Lamar Jackson isn't entirely to blame for Ravens' slow offseason
It wasn't long ago when the Baltimore Ravens used to own the Cincinnati Bengals. Lamar Jackson was always running and passing all over Cincinnati during that time and led his Ravens to blowout victories.
In 2021, however, that changed. Joe Burrow took control of this Bengals offense and the stripes were finally able to take down the Ravens, blowing them out in both of those games that season. The two teams split their games during the 2022 regular season but the Bengals ended Baltimore's season in the playoffs.
Lamar Jackson missed the second half of both the 2021 and 2022 seasons for the Ravens and that helped the Bengals win the AFC North in each of those years. Jackson has been a major reason for Baltimore's success over the past few years but now he's a free agent and despite receiving the non-exclusive tag, nothing has been resolved between him and his former team.
Some reports have even said that Jackson is ready to move on from the team that drafted him. Ouch.
With all of the drama surrounding Jackson and the Ravens this offseason, I thought Bengals fans might want to hear from someone who has seen and heard almost all of it. That's why I reached out to Parkey Hurley of Ebony Bird (FanSided's Ravens site) to get more dirt on the situation.
Q&A with Ravens site expert
Q: The biggest storyline is obviously the drama surrounding Lamar Jackson and his contract situation. What do you think ultimately happens there? What do you think the Ravens SHOULD do?
A: What I think happens is that Jackson realizes that signing a longer-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money is his best move. It may not be the Watson deal, but it is better than one year on the lesser franchise tag of $32M. That is less than Daniel Jones and Derek Carr. An extension may get worked out after the draft. Jackson already leaked a shorter, three-year deal being fully guaranteed. Perhaps the Ravens go from 3 for 134 fully guaranteed to 3 for 150 fully guaranteed and both sides come to an agreement.
I think the Ravens have played it perfectly. Jackson would have been less likely to take an extension on the higher salary tag, and the rest of the NFL is helping them by declaring they are out. He now maxes his value by signing an extension with the Ravens closer to their terms.
I think it is fair to say that Lamar Jackson deserves a contract similar to what Deshaun Watson signed, and it makes sense why he would hold out for that. However, that may ultimately cost him. The seats are being taken away in QB musical chairs, and the Ravens made a smart call to place the lower-costing franchise tag on Jackson, daring teams to sign him. Teams know the Ravens will match, and that Jackson will not sign most offers anyways, so he is stuck.
Q: If the Ravens don't re-sign Jackson, what is the plan at QB for 2023?
A: Who knows? Haha. The reality is that where Jackson ends up will help facilitate that. If the Vikings, Titans, or Lions are the team that offers him a deal, does Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff or Ryan Tannehill come back in that deal? It is getting unlikely that they can climb high enough in the draft to get a rookie this year unless the Colts got desperate. However, if they are getting two first-round picks back, it could be setting up for a bridge QB and a swing at the 2024 NFL Draft.
Q: If the Ravens are able to sign Jackson, what will their cap situation look like? Will they still be able to sign talent?
A: The reality is right now Jackson is clogging their salary cap. Usually when you sign a player to an extension you can smooth over the first year with a signing bonus and spread it over the back end. With Jackson, the full $32M is on the books. As noted, if Jackson signs a long-term deal, he would get closer to $45M per year and would get a lot more upfront.
For the Ravens, they would get smooth that cap hit over the remaining years. It is why both sides may realize an extension is the best outcome soon enough. Clearing cap hits like Marcus Peters, Chuck Clark, and Calais Campbell have them set up better for the future. This year they are paying for it, but even with a Jackson extension, they could walk away with more cap space next season.
Q: Has Jackson been the reason the Ravens haven't done much in free agency to this point?
A: Lamar Jackson is one of the biggest reasons they have not done anything. As I mentioned, his cap hit is on top of them, and they are uncertain of whether to build around him, or start all over. You cannot blame it all on him, though. They spent the past few seasons to go all-in with Jackson on a cheap deal and now they are paying for it. They extended Roquan Smith, who they traded for and would be the biggest named free agent this offseason, and have Ronnie Stanley, Mark Andrews, and Marlon Humphrey making big money as well.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise for the Ravens in free agency so far?
A: The biggest surprise is that no other teams have gone all-in on Lamar Jackson. I figured if things got as ugly between the two sides as they have that he would be a Lion or Commander by now. Jackson has not had much playoff success, but when he is healthy you are a lock for the playoffs. For teams like the Commanders and Lions to pass on that is shocking. Making the playoffs is a huge win for those franchises. The stalemate is not as surprising as the lack of interest league-wide.
Q: Has there been a move that the Bengals have made that has Ravens fans worried?
A: If anything, it is probably the Bengals keeping Tee Higgins and having the cap in order to have Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow around. Rumors swirled, and they could have tried to trade Higgins like D.J. Moore or A.J. Brown before having to pay him. This could have allowed them to pay guys like Jessie Bates and Hayden Hurst. Still, the Bengals re-made their secondary just fine and saved plenty of money so it appears the Ravens worst dream of Chase and Higgins will be here for longer than just their rookie deals.
Thanks again to Parker for taking the time to answer my questions! Make sure to check out Ebony Bird for Ravens offseason coverage.