The Baltimore Ravens began their OTAs last week, but star quarterback Lamar Jackson was absent. Nobody is talking, and it’s getting weird.
Lamar Jackson’s words say one thing. His actions say otherwise.
Last week, the Baltimore Ravens opened their season with voluntary OTAs. Jackson wasn’t in attendance, only one of two quarterbacks around the NFL not present. The other was Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals, who has been public in his discontent with the organization throughout the offseason.
However, unlike Murray, Jackson’s team has repeatedly attempted to engage him in extension talks this winter. No dice.
Entering the final year of his rookie deal, the Heisman Trophy winner and unanimous 2019 MVP hasn’t returned the urgency of general manager Eric DeCosta, something the team made clear at the Owner’s Meetings in late March.
“Unless he has a change of heart, calls Eric and says ‘I’m ready,”’ said team owner Steve Bisciotti, via the team’s website. “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.
“Eric can structure contracts any way he wants. I think we’re a pretty aggressive team and when Lamar’s ready…we’ll pay him when he’s ready.”
Still, Jackson doesn’t appear ready to negotiate. And considering Jackson represents himself, it presents a tricky situation for DeCosta, who doesn’t have an agent to work with as an intermediary.
Jackson, who has publicly stated both his love for the franchise and his displeasure with the trade of receiver Hollywood Brown in recent months, took a moment Friday to tweet he isn’t at OTAs because he doesn’t need to be, but stated “I will be there, just not on your watch,” in response to criticism from NBC Sports’ Chris Simms.
While Jackson’s words say he is committed to Baltimore going forward, his actions are of a man either conflicted on the future, or one who doesn’t believe it’s in Charm City. And for the Ravens, every passing day without Jackson signed long-term creates potential cap issues as planning becomes difficult.
“They have to give themselves some other options,” a former NFL general manager told FanSided. “If they love the backup, that’s one thing but I’m not sure that’s their best answer. I would’ve drafted one that I felt really good about in the second or third round. Maybe they didn’t like any of them, I don’t know.
“The worst deals I ever made as a GM were the ones that I struggled to communicate with the other side on — or had no options. I have never thought hope was a real plan.”
At this juncture, DeCosta has two options. He can play out 2022 as is, and then place the franchise tag on Jackson, knowing he can do the same come the following year. Or, DeCosta can continue trying to work out an extension, and if he fails, start seriously considering drafting a quarterback in what is expected to be a loaded ’23 rookie class before trading Jackson for one of the biggest hauls in league history.
And for Baltimore, maybe the second option is becoming increasingly appealing.
The Ravens have enjoyed immense regular-season success with Jackson, but their limited passing game has hurt them in three consecutive playoff losses from 2018-20. While Jackson has steadily improved, DeCosta must weigh paying Jackson $45+ million annually, or finding another quarterback who will be cheap for four years and can produce similar win totals. Not easy, but appealing.
Ultimately, if Jackson won’t sit at the bargaining table, DeCosta may feel he has little choice.
Smart money still says the sides get a deal done. Baltimore clearly wants Jackson, and although he’s been aloof in negotiations to this point, Jackson continues to publicly state his love for the Ravens. Furthermore, if DeCosta wants, he can control Jackson’s movement for the next three years, albeit at a massive cap number in ’23 and ’24.
As for Jackson, he has to assess risk. With this being the final year of his rookie deal, one serious injury and suddenly he loses what could literally be hundreds of millions. We’ve seen men like Kirk Cousins play out the tag, and that was risky, but it’s meager compared to what Jackson would be losing.
For the Ravens, and Jackson, the safe move is signing.
But so far, Jackson’s words have gone much further than his actions, and the Ravens have to be worried.
Top 10 Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates
1. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints – Deep threat, big-armed QB
2. Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans – Tons of opportunity with A.J. Brown gone
3. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers – Only rookie QB who is likely to start
4. Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets – Excellent talent, top rookie RB taken, opportunity
5. Skyy Moore, WR, Kansas City Chiefs – Patrick Mahomes, great system for big numbers
6. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets – Might be top target for Zach Wilson
7. Alec Pierce, WR, Indianapolis Colts – Opportunity as No. 2 receiver, Matt Ryan
8. Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers, no clear top target
9. Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions – Can Williams get healthy for enough games?
10. James Cook, RB, Buffalo Bills – Carries, great offense, light boxes
“He has the total package. Just being around him for the past week and seeing some of the things he can do, he has all the tools. He’s very gifted. It’s about applying it, taking the stuff he learns in the classroom, taking it to the field. He has the tools. It’s about refining those tools. And it takes time.”
