In the run-up to the 2021 NFL season, ProFootballFocus released a ranking of the league’s top 50 players.
Aaron Donald was first. Patrick Mahomes was second. It went on from there.
Lamar Jackson was … unranked and unmentioned.
You might expect Jackson to be in a state of disbelief and disrespect. After all, he was the MVP of the league in 2019, by definition No. 1 just one season prior. While his 2020 season wasn’t as good — 10 fewer touchdown passes, three additional interceptions — it’s not like he was bad. He still rushed for 1,000 yards, still won 12 games as a starter, including a road playoff win against Tennessee.
He was still Lamar Jackson.
Yet Jackson didn’t respond, at least not publicly. There were no instagram posts. No passive-aggressive tweets. No comments at a news conference.
Inside the Baltimore Ravens' facility, there was an opposite reaction, albeit also in private. Maybe in some places, things like player rankings from an analytics based website wouldn’t register. It did with Ravens coaches and executives who consumed the list and got defensive.
Lamar Jackson is their guy, after all. Lamar Jackson is their leader.
Maybe all of this explains how Lamar Jackson is:
a) entering the final season of his rookie contract 15 months after he was eligible for a deal
b) serving as his own agent
c) is apparently in no rush to hash something out
d) is showing up this week for minicamp and shrugging off injury concerns.
“I don't buy into it at all,” he said of the risk of getting hurt. “I play football, that's what I am here for.”
And it might explain why the Ravens don’t seem troubled by any of it either.
This isn’t your typical QB or franchise, nor is this your typical QB-franchise relationship. Jackson loves Baltimore. Baltimore loves Jackson. When asked if he expected to spend his entire career with the franchise, Jackson on Thursday didn’t play coy for contract purposes.
“I expect so,” he said. “Yes, I do.”
Outside expectations or opinions — be it top-50 lists or how negotiations should go or that they should be going at all — don’t really matter.
No contract. No drama.
“We’re in conversation right now …” Jackson told reporters Thursday at Ravens minicamp. “We’re just keeping it private.”
As exciting as he is on the field, he’s boring off of it.
Jackson has every reason to stay the course. Many young players, especially quarterbacks, start stirring contract drama up even before they are eligible for a new deal. It’s a comment here. An agent-driven story there.
Jackson doesn’t seem to be into that game. If the Ravens can stay healthy, they are very dangerous. He spent most of Thursday repeating the “conversation” line, not elaborating on anything else. There were no threats, but also no promises.
“He’s a unique guy,” head coach John Harbaugh said back in April. “People have been scratching their heads and trying to figure out Lamar probably for a long time, you know, ever since he was a kid. And he’s got his way of going about doing things. But that’s what you love about him, it’s what I love about him.”
Of course, time and patience has served him well. Last season three quarterbacks had a contract that paid an average of over $40 million per year (Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Dak Prescott). By next year, there will be at least seven, including Derek Carr, who has never played at Jackson's level. Aaron Rodgers even broke the $50 million threshold.
Then there is Deshaun Watson, who picked up a five-year, $230 million deal with Cleveland that was groundbreaking because it was fully guaranteed. This was an NBA or MLB contract coming to the NFL.
“It’s like, damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,” Ravens owner Steve Biscotti said of the Browns earlier this spring. “I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a full guaranteed contract.”
In other words, these “conversations” that Jackson and the Ravens are having 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 dealing with 24 (and counting) civil lawsuits involving accusations of sexual assault.
Of course, Jackson doesn’t appear to be into any of that, even Watson’s guaranteed money.
“I am a man of my own,” Jackson said. “I don't worry about what those guys did.”
Jackson is at a talent level where he is almost assuredly going to get paid no matter what happens. Prescott got his deal after breaking his ankle and missing much of the season. Watson didn’t play at all. If the Ravens stay healthy, both they and their QB, could be headed for a huge season.
Which brings everything back to what Baltimore loves about Lamar Jackson. If there is any drama, it is hidden. He’s just here to play, like a top 50 NFL player should.