It’s a predicament that is as controversial as it is inevitable. Baltimore Ravens’ owner Steve Biscotti and general manager Eric DeCosta have a decision to make in regard to extending their former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.
There is no denying that Jackson’s portfolio speaks for itself. He has revolutionized the league, won an MVP in his first full year as a starter, and has become one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire NFL. However, after a sub-par year that saw him miss significant time with injury, the Ravens need to weigh their chips when they sit across from their star quarterback at the negotiating table.
It’s no secret that Lamar Jackson is already one of the best running quarterbacks in the history of the game. His inhuman agility and speed is something that the league hasn’t seen to this degree. He rushed for over 1,200 yards in 2019 and eclipsed 1,000 yards for the second straight year in 2020. He also led the NFL in yards per carry in both seasons, as well.
Jackson’s running ability has directly played into the success of the Ravens since he became the full-time starter in 2019. He is a big play waiting to happen at any given moment, and his legs can change the momentum of a game in an instant. Having that weapon lined up under center is a weekly advantage for the Ravens, and it is one they have taken full advantage of.
A true dual threat:
Jackson has proven to be a solid passer, which is more than what can be said about other mobile quarterbacks before him. He led the NFL in touchdown passes in 2019 with 36, and he did so by throwing just six interceptions. His yards per attempt were also good for third in the league, tying with Patrick Mahomes at 8.9 yards per pass attempt. He also finished his MVP season third in passer rating, and first in QBR.
Jackson was once again top 10 in QBR in 2020. Although his passing numbers as a whole took a step back, he earned his first playoff win in Tennessee during Wildcard weekend, avenging the 2019 loss to the Titans.
Jackson is dynamic, but his passing doesn’t measure up to the elite quarterbacks in the league. It should be noted that Jackson’s passing has steadily improved. After completing just 58 percent of his passes in his rookie season in 2018, Jackson completed 66 percent of his throws in 2019, and 64 percent in both 2020 and 2021. He also led the league with a QBR of 83 in 2019.
However, Jackson has yet to throw for even 3,200 yards in a season. In a league where the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert are routinely putting up 4,500 yards, Jackson’s lack of game-changing ability through the air stands out.
In addition to that, the last two seasons have seen Jackson become inconsistent in the passing game. In 2020, he was 24th in on-target percentage and 21st in completed air yards. 2021 was the worst of Jackson’s career thus far. He suffered an injury that caused him to miss five games. In the 12 games he played, Jackson finished 23rd in passer rating and 17th in QBR.
Jackson did have a masterful performance against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4, throwing for 442 yards and four touchdowns while overcoming a 22-3 deficit to win in overtime. However, outside of the Week 4 game, Jackson finished 2021 with just 12 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. He also had the third highest interception percentage on throws with 3.4 percent of his passes being picked off.
Now, the former unanimous MVP isn’t completely to blame for his shortcomings through the air. Greg Roman’s system deserves a fair share of the blame, as well as the Ravens’ lack of efficient pass catchers for Jackson to distribute the ball to. The Roman system can be pointed at as to why Baltimore has struggled to sign a big-name receiver to pair with Jackson. It was reported that Baltimore had interest in several of the most sought-after pass-catchers in 2021, including Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, but both opted to sign elsewhere. This led to Baltimore’s biggest signing at the position being Sammy Watkins. However, giving Jackson a $40 million extension, along with the money they have invested in their secondary, it would be more difficult to give Jackson a top-tier receiver.
Style of play:
Jackson’s dynamic style of play makes him one of the NFL’s best weapons and playmakers, but it will almost certainly catch up with him. Look at other mobile quarterbacks before him- Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton. All played with a similar style to that of Jackson’s, and all took many more hits and damage to their bodies and suffered injuries because of it.
While Jackson’s injury wasn’t necessarily a direct cause from scrambling or running with the ball, his legs are his greatest asset. Even though he missed five games, Jackson was still seventh in the NFL in passes off RPOs. He also led the NFL in rushing attempts off RPOs. While the Roman system has held the Ravens back at times, it is somewhat of a double-edged sword due to the fact that a lot of Jackson’s success has been because of the run-first offense and the incorporation of RPOs. That said, with Jackson taking the extra hits, it feels like only a matter of time before that part of his game deteriorates to some degree. If and when that happens, can he adapt somewhat like Vick with the Eagles and become a more consistent pocket passer?
It’s also important to remember that Jackson is without representation. When DeCosta and Biscotti come to the negotiating table, they will be discussing a potential deal directly with Jackson. There’s little doubt that he values himself and holds himself to the levels of the elite signal callers in the NFL.
Jackson is one of the most unique talents the NFL has ever seen, but his play style has a shelf life. How long can he be this dynamic of a runner? Can he adapt into a more consistent pocket passer as time goes on? These are questions that the Ravens will have to ask themselves when they prepare to slide a contract to their walking highlight reel quarterback.