– Green Bay Packers’ Randall Cobb on fellow receiver and rookie Christian Watson
The handwringing surrounding Green Bay’s lack of weaponry is overblown, considering the two-time reigning MVP is playing quarterback in Titletown. However, if the Packers don’t get much from Watson in his rookie year, it’s a fair question to ask what Green Bay will do on third down and in the red zone against quality defenses.
If the youngster can perform immediately, that’s where he’ll have his biggest impact.
Joe Gibbs is the only head coach in NFL history to win the Super Bowl with three different starting quarterbacks, doing so with Washington in 1982 (Joe Theismann), ’87 (Doug Williams and ’91 (Mark Rypien).
Info learned this week
1. Deshaun Watson situation continues to build for NFL, Browns
Another week, and more speculation about the future of Deshaun Watson.
Watson, who still faces 22 civil suits from women in Texas alleging sexual misconduct, has yet to be suspended by the NFL. While rumors swirl about when discipline could be handed down — and the amount of it we’ll see — Tuesday brought more to light with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel airing interviews with some of Watson’s accusers.
While the commentary didn’t bring new bombshells, it reinforced the heinous nature of what Watson allegedly did. And although all 10 criminal complaints have been dismissed by a pair of Texas grand juries, the NFL still has the ability to ban Watson for whatever duration it believes appropriate.
Eventually, commissioner Roger Goodell must decide whether to wait for all the civil suits to be settled, or to act soon. If it’s the former, Watson could well play the entire 2022 season. If it’s the latter — which Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer predicts — it makes sense to move before training camp, allowing the league to shift the conversation from rampant speculation to a final decision.
2. It’s been a big week of health for AFC East quarterbacks
Mac Jones and Zach Wilson. Ready for both the beach and their sophomore seasons.
Last week, there was ample talk about both of them getting into better shape. For Wilson, the New York Jets’ signal-caller says he’s up to 221 pounds through elimination of added sugars, putting on healthy weight. Wilson was 208 pounds as a rookie, and hopes to be 218 once the season starts. As a more slender quarterback, it’s a wise move for the former BYU star to bulk up.
Meanwhile, the New England Patriots are also seeing less of Mac Jones. Literally.
Jones has cut down the belly fat after his rookie campaign and entered OTAs at 214 pounds. While he was able to stay healthy and play all 17 games for New England in 2021, the increased nutrition could pay off in terms of avoiding a late-season downturn, as happened a year ago.
For both Wilson and Jones, it shows the willingness to be serious about the non-football portions of a career which often extend the lifespan of a player. Good signs for each team.
3. Steelers make smart, predictable move in hiring Omar Khan
Nobody is more consistent in their processes than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Wednesday, Pittsburgh hired internal candidate Omar Khan to replace long-time general manager Kevin Colbert, who retired this offseason. Khan has been with the club since 2001 and working as Colbert’s right-hand man since the ’16 season.
For Pittsburgh, this was the easy choice. No team loves continuity more than the Steelers, who famously have had only three head coaches since 1969. In the front office, there’s also been little change, and Khan’s elevation in light of Colbert’s departure stays with that line of thinking.
While so many franchises are constantly flailing and changing course, Pittsburgh never does. It has served the Steelers well, with six Super Bowl titles and 30 playoff appearances over the past 49 seasons.
4. Raiders work out Colin Kaepernick for backup role
Colin Kaepernick hasn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2016. Could that soon be changing?
For the first time since being blackballed for his social justice stance, Kaepernick worked out with an NFL team. Last week, the Las Vegas Raiders gave him a look. In theory, if he’s better than current backup Jarrett Stidham, he should be signed. However, despite positive reviews, Kaepernick hasn’t gotten a deal from Las Vegas yet.
Although Kaepernick hasn’t had any opportunities since ’16, it’s hard to argue he’s not worth a backup spot. Forget the politics for a minute. Kaepernick was a decent starter who went 28-30 as a starter, completing 59.8 percent of his attempts with 72 touchdowns against 30 interceptions. To argue he’s a quality starter is asinine and biased, but it’s the same thing to say he’s not better than most current backups in the league.
The Raiders got a good view. Perhaps it’s finally his door back, but so far, that door hasn’t opened.
5. Deion Jones hurt, and the Falcons already dealing with issues
With the Atlanta Falcons starting OTAs, one prominent face wasn’t there.
Linebacker Deion Jones is going to miss the remainder of the offseason program following shoulder surgery. This means sidelining one of the Falcons’ top-five players, albeit with the hope Jones is back in time for a good chunk of training camp and the regular season.
