36 pressures in his age-33 season. He’s still a productive pass rusher, but would be better served on third downs at this stage in his career.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson remains sidelined at practice with Tyler Huntley limited; 5 starters return - Edward Lee
Five starters returned Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session to rest.
Starting defensive lineman Calais Campbell made an appearance after a knee injury sidelined him the past two games. He was given Wednesday off to continue to rest his knee.
Running back J.K. Dobbins, outside linebacker Justin Houston, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Kevin Zeitler were active after getting rest days on Wednesday.
Starting cornerback Marcus Peters, who has missed the Ravens’ past two games, participated Thursday after being limited Wednesday by a calf ailment.
Starting right tackle Morgan Moses, who left the setback against Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter after injuring his biceps, was active for the second straight day. He was not listed on the team’s injury report.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (illness), who did not practice Wednesday, was absent again on Thursday.
The Ravens have the No. 2 red zone defense in the NFL based on touchdown percentage, along with the No. 28 red zone offense. In the past five games, Baltimore and its opponents have combined for 21 field goals and only eight TDs.
In the Week 5 win, the Ravens prevailed with a touchdown and four field goals.
ON A ROLL
When Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins came back from a knee injury earlier this season, he wasn’t very effective. Then he took some more time off and had a procedure that appears to have helped dramatically.
Since returning in Week 14, he’s rushed for 397 yards, the most in the league. He has 13 runs of 10-plus yards in that span.
The touchdown pass Joe Burrow threw to Tyler Boyd on the first series of Monday night’s game doesn’t count, so the Cincinnati quarterback still has 34 TD passes this season, which ties his total from last year and is second most in the NFL. He’s not likely to catch Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who leads the league with 40.