With a minute and five seconds left, Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens have a one point lead over Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs. Mere moments before, Chiefs corner Mike Hughes tackled Raven receiver Sammy Watkins one yard short of the sticks, setting up a fourth down at Baltimore’s own 43 yard line.
Conventional wisdom says the Ravens have to punt here. Pin the Chiefs deep with no timeouts, make them fight the clock to set up a last ditch field goal. But the Ravens were only six days removed from doing exactly that, only to fall to the Las Vegas Raiders in overtime. So instead, it was the Baltimore offense coming back out onto the field to go for it on fourth down on their own side of the field.
Converting seals the win for the Purple and Black, and coming up short almost certainly means a Kansas City come-from-behind victory. The NFL world holds their collective breath as Jackson snaps the ball and plunges forward for two yards, picking up the first down, and sealing Baltimore’s first win over Kansas City since 2012.
It is, by far, the biggest win of Lamar Jackson’s young career to this point, and not even a week later, I’m asking a tough question. In an era where franchise quarterbacks reset the market every time they sign a new contract… should the Ravens re-sign Lamar Jackson?
The Baltimore Ravens Must Re-Sign Lamar Jackson… At the Right Price
The Right Price
Before we really dig into the “Lamar” of it all, I want to talk about what I mean by “the right price.” I’m not implying that Lamar Jackson shouldn’t make an absolutely insane amount of money. The top ten highest paid quarterbacks in professional football make about $33,000,000 a year. I think that’s a fair price for Lamar Jackson. Lamar is a former unanimous league MVP, he’s made the playoffs every year that he’s been in the NFL, and he’s undeniably one of the most electric athletes in the history of the sport.
But I don’t think that he has any business getting paid as much the highest paid guys like Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, or Deshaun Watson. Being completely fair, Josh Allen is in that conversation, but I don’t think he deserved the contract he received either. Mahomes, Prescott, Wilson, Watson, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers are the game-changing quarterbacks, and while Lamar is electric… I’m not sure he necessarily belongs in that conversation, and here’s why.
The Right Guy
As we’ve established, Sunday night’s win over Kansas City is the biggest win of Lamar’s burgeoning career, and the Ravens couldn’t have done it without him. However, that isn’t to say that Lamar necessarily played well. He had the kind of game we’ve come to expect from Lamar, utilizing his legs to make plays on the ground but struggling to be consistent as a passer.
He had an awesome jump pass to Hollywood Brown for a 42 yard score in the second half, but other than that, produced 197 yards and two picks on 25 attempts. The Ravens are 31-9 when he attempts fewer than 30 passes and 4-4 when he does, and he has as many career 300 yard games as Trevor Lawrence. His completion percentage, yards per attempt, and quarterback rating all hover among very mediocre company without signs of improvement.
And of course, there are arguments that can be made for Lamar. Lamar is such a dynamic playmaker that to judge him by his passing numbers alone is misleading. In his career as a starter, he averages more rushing yards per game (76) than Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Joe Mixon, and other very talented running backs. Lamar Jackson is essentially an elite running back that also throws for about 200 yards and a score every game.
And that’s fine! It obviously works. The Ravens are consistently one of the best teams in the AFC, year in, and year out, and it would be insultingly reductive to call Lamar a gimmick. He’s not Taysom Hill, he’s not Marcus Mariota, he’s a bonafide starter that does a lot for his team.
But unfortunately, it’s starting to seem like there’s a ceiling to this project. Lamar’s skillset can only take a team so far, and when confronted by the NFL’s elite, he’s just not the same guy.
Look, I’ll be the first to say it, football is a team game. “Wins are not a quarterback stat” and all that jazz. But there’s no denying that the Lamar Jackson the Baltimore faithful see from August to December is not the same Lamar Jackson that plays in January.
Ignoring his 1-3 NFL playoff record, Lamar’s playoff completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown to turnover ratio, and overall efficiency take a nosedive in the post-season. His completion percentage drops from a mediocre 64% to a dreadful 55%, he averages a full yard less per attempt, and while regular season Lamar averages about three scores and a turnover per game, playoff Lamar has nearly twice as many turnovers as touchdowns.
Last postseason, he scored as many points for the Buffalo Bills as he did for the Baltimore Ravens, with a Taron Johnson pick six cancelling out his 48 yard scamper against the Tennessee Titans. That’s right, in his sole playoff win, Lamar only scored once, serving as a running game manager more than a field general.
You might still be saying that this is fine. That if they can put the right pieces around Lamar, a reliable offensive line, some capable receivers, an elite defense, he’ll be able to deliver a championship to Baltimore. After all, there’s no question that Lamar brings more to the table than Joe Flacco did, and he hoisted a Lombardi for the Ravens. And that is exactly what I hoped you would say.
The “Joe Flacco” of It All
With the right pieces and the right motivation (Ray Lewis announced his pending retirement), Joe Flacco was able to deliver the Baltimore Ravens a championship. You can not look me in the eyes and say that Joe Flacco in his prime holds a candle to Lamar Jackson in his, so why can’t the Ravens just replicate what they did with Flacco?
Well, they could’ve. They’ve had opportunities, and the defense has certainly had moments. But it’s never come together at the same time, and now the Ravens find themselves in a situation where they don’t trust their receivers, the offensive line is in shambles, and the defense is without playmakers.
So they’ll just fix all that in the future. Free agency, trades, the draft, good coaching, the Ravens can fix all of that… except do you remember what happened to Baltimore after that Super Bowl? After they pulled out their wallet to pay cool Joe, they had to part ways with a ton of staples. After winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens opened up the next season with 11 new starters, attributing the turnover to not being able to afford to re-sign players, and were promptly trounced by the Denver Broncos.
The Ravens assembled a Super Bowl team for Joe Flacco while he was on his rookie contract. His first NFL deal was an afterthought, and he got hot at the perfect time to force Baltimore to pay him the biggest bucks in all the land. With all that money committed to one player, they couldn’t afford to build a championship team, and were essentially irrelevant until Lamar Jackson took over in 2018.
So you want to pay a guy that hasn’t proven he can be a NFL passer and who hasn’t shown that he can produce in the postseason and make it harder to build a team by paying him the same money that Super Bowl champions make? The Ravens already need offensive line help, proven receivers, and difference makers on defense, and you want to invest more than $45 million every season?
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this. Lamar Jackson is one of the most exciting football players in NFL history. In our website’s Madden league (of which, I am enjoying day number 466 as champion), I picked the Baltimore Ravens so I could employ this cheat code of a human being. The Ravens have won about 80% of their games with him as the starting quarterback, and they would be ridiculed if they let him leave in free agency.
Having said that, they need to be careful. Investing too much money in such a volatile project that has failed to produce legitimate results could be catastrophic. Obviously Lamar Jackson, or more honestly, Lamar Jackson’s representation, is going to want to break the bank, but I’m not sure the Ravens would be wise to do so with things being the way they are.