Funny how $260 million can instantly erase months of uncertainty, angst and bad feelings.
For more than a year, Lamar Jackson’s contract situation was a huge story for the Baltimore Ravens. Every time he had a big game early in the season, it came back to his contract situation. When he suffered a knee injury late in the season and didn’t come back quickly, everyone wondered if the contract had anything to do with the absence. Jackson had to explain his injury to those who thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t on the sideline for the Ravens’ playoff game, which led to another round of questions over his future.
Then came the franchise tag decision.
When the Ravens gave Jackson the non-exclusive tag, Baltimore was in essence inviting other teams to make an offer. Jackson could negotiate with any other team. But there was a shocking lack of interest for a 26-year-old former MVP, even from teams that have very little at quarterback. Insert your favorite conspiracy theory here.
And then, suddenly, all of that drama vanished. Shortly after Jalen Hurts reset the market with his new deal, Jackson signed a deal that is the largest, per season, in NFL history. A new era for the Ravens and Jackson began.
It will look different than the first chapter of Jackson’s NFL career. Todd Monken has replaced Greg Roman as offensive coordinator. The team invested in a thin receiver room, signing Odell Beckham Jr. and drafting Zay Flowers in the first round. Jackson has never been known for throwing outside the numbers (though he’s better than given credit for), and he’ll be asked to do it much more in Monken’s scheme. Jackson said he anticipates throwing more and running less in the new offense. It could be a total transformation.
“Running can only take you so far,” Jackson said, via the team’s site. “I feel like, with this new era of teams and offenses in the league, I feel like we need that. And Coach Todd Monken, what I’m seeing in his offense so far is looking tremendous.”
The Ravens have won a lot with Jackson at quarterback — they’re 45-16 in games Jackson has started — but a deep playoff run has eluded them. This offseason worked out about as well as Baltimore could have hoped. They were able to make a big change on offense, upgrade the talent at receiver and not lose a franchise quarterback that any team could have made a massive offer to. Now it’s time to take the next step.
The Ravens have been fantastic under John Harbaugh. If he wasn’t coaching in the same conference as Bill Belichick his entire career, we’d probably appreciate his resume more. He has guided the Ravens to double-digit wins nine times in 15 seasons. He has two losing seasons, and one was 8-9 in 2021 with a six-game losing streak at the end due to Jackson missing multiple games down the stretch. He has a Super Bowl ring. Now that the Jackson drama is over, the Ravens are probably going to be very good yet again.
Last season was a typical Ravens season, at least until Jackson got hurt. The defense was good and the special teams were among the best in the league. They were 8-4 in games Jackson started, and even managed to go 2-3 with bad replacement play in games he missed.
Now the Ravens and Jackson start anew. Jackson has his MVP, plenty of records and a historic contract. He needs a Super Bowl for his legacy.
Maybe the Ravens never worried about another NFL team breaking code and signing away a franchise-tagged player, but for a while it seemed possible Lamar Jackson could leave. It’s not like Baltimore had a backup plan. But Jackson stayed, which was a huge win. The rest of the offseason wasn’t great, unless you like Odell Beckham’s chances of rebounding all the way to his best form. Guard Ben Powers left for the Denver Broncos on a huge deal, and the Minnesota Vikings overpaid tight end Josh Oliver. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell moved on to the Atlanta Falcons. The only notable free-agent addition was cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, who got $4 million over one year and might not solve a somewhat concerning issue at cornerback. The draft was solid, with receiver Zay Flowers in the first round and linebacker Trenton Simpson in the third. The second-round pick was traded during last season to the Chicago Bears for linebacker Roquan Smith, who helped instantly improve the Ravens’ defense. But the goal of the offseason was to come to an accord with Jackson, and the Ravens did that.
Lamar Jackson is a good passer, but he has never been a high-volume passer. His career high for attempts is 402. There were 17 quarterbacks who attempted at least 442 passes last season and others who would have gone far past 400 if not for injury. Five quarterbacks had 600 attempts. Jackson should go past 402 attempts this season, considering new offensive coordinator Todd Monken wants to pass it more and likely will play at a faster tempo than his predecessor, Greg Roman. Monken will want to spread the field more often and get the ball to the team’s upgraded receivers. How Jackson adapts to a brand new approach will be fascinating.
BetMGM odds breakdown
The odds like the Ravens hovering around double-digit wins. The odds on 9.5 wins: over -150, under +115. On 10.5 wins: over +115, under -135. I’m lukewarm on either of those numbers but definitely wouldn’t be excited to take the under. The Ravens are hard to bet against. Their track record is strong. If you really believe Lamar Jackson thrives in a new, faster offense, an MVP bet on him at +1400 is fine. I’m not quite sure what to make of the Ravens, but I don’t assume they’ll be bad.
