Owings Mills, Maryland. Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey watched Lamar Jackson enter the IHOP in the Baltimore area and knew the Pro Bowl quarterback wouldn’t last long.

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Before Jackson could even think about ordering bottomless pancakes, he was escorted out of his house after being attacked by a crowd of fans.

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“He thinks he’s a very normal guy, but I’m like, ‘Lamar, you’re Lamar Jackson,'” Humphrey said. “You are not me; you can’t just do ordinary things.”

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And these are not normal times for Jackson, whose contract situation is one of the biggest storylines in the NFL. The Ravens are in talks for a renewal with a former MVP who is not represented by an agent, and if that isn’t done by March, Jackson will likely have to play in 2023 under the franchise tag with an uncertain future in Baltimore.

When Jackson turns on the TV, he hears a commentary on his contract. When he took to Twitter during his vacation, he read a critique of his game from a former Ravens player.

“I think that’s what it’s about,” Jackson said recently. “When you’re trying to be great, when you’re trying to work your hardest, there will be negativity.”

Teammates believe that Jackson is motivated by the criticism. Ravens quarterback coach James Urban said Jackson has a knack for ignoring outside chatter.

But Jackson didn’t ignore all the criticism.

In May, former NFL quarterback Chris Simms said:[Tom] Brady won’t miss an OTA in his fourth year of his career,” after Jackson voluntarily missed practice during the off-season. Jackson responded on Twitter, “Lamar wants to be Lamar. This part of the OTA is voluntary.”

Last month, after Jackson fell out of the top 10 quarterback rankings, former Ravens quarterback Bernard Pollard tweeted, “He’s definitely in the top 10 talent but as far as top 10 QBs, I don’t see that.” . Jackson then had a long exchange with Pollard: “I never heard of you [to be honest]. You got your Super Bowl because of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.”

Jackson views the exchange as benign.

“They want a conversation; I just talk to them here and there,” Jackson said. “But really, it’s nothing. This is not serious. I’m not crazy or anything like that. I’m just doing.”

Despite the contract situation and the comments, Jackson seems more focused than ever on football. He bulked up during the off-season, adding over 10 pounds of lean muscle mass. Jackson said he weighed 230 pounds. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Jackson was throwing the ball better than he had ever seen him. In a week and a half at camp, Jackson completed about 70% of his passes.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he never cared that Jackson was distracted by criticism because he dealt with it in high school, college and during the draft as a double-threat quarterback. The most popular criticism of Jackson is his ability to throw the ball.

An anonymous defensive coordinator told The Athletic last month that he would not consider Jackson a Tier 1 quarterback even if he won the league MVP title 12 times. “If he has to pass to win the game, they won’t win the game,” the coordinator said.

At times, Jackson erred on his accuracy, and last year he hit a career-worst 13 interceptions. But last season he was the best at winning handball games.

In 2021, Jackson led double-figure fourth-quarter comebacks against the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts. His overall QBR, trailing in the fourth quarter of last season (81), was fourth in the NFL.

“I don’t know who this guy named ‘Anonymous’ is. I haven’t met him yet,” Harbaugh said. “So I don’t even know why we report what he wants to say. But what is, is. It’s just nonsense; it’s just nothing; it’s a big burger out of nothing.”

Baltimore linebacker Justin Houston believes that criticism of Jackson is almost on the same level as NBA superstar LeBron James.

“Whatever this kid does, he can’t do the right thing,” Houston said. “I like the way he handles it. It’s just motivation. So I pray that everyone will continue to talk about it, because it’s fire.”

A couple of months after being criticized for not attending voluntary training, Jackson overheard league watchers say he shouldn’t train at boot camp until he got a long-term contract.

But Jackson said he doesn’t take a ‘delay’ approach – reporting to camp but not participating in practice like other NFL players who have contract issues – because he wants to win and doesn’t want to abandon his teammates. . hanging there.”

“Lamar doesn’t worry about a contract, nobody has to worry about a contract,” Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman said. “It doesn’t depend on us; we let whoever does it. We’re just going to play football. That’s what we’re called here to do, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Teammates say Jackson doesn’t talk about negotiations. When Humphrey brought up a long-term deal, Jackson told him, “It’ll be done when it’s done.”

“For a negotiator, he didn’t say a word, and his value continues to rise. It’s amazing,” Ravens defenseman Kevin Zeitler said. now, and I think he likes it. The way he plays, the way he prepares, the kind of person he is, and I think in the long run he will just keep winning.”

Asked how Jackson will handle all the pre-season noise, coaches and teammates point to 2019. line: “Not bad for a running back.” Jackson became the second unanimous NFL MVP selection in history.

“I know he’s motivated by the critics,” Ravens defenseman Kale Campbell said. “…After all, he’s a phenomenal quarterback. Let the haters talk. We’ll let them tweet, but we’re just winning football games.”