Ahead of the 2021 NFL season, ProFootballFocus has released a ranking of the top 50 players in the league.
Aaron Donald was the first. Patrick Mahomes was second. It continued from there.
Lamar Jackson was… unranked and unmentioned.
You can expect Jackson to be in a state of distrust and disrespect. After all, he was the league’s MVP in 2019, by definition No. 1 just one season prior. While his 2020 season hasn’t been as good – 10 fewer assists, three extra steals – it’s not that he’s been bad. He still rushed for 1,000 yards, still won 12 games as a starter, including a playoff road win over Tennessee.
He was still Lamar Jackson.
However, Jackson did not respond, at least not publicly. There were no posts on Instagram. No passive-aggressive tweets. No comments at the press conference.
Inside the Baltimore Ravens facility, there was an opposite reaction, albeit in private. It’s possible that in some places things like player rankings on an analytics website won’t be recorded. Such was the case with the Ravens coaches and executives, who swallowed the list and went on the defensive.
After all, Lamar Jackson is their boyfriend. Lamar Jackson is their leader.
Perhaps all of this explains what Lamar Jackson is:
a) entering the final season of his rookie contract 15 months after he was eligible for the deal
b) acting as your own agent
c) apparently not in a hurry to find out something
d) shows up at the mini-camp this week and ignores injury concerns.
“I don’t believe in it at all,” he said of the risk of injury. “I play football, that’s why I’m here.”
And that might explain why the Ravens don’t care either.
This is not your typical QB or franchise, and this is not your typical QB franchise relationship. Jackson loves Baltimore. Baltimore loves Jackson. When asked if he intends to spend his entire career with the franchise, Jackson on Thursday didn’t feign shyness for the sake of a contract.
“I expect so,” he said. “Yes.”
Outside expectations or opinions—be it the top 50 lists, or how negotiations should go, or that they should go at all—do not matter much.
No contract. No drama.
“We’re talking now…” Jackson told reporters Thursday at the Ravens Mini Camp. “We’re just keeping it under wraps.”
As interesting as he is on the pitch, he’s boring off the pitch.
Jackson has every reason to continue the course. Many young players, especially quarterbacks, start making contract drama even before they are eligible for a new contract. It’s a comment here. There’s an agency story.
Jackson doesn’t seem to be into this game. If Ravens can stay healthy, they are very dangerous. He spent most of Thursday repeating the “talk” line without developing anything else. There were no threats, but no promises either.
“He’s a unique guy,” head coach John Harbaugh said back in April. “People have been scratching their heads and trying to understand Lamar for probably a long time, you know, since he was a kid. And he has his own approach to business. But that’s what you love about him, that’s what I love about him.”
Of course, time and patience have served him well. Last season, three quarterbacks had contracts that averaged over $40 million a year (Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Duck Prescott). There will be at least seven by next year, including Derek Carr, who has never played at Jackson’s level. Aaron Rodgers even passed the $50 million threshold.
Then there’s Deshawn Watson, who signed a five-year, $230 million deal with Cleveland, which was groundbreaking because he was fully guaranteed. It was an NBA or MLB contract that went to the NFL.
“Damn, it’s a shame they didn’t guarantee the whole contract,” Ravens owner Steve Biscotti said of the Browns earlier this spring. “I’m not sure he should have been the first to get a full guaranteed contract.”
In other words, these “conversations” that Jackson and the Ravens have should include Jackson discussing the MVP award he, unlike Watson, has while pointing out that he didn’t miss last season and at least part of this season. while dealing with 24 (and counting) civil lawsuits related to allegations of sexual assault.
Of course, Jackson doesn’t seem interested in anything, not even Watson’s guaranteed money.
“I’m my own person,” Jackson said. “I’m not worried about what these guys did.”
Jackson is at such a level of talent that he will almost certainly get paid no matter what. Prescott received the contract after he broke his ankle and missed most of the season. Watson didn’t play at all. If the Ravens stay healthy, they and their quarterback could have a huge season ahead of them.
Which brings it all back to what Baltimore loves about Lamar Jackson. If there is any drama, it is hidden. He’s only here to play like an NFL top 50 player should.