Yahoo’s fantasy take
From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews have Yahoo ADPs that are slightly higher than their national averages. I think the early Yahoo drafters are getting this one right.
“The Ravens offense gets a fresh voice, offensive coordinator Todd Monken, at the perfect time. Both Jackson and Andrews have the chops to pace their respective positions — Jackson did it during his MVP year of 2019, while Andrews turned the trick in 2021 — but you don’t have to pay prohibitively for that upside. If Baltimore gets even normal injury luck for 2023, we’re talking about a serious championship contender.
“I recognize some fantasy players have been going cheap at quarterback and tight end for many years, but that strategy has been less profitable in recent seasons. I’m in a transitional phase as well; I’m now willing to consider using bigger chips to fill those one-start positions, aiming to land a pole position scorer. Regular exposure to both Jackson and Andrews is a priority for me as I assemble my midsummer rosters.”
Stat to remember
Justin Houston led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks last season. He is unsigned. Justin Madubuike and Calais Campbell were tied for second at 5.5 sacks. Campbell is gone, on the Falcons’ roster. The Ravens were tied for fifth in the NFL with 48 sacks, and that’s a tribute to defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who was in his first season with the team. But there are not any established, elite pass rushers on the roster. Maybe Macdonald can scheme up another 48 sacks, or perhaps someone like 2021 first-round pick Odafe Oweh or 2022 second-round pick David Ojabo emerge as a 10-sack player. But that’s a major issue for the defense to answer.
Which receiver will be Lamar Jackson’s favorite?
Tight end Mark Andrews has been the focal point of the Ravens’ passing game for years, and he should have another great season. But this offense promises to get the wideouts more involved, and the Ravens have three candidates to emerge as the top option. Odell Beckham Jr. is an interesting wild card. His brief time with the Los Angeles Rams was so productive that it became plausible his only problem with the Cleveland Browns really was Baker Mayfield. But Beckham tore an ACL in the Super Bowl with the Rams and sat out all last season as he recovered. Has he lost a step in his 30s? Former first-round pick Rashod Bateman has flashed at times, including a 108-yard game against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 last season, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent. Zay Flowers was an intriguing first-round pick, an athletic do-everything slot receiver who should make an impact right away. He’s still a rookie though. All three could have nice seasons, but the Ravens need at least one to hit.
Lamar Jackson has played in a certain type of offense that accentuated his running ability and mostly throwing to the middle of the field, and he had great success with it. What if opening up the offense unlocks a new level for a player who has been dominant for most of his NFL (and award-winning college) career? The Ravens were 9-4 at one point last season and looked like a Super Bowl contender before Jackson got hurt and had a long, controversial absence. They could be right back at that level with a healthy and happy Jackson. The foundation is in place for the Ravens to be very good. If Jackson fits the new offense well, they’re a Super Bowl contender.
Todd Monken is a good offensive coordinator. Lamar Jackson is a tremendous quarterback. But what if Monken’s scheme and Jackson’s talents aren’t a good fit together? Jackson has been in an offense that accentuated what he does best as a quarterback. If this is a bad fit between scheme and player, it will set the Ravens back. They’ll have to figure out how to adjust, and that’s not easy during a season. And few teams rely on their quarterback more heavily than the Ravens. If Jackson struggles, so will they. There are some other questions, like cornerback, pass rush and maybe even the offensive line, that would be exacerbated if Jackson doesn’t look like his normal self.
The crystal ball says …
The Ravens are reliable. They’re always good. They haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 2012 season but they’re in contention most seasons. I’m not sure a new offense for Lamar Jackson instantly gets them over the hump, but he’ll be good again. So will the Ravens. I just prefer the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North, and other teams in the AFC as a whole. The Ravens will be one of the NFL’s better teams again, probably a playoff team, and still in search of that deep postseason run with Jackson.
32. Arizona Cardinals
31. Houston Texans
30. Chicago Bears
29. Tennessee Titans
28. Los Angeles Rams
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
26. Indianapolis Colts
25. Washington Commanders
24. Las Vegas Raiders
23. Carolina Panthers
22. Denver Broncos
21. Atlanta Falcons
20. Green Bay Packers
19. New England Patriots
18. New York Giants
17. Minnesota Vikings
16. New Orleans Saints
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
14. Cleveland Browns
13. Los Angeles Chargers
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
11. Seattle Seahawks