Standoff in Charm City
Ravens, Jackson remain in holding pattern as Draft awaits
Good morning, all.
It’s nearly late April, the NFL Draft will soon be upon us, and the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson remain at a standstill in their contract negotiations. This is a classic tête-à-tête, similar to when THE FAIR CLAUDINE and I regularly square off to determine where we should get dinner. (Spoiler alert: she always wins, the effective Harlem Globetrotters to my Washington Generals.)
If you’re not in the loop, Jackson is asking to be traded while the team, which placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the quarterback in March, insists it plans to keep him. Also, last night, the missus and I went with pizza. A rare win for the author.
Under the non-exclusive tag, any team is free to negotiate with Jackson but, if another club signs him and Baltimore doesn’t match the terms, the Ravens would receive two first-round draft picks as compensation. Two first rounders is nothing to sneeze at, of course, but it’s crazy to think that a record-setter like Jackson could become available in his prime.
Let’s examine this for a minute. The man just turned 26 years old. Would the Chiefs let Mahomes dangle out there? No. Would the Dolphins do it with Tagovailoa? I don’t think so. Indeed, when it comes to quarterbacks, such a standoff is largely unheard of in the NFL and, even more odd is the fact that no other teams have made a play for the star QB. Weird, right?
Naturally, this has led some observers to accuse NFL owners of employing the c-word. Yup, collusion.
(Note: this topic, you may recall, was front-and-center in The Informant, a charming 2009 movie about corporate price-fixing starring Matt Damon. In the film, Damon portrays an exec named Mark Whitacre, working at the food processing giant Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, Ill., not far from my central Illinois stomping grounds. In the movie - and real life - Whitacre gets sentenced to an eight-year stint in the pokey for various transgressions. An underrated effort by Damon and well worth the watch.)
Is it possible the owners are colluding? Those pillars of virtue? I’ll leave it to that great sage, Ralph Wiggum, to opine.
Speaking of these folks, wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall at the first owners’ meeting after Cleveland’s Jimmy Haslam handed alleged serial masseuse antagonist DeShaun Watson a cool $230 million guaranteed? Here’s how I imagine the evening cocktail party went:
RANDOM OWNER: Jimmy, you got a minute?
HASLAM: Sure, I do. What’s up?
RANDOM OWNER: You did the rest of the league dirty with that Watson contract. All that guaranteed cash for someone being sued by dozens of women? That’s nuttier than some of the stuff Snyder used to do and we’ve kept him around for more than 20 years. I’ll tell you what, pal: watch your step! Also, our hairpiece secret is off!
It’s interesting, yes, to wonder where Jackson could land. DC? Houston? Vegas? Alas, there’s as little chance of Lamar switching teams as there is of yours truly declaring war on Pringles - Salt & Vinegar is a gamechanger - so, it makes more sense to think about other things. Such as what the equivalent of Lamar’s availability would be in other sports - and industries.
What if the Angels made 28-year-old Shohei Ohtani available? Or if the Celtics and Mavs, respectively, put Tatum (25) and Luka (24) up for bid? Even more intriguing: what would be the fast-food equivalent of Lamar being on the market?
Would this be like the Popeye’s Fried Chicken Sandwich becoming a fast-food free agent, available to whichever restaurant chain is willing to ante up the most for this franchise player? Imagine a deal like this:
Popeye’s ships the sandwich rights to Subway in exchange for all of the latter’s locations in the 15 U.S. counties with the highest rates of obesity. The chicken, bun and pickles are included in the transaction, but the top-secret mayo recipe becomes a dealbreaker, so Subway is left to figure that part out on its own.
As part of the transaction, Popeye’s gets Subway franchisor “Nine-Fingered Pete” Cassidy, owner of 496 sandwich shops near various U.S. university campuses. Cassidy, a Franklinville, NY, native, earned his nickname because of an accident that occurred while slicing pastrami at his Pottstown, Pa., location.
(Note: Fearing a lawsuit, Subway remunerates Cassidy for the lost digit by giving him four additional stores near Penn State University, which prompts the entrepreneur to attempt to cut off another of his digits with a dull kitchen knife before his wife intervenes.)
Cassidy aside, it’s worth asking exactly who is in the right in this Baltimore-Jackson kerfuffle. Is it the team, led by Coach John Harbaugh, GM Eric DeCosta and owner Steve Bisciotti, a man so perpetually radiant that George Hamilton is envious? Or is it the player, the revolutionary talent with the tightest cornrows this side of Iowa?
Personally, I think both sides have a strong case.
The high-performing Jackson is probably correct in believing he deserves a bigger payday than a guy like Watson. Heck, as far as Ohio decisions go, it makes LeBron’s 2010 made-for-TV cringefest with Jim Gray look downright presidential.
