If you thought Lamar Jackson put on a spectacle to behold on Monday night, twirling, slicing and dart-tossing his way through a Rams defense that played in the Super Bowl less than a year ago, just wait until you see all the moves NFL owners, personnel executives and prospective head coaches bust out to copy what is happening in Baltimore this offseason.
We’re running out of ways to describe and things to say about the quarterback who is grinding nearly every defense he faces into a fine powder. He is politely stomping on everyone who did not believe he was an NFL quarterback. He is, as head coach John Harbaugh intimated during a sideline conversation with Jackson, the type of transcendent talent that will change the way an upcoming generation of kids thinks about football.
But I think the most obvious compliment the league will pay to Jackson—beyond giving him the MVP award, which he is running away with—is how it will quietly try and emulate what Baltimore is doing.
When something great and different and successful is happening, NFL teams stuck in neutral tend to publicly turn up their noses while quietly, frantically instructing their internal horde of quality control minions to figure out what is happening and how to distill its essence for the team’s benefit. We saw it in the rise of sports science post-Chip Kelly. We saw it in the frantic hiring of anyone who had even caught a remote glimpse of Sean McVay doodling a play on a cocktail napkin. Any team that puts on something resembling appointment viewing like the Ravens have this season will be studied, analyzed and eventually pilfered by the unoriginal masses at the urging of ownership.
Next season, Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be a head coach somewhere. We’ll hear more about teams raiding the brains of option blocking pioneers like Paul Johnson (who visited with the Ravens this offseason) and, come draft time, there will be a whole lot of analysts and anonymous evaluators changing their tune about what can and cannot be successful in the league based on an increasingly unreliable old-fashioned eye test. We’re going to see the DNA of this Baltimore team spread throughout the NFL, right down to more coaches using informed, analytical decision making like Harbaugh does on Sundays. So much of this action stemming from the play of one person.
Unfortunately this is how it works in the NFL. Instead of using the Ravens as an example, and empowering an intelligent head coach and personnel staff to take risks and try interesting things, it’s easier to let the plants grow somewhere else, yank them from the ground and try potting them in your own backyard in hopes they’ll grow. It’s insane to think about the possibilities if team owners all thought the way Baltimore does—we could have 32 completely wild and different playbooks facing off every Sunday instead of a small handful of interesting ideas facing off against the remaining masses who are still trying to figure out how Kyle Shanahan did what he did in 2016 and McVay did what he did in ’18.
That said, it doesn’t change the fact that imitation remains the most sincere form of flattery in the NFL, especially since it’s done so begrudgingly. The smart teams will pocket the actual lesson here while the remainder will try and create Baltimore North, South or West.
The really, really bad teams will try and actually find another Lamar Jackson. The fact that this is impossible might be the biggest compliment of all.
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