The offseason news cycle has been full of the potential for a few quarterbacks changing teams, with the most intriguing so far not being about ayahuasca and a darkness retreat. That’s right, I’m talking about the wide receiver prospect turned NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. After wrapping up an electric 2019 season where he passed for over 3,200 yards and rushed for over 1,200, Jackson’s numbers have settled a bit thanks in part to injuries that have caused him to miss time and diminishing offensive weapons in Baltimore.
Jackson’s diminished returns along with playing out his rookie contract have made for an uncomfortable situation with the Ravens. What Jackson wants to be paid and what the Ravens want to pay are apparently pretty far off. Jackson, per his Twitter account, requested a trade in early March. Things have soured, meaning any team in need of a quarterback has been linked to Jackson, a 26-year-old former MVP the likes of which rarely if ever hit the market. That has meant the rumor mill has been spinning wildly, even though a surprising number of teams have publicly declared themselves to be out on pursuing Jackson.
In fact, we’ve been trying to ignore all of the bad rumors surrounding Jackson and Atlanta, who have declared themselves out on Jackson and committed to Desmond Ridder. Everyone wants to talk about Jackson, including team owner Arthur Blank, per The Athletic’s Josh Kendall.
More Blank on Jackson: “Looking at it objectively I’d say there’s some concern over how long can he play his style of game. Hopefully a long time ..., but he’s missed 5, 6 games each of the last two years. Each game counts a lot in our business.”— Josh Kendall (@JoshTheAthletic) March 28, 2023
Blank and the team never gave the fans much info on the team’s very public and very embarrassing pursuit of Watson. The info Blank did provide minimized the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson and the team’s level of interest, which he characterized as looking into even while reporters characterized it as a near-signing. To invoke Watson again is even more misguided than his comments at the start of the 2022 offseason explaining the need for a robust transition plan at quarterback — eschewing the clunky mismanagement which was only weeks away.
While that has been discussed before, Blank’s reasoning to differentiate Jackson and Watson really misses the mark. After all, Blank and the Falcons dropped all their declared long-term plans to chase after a player facing a likely lengthy suspension, so “each game counts” rings hollow, even if he’s not willing to admit that chase was serious. Watson tore his ACL twice and was suspended for 11 games after being benched for the entire 2021 season. That’s a concerning injury history on top of the whole mess associated with Watson, including paying him for a year where he’s suspended for being accused of some heinous things.
As nearly a polar opposite, Jackson is by all accounts a stand-up individual. He’s not facing a long line of terrible allegations. He is also standing on his original ACLs. His rushes may need to come down over time, something easy to do with a play-caller more creative than Greg Roman. That style of play is always evolving, but to suggest Jackson is injury prone before his age-26 season is nuts, especially considering he hasn’t had any major injuries known to hurt long-term outlooks. He also has, as multiple NFL players have noted, been injured in the pocket both of the last two years. There’s no question he’s an upgrade for a healthy chunk of NFL teams.
However, focusing on Jackson isn’t really important, or to say the Falcons should (or should not) go after him. From a team-building perspective, it is undoubtedly tough to be competitive by both trading away compensation and paying one of (if not the) most expensive deal in the league unless you’re excellent with managing your cap and your additions. Jackson wants to get paid, but probably won’t get into negotiations with a team publicly questioning how he plays the game.
Common sense would indicate you try to keep that door open should his price and Baltimore’s price drop, but this team hasn’t had common sense at that passer position in years. They’ve also now very publicly and consistently, from Blank to Terry Fontenot to Arthur Smith, declared Desmond Ridder to be the starter and alluded to considering Jackson but deciding against going after him. It’s the “we’re sticking with our plan” declaration that the team refused to embrace a year ago, and it’s creating justifiable confusion and frustration in the fanbase.
I can understand why the Falcons wouldn’t go after Jackson. I absolutely cannot understand why the Falcons so suddenly and ardently went after Watson but then so publicly bowed out of going after Jackson. Even more difficult to understand is why Blank would again stick his foot on the hornet’s next after getting stung so badly last year.
The only major differentiation between Watson and Jackson seems to be one knows the owner, and that was enough for the team to ignore and overlook a plethora of problems. Now we’ll see if the team’s restraint a year later when another great (and luggage-free) player is available pays off.