Does Lamar Jackson's draft day irritation signal a deepening problem for the Ravens?
It’s been a rough offseason for MVP quarterbacks. Now you can add Baltimore Ravens centerpiece Lamar Jackson to that list.
Jackson lost his No. 1 wideout during Thursday’s draft, as the team shipped Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for the 23rd overall pick. That means the last three league MVPs have now had their top receiver traded away this offseason, with Jackson joining the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (who lost Davante Adams) and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (who lost Tyreek Hill). And you might as well throw in Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, too, after he saw A.J. Brown traded away to the Philadelphia Eagles.
But among that quartet, Jackson’s reaction certainly stuck out like a sore thumb, given that it appeared to happen in real time when he retweeted a profane reaction to the trade from a fan’s account. A bit later, after the Ravens had traded down from the pick they acquired for Brown and then selected center Tyler Linderbaum, Jackson tweeted “Wtf,” though he later tweeted it wasn't about that pick in particular. Then came late Thursday night, when the Cardinals Twitter account posted a photo of Brown at their draft party. Jackson retweeted it with a set of emojis that made it clear he wasn’t happy.
While all that isn’t exactly a Baker Mayfield-esque public display of displeasure, it was certainly an indication that Jackson wasn’t on board with the deal. It’s also fairly suggestive that the quarterback might not have been given the heads-up on what exactly was transpiring Thursday.
If this were a normal situation, you could categorize the dismay as something in the neighborhood of what Rodgers and Mahomes were feeling earlier this offseason. Except for one looming issue: Both of those players were under long-term deals, and there was little they could do about it. That’s most definitely not the situation with Jackson, who's slated to become a free agent after the 2022 season and has been awkwardly disconnected from contract extension talks.
Thus far, the Ravens have indicated that talks will be on Jackson’s timeline and they are ready to move on it when he is. But there hasn't been a deeper explanation for why he’s not engaging with the team. Sources familiar with both sides have suggested Jackson is patiently waiting for a window to maximize his earning power by letting other quarterback extensions raise the salary bar. But that could also lead him into a holding pattern for another year, allowing anticipated extensions for Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson to get hammered out next offseason.
That waiting game also means Baltimore is going to have to be strategic about how it finesses the roster around Jackson — preferably avoiding situations that prompt him to openly criticize a trade. The Ravens certainly failed in that respect on Thursday, and it likely prompted general manager Eric DeCosta to explain that it was Brown’s wish to be traded — and not necessarily the franchise.
“That’s a complicated topic,” DeCosta said of the deal coming together. “For me personally, complicated because Marquise was my first pick and one of my favorite guys on the team. But Marquise came to me after the season and requested that he be traded. He was not happy and wanted to play elsewhere. It was something I anguished over for a long time. He would tell you that he and I had many conversations throughout the spring. I always say the club has to win. This was a situation where it was going to be impossible for the club to truly win, but we try to do what’s best for the player.”
The Ravens did what was best for Brown, but certainly not what was best for Jackson. He now has one of the youngest and most statistically lacking wide receiver depth charts in the NFL. Arguably his best target in the corps is second-year wideout Rashod Bateman, who had 515 yards receiving and one touchdown catch as a rookie. And while the Ravens could still use their 45th overall pick on a wideout, there’s hardly a guarantee that player could replace Brown, who had 1,008 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2021 and appeared to be close to taking a big step forward in the offense.
Now he’ll be taking that step in Arizona with former Oklahoma Sooners teammate Kyler Murray, all while Jackson watches from afar, wondering what might have been. Time will tell if this is something that will open a rift between Jackson and the Ravens. But there’s no wondering whether this is a problem. Jackson has already shown that it is.
The question now is whether it’s a problem that grows, adding to an already awkward contract negotiation that seems to be getting even further from a resolution.