On the flip side, the Ravens, long one of the most forward-thinking franchises in the league, are probably right in taking a bit of a wait-and-see approach, something that might pay off given the fact that Philadelphia just agreed to give Super Bowl QB Jalen Hurts, about $50 million less in guaranteed money than Watson received. (Note: taking a wait-and-see stance 20 years ago would’ve spared THE FAIR CLAUDINE two decades of foul smells and sporting events but, hey, it’s my gain so who cares?)
Let’s take a hypothetical look at how the conversations between the parties might be progressing:
LAMAR: Hey, fellas! Look at my body of work! I’ve played five seasons in the league with four years as a full-time starter. I’ve won MVP, earned two Pro Bowls, and twice run for 1,000 yards in a season while leading the league in yards per rushing attempt. My won-loss record is 46-19 (.708), including the playoffs. I am a model leader and teammate, I’m only 26 years old and I don’t even like massages!
RAVENS: Lamar, you’ve been great on every level, and we want you to be our long-term quarterback. As a rookie in 2018, you started eight games, including the playoff game, and it looked like you’d be a star. The next year was amazing! We lost our first playoff game again, but you were awesome and won that MVP award. Then 2020 was probably your best year, Lamar. Twelve wins including a playoff victory. We were sure you’d make the big leap from there!
LAMAR: Hey, I know where you’re going with this. Yes, I know I missed a few games the last couple of years but that happens to a lot of guys.
RAVENS: Well (deep breath)…it never happened to Joe Flacco. He didn’t miss a game in his first five seasons.
LAMAR: Oh, there you go, throwing that Flacco business in my face. Listen, Joe is my guy but come on!
RAVENS: Lamar, here’s how we look at the past two seasons. In 2021, you played well when you were healthy, but you missed five complete games and most of another with the right ankle injury and Covid and we were 1-5 in those games. You also lost your only start to the Steelers and had four games with multiple interceptions.
Then, in the 2021 offseason, you turned down our generous contract offer to bet on yourself, just like Joe did in 2012. We loved your confidence and, last year, you were really good through the first 12 games. Then you missed the last six weeks, including the playoff loss.
LAMAR: Ok, ok. You said it yourself - I’ve continued to play well the past two years. What else do you want from me?
RAVENS: Some playoff wins would be nice. Our record is 1-3 when you start in the postseason. By the way, your guy Joe won nine playoff games and a Super Bowl in his first five years.
LAMAR: I know that. I want playoff wins too! But let’s stop talking about Joe! You want anything else?
RAVENS: Yes! Please beat Pittsburgh! You are only 2-3 (.400) against the Steelers since joining the league and you’ve missed five games against them due to illness or injury. The Steelers are an archrival, an annual measuring stick, and we need our star QB on the field in those contests.
LAMAR: It seems like all you guys care about is availability! What do you want, Kirk Cousins?
RAVENS: Lamar, that’s silly to say. We much prefer you over someone like Kirk, but now that you mention him, his beauty is in his durability. He’s been in the league for 11 years and never missed a game due to injury. Meanwhile, you’ve been out for 11 games the past two seasons and that is concerning to us.
LAMAR: I know I missed a few games, but I didn’t lose any games due to injury in my first three seasons. Plus, our record is 3-8 when I’ve been out. It shows how important it is to have me on the field!
RAVENS: Exactly! That record of 3-8 when you’ve been out the past two years shows how important it is to have you on the field! We believe the best ability is availability! And, while we’re at it, Joe was always available to win those playoff games.
LAMAR: I know but Joe had Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin at wide receiver, Ray Rice at running back and the best defense around. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata! Legends! Our best player - besides me - is a kicker! I need weapons!
RAVENS: Hey, don’t knock Justin Turner! Our defense may not Ray and the rest of those guys, but we were third in the league in points allowed last year, first in 2020 and third in 2019! Our D is loaded with ballers. Plus, you have Mark Andrews on offense and we just got you Odell Beckham, Jr!”
LAMAR: I love Justin and Mark - you know that. And Odell is good, but he just turned 30 and has barely played the past three years. Plus, the man walks like Fred Sanford.
RAVENS: We hear you. We continue to work on the receiver thing but don’t forget how good your offensive line was last season. Pro Football Focus ranked them second in the league!
LAMAR: Hey, I love my big uglies up front. You know I’ll go to war with those guys anytime.
RAVENS: We know, and we want to go to battle with you as our QB. But, instead of fighting, let’s go to dinner and talk. This negotiating is making us hungry. All we have to do is agree upon the restaurant. Do you like sushi?
LAMAR: Sushi?!? C’mon man!