If the Falcons are going to compete at all in 2022, they need some luck. The offense is barren save for tight end Kyle Pitts and rookie receiver Drake London, while the defense is largely Jones and star corner A.J. Terrell. Outside of those names and a few veterans such as tackle Jake Matthews and defensive lineman Grady Jarrett, it’s one of the NFL’s weakest rosters.
And for Jones, this is a contract year, even with his current deal running through 2023. If Jones struggles, the Falcons can release him for a cap savings of $13.1 million while, only eating $5.3million in dead cap.
If any one unit can swing a playoff race this autumn, it’s the Miami Dolphins’ offense.
Miami spent gobs of money and draft capital this offseason, signing guard Connor Williams, left tackle Terron Armstead and running back Raheem Mostert. The Dolphins also made a blockbuster trade to land receiver Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs, sending back five picks over the 2022 and ’23 drafts.
All of this is a major push under first-year head coach Mike McDaniel to win a playoff game for the first time since 2000. And whether the draught finally ends is largely on McDaniel and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
For two years, Tagovailoa dealt with horrid offensive lines and only one top-tier weapon in last year’s rookie sensation, Jaylen Waddle. Now, Tagovailoa is supported by better protection, Hill and Waddle, a speedy backfield led by Mostert and sure-handed tight end Mike Gesicki.
If Tagovailoa takes a major step forward, the Dolphins can challenge for a playoff berth in the loaded AFC. If not, Miami will once again be an afterthought.
Inside the league
Nobody has had a better offseason than Jalen Hurts.
The Philadelphia Eagles surprised many last season by winning nine games and earning a wild card spot, before being handled by the Buccaneers in the opening round.
However, the Eagles didn’t beat a single playoff team in 2021, prompting general manager Howie Roseman to look inward, understanding Philadelphia needed serious upgrades.
The result was a slew of activity.
Roseman traded for star receiver A.J. Brown on draft night from the Tennessee Titans, giving up a first-round choice. However, Philadelphia had two such picks and used the other on defensive tackle Jordan Davis out of Georgia, adding to a great interior which includes Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox. In the third round, another Bulldog with linebacker Nakobi Dean, who was projected universally as a first-rounder.
Finally, the Eagles took advantage of the New York Giants’ cap situation and signed star corner James Bradberry, pairing him with Darius Slay on the perimeter.
All of this bodes well for Hurts, who enters a critical year surrounded by one of the league’s best rosters. If the quarterback doesn’t improve, Roseman has two ’23 first-round picks to potentially upgrade.
Yet, Hurts now has Devonta Smith and Brown to target along with a burgeoning defense, loaded with stars both up front and in the back. It’s a great position to succeed in, and one Hurts must take advantage of.
Few teams have ever been carried by one player quite like the 1977 Chicago Bears.
In ’77, Chicago reached the playoffs for the first time since beating the New York Giants in the 1963 NFL Championship Game. It was almost solely because of future Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.
Payton ran for 1,852 yards and totaled 2,121 total yards from scrimmage, accounting for 45.6 percent of the Bears’ output that season. Payton also scored 16 of the team’s 29 offensive touchdowns, and was the only member of Chicago to make the Pro Bowl or All-Pro squads.
Ultimately, Chicago went 9-5 and earned a wild card spot before losing to the Cowboys, 37-7, in the Divisional round.
This is an NFL column, and I’m an NFL reporter. My job is to inform on and discuss football. But I’m an American and a father well before the aforementioned title. And in this moment, I’m furious.
On Tuesday in Uvalde, Tx., 21 people were murdered during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, including two teachers and 19 children.
In the days since, we’ve seen the typical nonsense. Talk from certain politicians about the need to fortify schools as though they’re prisons, reducing doors, blaming Godlessness and video games, etc. Anything but the obvious: common-sense gun laws.
What are we doing? Who are we as a society?
I’m not looking for a repeal of the Second Amendment or to keep guns away from the regular citizen. Not at all. I also believe the country — and the globe — could certainly use more attention paid to mental health. That’s a real problem.
But to avoid a discussion on guns after such a horrific tragedy is to be purposefully obtuse. There’s no reason we can’t keep 2A and also enforce universal background checks, a mental health screening, safety training, a course test and the requirement of a permit.
That’s barely more than what getting a driver’s license asks of us.
I’ve seen all the arguments about why guns aren’t to blame. Most of them are hogwash. All the other factors constantly brought up are also present in every other country on earth, and yet the United States is the only nation which sees more mass shootings than days in the year.
The bottom line is until we keep our children safe, we have failed. And America is failing. Badly.