It has been difficult, but I’ve learned an important lesson in recent years. That lesson probably should have been “you don’t need to buy another mozzarella log every time you go to the grocery store,” but I’m only a man and I just don’t want to be part of an ecosystem that doesn’t have at least two backup mozzarella logs to turn to if for some reason the first can’t fulfill its duties.
No, that lesson is “you don’t have to send every tweet.” And I know you’re probably thinking, “I’ve seen your Twitter. Which tweets didn’t you send, exactly?” Fair. But I’ll give you an example. On Saturday night, I started typing out a tweet that looked something like this.
Joe Burrow: leads six scoring drives, single handedly ends three decades long curse.
Josh Allen: pulls Bill Belichick’s pants down and whips his ass for three consecutive hours in front of 20 million onlookers
Some Ravens fans: “Maybe we could go with Tyler Huntley?”
I didn’t hit send on the tweet. It wasn’t necessary. I know that the group of dolts who wanted to cast aside Lamar Jackson in favor of Huntley was never particularly large and even most of them have come to their senses. It wasn’t worth dunking on people who would probably acknowledge they lost their minds for a bit and I also don’t like beating up Huntley, who comes off as a very nice young man and a serviceable backup NFL quarterback.
(And yes, I know that sharing the thought here isn’t necessarily better but it allows me to apply a bit more context in setting up a column.)
We all had to be feeling something along these lines while watching the NFL playoffs this weekend. Burrow, Allen and Patrick Mahomes were all spectacular and painted a picture of the AFC as a conference of “haves or have nots” in terms of quarterbacks. Perhaps the Titans can overcome all of them during the next two weeks, although we recognize that the Tennessee version of Ryan Tannehill has been drastically more “have” than “have not.” He’s just a bit of an outlier among the quarterbacks remaining among the conference’s semifinals.
Considering the quality of these three signal-callers (and remembering that Justin Herbert also still exists), this weekend appeared to provide a reminder of how important it is that Lamar Jackson gets healthy and returns to his own ridiculously high form for the Ravens in 2022. It’s why I’ve never once wavered in considering whether the Ravens should sign Jackson to a top-tier contract despite the struggles we saw from him before his 2021 season was cut short by injury.
There is an extreme minority within football that believes they sound smart by saying things like, “I’d never pay ANY quarterback this type of money. It kills you cap-wise and makes it nearly impossible to win.” Other than that group, there is almost no voice suggesting the Ravens shouldn’t pay Lamar Jackson. But another strange voice emerged within the fan base (and a couple of pundits) as the season went on. It’s a voice that probably sounds reasonable enough when you’ve heard it. (I’m paraphrasing.)
“Since the Ravens have the leverage anyway, why don’t they just have Lamar ‘prove it’ this season? If he shows he’s much better against the blitz and looks like Lamar Jackson again, you can pay him after the season and use the franchise tag to make sure he gets the deal done.”
Perhaps you were thinking something like that yourself. If not, the first time you heard it, you might well have thought it sounded kinda smart! It’s built around truth, after all. Jackson did indeed struggle mightily against the blitz before his season ended. The Ravens do have the advantage of the franchise tag, which means he wouldn’t really be a free agent after the 2022 season. In that way, they indeed have leverage! These folks might well be on to something!
As anyone who has reported on Lamar Jackson would tell you, the quarterback not having a traditional agent has been less than ideal for the media covering him. Agents are typically far more willing to say things the players themselves wouldn’t because the agents don’t actually work for the team. Because Jackson has kept things so close to the vest, I can’t tell you what his reaction would be should the Ravens consider such a tactic.
But I can tell you what it SHOULD be.
“That’s cool. Go ahead and trade me.”
I wouldn’t even think twice about it. If I were an MVP quarterback whose arrival completely rewrote the modern history of the franchise and they asked me to play some sort of weird squid game related to my contract, I’d tell them I would pass on offseason activities and training camp and suggest they look for a suitor.
It has been years since the quarterback landscape has been this bleak throughout the league. The Broncos, Panthers, Saints, Steelers and Football Team all face literal code red quarterback situations. The Vikings, Giants, Lions, Browns, Texans, Dolphins, Eagles, Colts, Falcons and Seahawks all have unstable quarterback situations and either could or should be in the market. While some of those teams could play musical quarterbacks to address their own issue, there aren’t enough to go around.
(Jimmy Garoppolo could be someone else’s answer if the 49ers commit to Trey Lance and while fellow rookies Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trever Lawrence failed to impress, there’s no real reason to think those teams will do anything else.)
Making matters worse, this year’s draft class is considered quite underwhelming at the quarterback position — so much so that there is absolutely no thought that a team will trade up to the top spot to take one. And yet the quarterback needs are so desperate that it is still widely assumed that at least four signal-callers will be selected in the first round!
And all of this presupposes that there are no further retirements among older quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford or some sort of totally surprising retirement like Andrew Luck’s a couple of years back.
(This is how desperate the quarterback situation is. The team with the quarterback who will be 45 before next season starts is without question among the most stable in the league.)
Teams need quarterbacks. They see the same things you and I see. If you don’t have a quarterback, you have next to no chance. So if I were Lamar Jackson and the Ravens thought themselves clever and wanted to drag out the contract drama for another season, I’d call their bluff. No matter how polite a person I am, no matter how much it might bother Ravens fans, I’d recognize just how many teams there are around the league who would be desperate for an opportunity to sign me considering their best options might otherwise prove to be Kirk Cousins, the guy they already have and know they can’t win with or a player on their draft board who has a third-round grade.
Would Jackson do it? I truly have no idea. But it’s absolutely part of the reason why if I were the Ravens, I’d get this done as soon as possible despite what is certainly an unpleasant cost.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox