How Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson Handles Extra Scrutiny During Contract Negotiations

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey saw Lamar Jackson walk into a Baltimore-area IHOP and knew the Pro Bowl quarterback wouldn’t last long.

Before Jackson could even think about ordering bottomless pancakes, he was escorted out after being mobbed by fans.

“He thinks he’s a very normal guy, but I say, ‘Lamar, you’re Lamar Jackson,'” Humphrey said. “You are not me; you can’t just do normal things.”

And these are not normal times for Jackson, whose contract situation is one of the biggest stories in the NFL. The Ravens are negotiating an extension with the former MVP, who is not represented by an agent, and if it isn’t done by March, Jackson will likely have to play through 2023 under the franchise tag with an uncertain future in Baltimore.

When Jackson turns on the TV, he hears comments about his contract. When he clicked on Twitter during his vacation, he read criticism of his game from a former Ravens player.

“I guess that’s what comes with it,” Jackson said recently. “When you’re trying to be great, when you’re trying to work your tail off, there’s going to be negativity.”

Teammates believe Jackson is motivated by the criticism. Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban said Jackson is adept at ignoring the outside chatter.

But Jackson hasn’t ignored all the critics.

In May, former NFL quarterback Chris Simms said “[Tom] Brady didn’t want to miss OTAs in Year 4 of his career,” after Jackson skipped voluntary offseason workouts. Jackson responded on Twitter: “Lamar will be Lamar. This part of OTAs is voluntary.”

Last month, after Jackson was left out of a top 10 quarterback ranking, former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard wrote on Twitter: “He’s definitely a Top 10 talent, but as far as a Top 10 QB, I don’t see it.” Jackson then had a lengthy exchange with Pollard, saying, “I’ve never heard of you [to be honest]. You got your Super Bowl because of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.”

Jackson sees the exchanges as benign.

“They want conversation; I just give them a little conversation here and there,” Jackson said. “But it’s really nothing. It’s not serious. I’m not mad or anything. I’m just engaging.”

Despite the contract situation and the comments, Jackson appears as focused on football as he’s ever been. He bulked up during the offseason, adding more than 10 pounds of lean muscle. Jackson said he weighs 230 pounds. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Jackson is throwing the ball better than he’s ever seen him. A week and a half into camp, Jackson has completed nearly 70% of his passes.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he’s never worried about Jackson being distracted by criticism because he’s handled it through high school, college and the draft process as a dual-threat quarterback. The most popular criticism of Jackson is his ability to throw the ball.

An anonymous defensive coordinator told The Athletic last month that he would not consider Jackson a Tier 1 quarterback, even though he is a 12-time league MVP winner. “If he has to pass to win the game, they don’t win the game,” the coordinator said.

Jackson has been off at times with his accuracy, and he threw a career-worst 13 interceptions last year. But last season was his best at winning games late with his arm.

In 2021, Jackson led double-digit fourth-quarter comebacks against the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts. His Total QBR when trailing in the fourth quarter last season (81) was fourth in the NFL.

“I don’t know who this guy named ‘Anonymous’ is. I haven’t met him yet,” Harbaugh said. “So I don’t even know why we’re reporting what he has to say. But it is what it is. It’s just baloney; it’s just nothing; it’s a big nothing burger.”

Baltimore outside linebacker Justin Houston believes the criticism of Jackson is almost on par with NBA superstar LeBron James.

“No matter what this kid does, he can’t do right,” Houston said. “I love the way he’s handling it. It’s just motivation. So I pray everybody keeps talking about him because it’s fire.”

A few months after being criticized for not participating in voluntary workouts, Jackson heard league observers say he shouldn’t practice in training camp until he gets a long-term deal.

But Jackson said he’s not taking the “hold-in” approach — reporting to camp but not participating in practices like other NFL players with contract issues — because he wants to win and he doesn’t want to abandon his teammates. hanging out there.”

“Lamar is not worried about the contract, nobody should be worried about the contract,” Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman said. “It’s not up to us; we’ll let whoever handles it handle it. We just have to play football. That’s what we’re called here to do and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Teammates say Jackson is not talking about the negotiations. When Humphrey raised a long-term deal, Jackson told him, “It gets done when it gets done.”

“For a guy who negotiates, he hasn’t said a word and his value just keeps going up. It’s amazing,” Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler said. “For anyone who gives him shit, he’s in charge of his own destiny. now, and I think that’s the way he likes it. The way he plays, the way he prepares, the person that he is and I think in the long run he’s just going to keep winning.”

When asked how Jackson will handle all the noise going into the season, coaches and teammates point to 2019. After hearing all the preseason questions about whether he could throw the ball, Jackson threw five touchdown passes in the season opener and then delivered line: “Not bad for a running back.” Jackson became the second unanimous NFL MVP selection in history.

“I know he’s motivated by the critics,” Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. “… At the end of the day, he’s a phenomenal quarterback. Let the haters talk. We’ll let them chirp, but we’re just winning football games.”

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