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Lamar Jackson Really Might Just Bet on Himself

The Ravens’ quarterback still doesn’t have a new contract signed. He’s taking a massive gamble. Plus, answering mailbag questions on Bill Belichick, practice fights and whether Jimmy Garoppolo will take back over as QB1.

Thursday night’s the night. So let’s get this going with one last offseason mailbag …

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Is Lamar Jackson about to take a Joe Flacco style gamble on himself for 2022?

Tom, I’m definitely not ruling it out. And that’s because I think it’s foolish to try to project anything Jackson will do on conventional wisdom.

I’ve laid this out a few places, and I’ll do it here now, too: A smart executive told me a few years back that it wasn’t his job to pay a star player his worth, it was his job to find the number that the guy couldn’t say no to. I think it’s on that premise that quarterback deals to follow the fully guaranteed ones done by Kirk Cousins in 2018 and Deshaun Watson this year failed to turned those contracts into trend-setters.

After Cousins’s deal was done in 2018, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson signed conventional quarterback deals, because the Falcons, Packers, and Seahawks put packages together that those guys couldn’t turn down. Similarly, after the Watson deal was done, the Raiders, Cardinals and Broncos found similar sweet spots with Derek Carr, Kyler Murray and Wilson. Which then made it easy to position the Cousins and Watson deals as outliers.

Lamar Jackson holds a mic on the sideline during a preseason game.

So what if Jackson’s the guy who’s actually willing to say no and walk away from a massive guarantee and an average per year well north of $40 million? To this point, he’s actually been that guy. Otherwise, a deal would be done. And my understanding is last year the Ravens showed a willingness to go where the Bills did with Josh Allen on an average-per-year basis ($43 million), which tells you that raw dollars aren’t the problem here.

Why would Jackson say no? Well, first of all, the reason you can’t just group him with other guys is because he’s always done things his own way—it’s part of what makes him great as a football player. The other part of this, though, is the way he plays the position, which you could argue is a way that no player has. Cam Newton, for example, had 467 carries in 62 starts over his first four years. Jackson has 615 carries in 49 starts (and 58 games played) over his first four years. And all of that takes a toll.

Last year, he lost significant time (five games) to injury for the first time as a pro. And in most cases, that might make a player think they need to cash out now and get every dime they can. But what if, again, Jackson sees this differently? Like … If I take on the physical risk you’re asking me to, then I’m not absolving you of financial risk if something goes wrong because I took that risk four or five years from now.

I don’t know if that’s what Jackson’s thinking. I just know he thinks differently. And if it were me in that spot, I think that’d be a logical way to look at it. Maybe it bucks the way most players would approach the situation, but, again, with Jackson, veering off the beaten path would only be par for the course.

From Nik (@nikhargis): What possible changes do you see to the CBA regarding practice fights and potential discipline? It seems the NFL has moved on faster than Aaron Donald swinging a helmet at a player.

Nik, I think it’s an interesting question. We’ll see Aaron Donald out there on Thursday. And I know this—that wouldn’t be the case if he was wielding two helmets as weapons in a preseason game, and not a joint practice.

So what’s the difference? Really, the league office having to police practices would open a Pandora’s box. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t do it. It’s just one of those things where if you start here, then where does it end? The reality is football’s a physical sport. Training camp, even if it’s not what it once was, is a grind. It’s hot. Weeks in, guys are worn down, both mentally and physically. And that’s why things can get chippy, and then erupt in practice brawls.

Let’s say, then, that the league office suspended Donald for doing what he did. With that precedent in place, what does Park Ave. do with a guy who throws a punch at a camp practice? You’d probably have to at least fine him, right? Are you willing to fine guys for every punch thrown in a camp practice? And what if it’s a guy on the minimum who’s not guaranteed to make a dollar once the season starts, just defending himself? And who’s going to be the one to review all the practice tape for all the different training camps?

Point is, this one’s a little more complicated than people think. So yes, the league will discuss the idea of monitoring at least the joint practices during camp. But there are more reasons not to do it than you may realize.

From Jeff Hanewich (@jhanewich): If Bill is really under .500 and we know early this team is not making the playoffs, will Bob Kraft really consider moving on from him?

Jeff, I know this has become a popular question. But I don’t think it’s a valid one yet.

This year will be a good litmus test for Bill Belichick’s program in a number of different ways. First and foremost, taking Josh McDaniels out of the equation will be a major test, because he’s been the primary play-caller for 14 of Belichick’s 22 years in New England and was largely responsible for the transition from Tom Brady to Cam Newton to Mac Jones, so the “What does it look like without Brady?” questions go to another level in 2022.

It's also very fair to question his outside-the-box construction of the coaching staff, with no named coordinators, and two guys on each side of the ball (Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo on defense, and Matt Patricia and Joe Judge on offense) taking on duties that would usually fall under those job titles. Belichick’s always given his coordinators a nice safety net with his own ability to steer the ship. What if that’s needed on both sides of the ball this year?

Then, there’s the draft record over the last five or six years, which is a big reason the roster eroded, and one reason why Brady felt no compulsion to stick around. It looks like New England started to turn that around last year, and seeing more development from younger guys on the roster seems like a must if this year’s team is going to even come close to reaching the normal standard in Foxborough.

But here’s another reality: The Patriots are top five, as it stands right now, in the NFL in cap space in the NFL for 2023 and have six picks in the first four rounds of April’s draft, with more potentially coming for the ’22 losses of J.C. Jackson and Ted Karras. And next year’s the third year of Jones’s rookie deal, which is usually right when a team can maximize the value of a really good young quarterback.

For all those reasons, if there is a crossroads coming for Belichick, I’d say it’s more likely in early 2024, after the ’23 season. At that point, there’ll be four post-Brady years to evaluate. You’ll presumably have had two offseasons (’21 and ’23) to spend big in free agency. You’ll have a decision to make on Jones’s fifth-year option, and potentially more than that, since he’ll be eligible, for the first time, for an extension.

To me, that’s where everyone will have a really clear-eyed view of what the post-Brady Patriots are under Belichick. So I think we’re still a ways off from the Krafts considering something that, at this point, I still think would be a little rash.

From hosey.eth (@BetEspn): Out-R-Inn or Too’s?

Love Out-R-Inn. But this one’s easy for me. Too’s. And by the way, it sucks that they demolished it and turned it into a freaking Chick-fil-A (or Huntington Bank, which is right there on that property, but was also there previously). That’s not progress. It’s greed.

(Shoutout to my editors for not taking this one out of the mailbag.)

From Dan in the 916 (@DanAbsher): In what week does Jimmy G become the starter?

Dan, count me among the few who think Trey Lance is going to be fine. The 49ers made it clear to both quarterbacks before doing Jimmy Garoppolo’s restructure that Lance was the starter, and that Kyle Shanahan planned to stick with him through any early bumps. And here’s the other thing—I think you’d be an absolute fool to think that the Niners have tipped their hand at all in how they’re going to deploy Lance.

Here’s a good example to illustrate that for you: In the spring and summer of 2012, Washington, with Shanahan as coordinator, committed early to Robert Griffin III as starter, knowing he wasn’t ready to run the conventional Shanahan offense. In three preseason games, Griffin was 20-of-31 for 193 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 22 yards on five carries. It was enough to elicit headlines asking whether Griffin was the right quarterback for right now for that team, with fellow rookie Kirk Cousins outplaying him.

Then, they played the opener, Shanahan unleashed the offense he’d built for Griffin, and the rookie went 19-of-32 for 320 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for another 42 yards, Washington scored 40, and beat the Saints in the Superdome.

The lesson you can take from that is that I wouldn’t judge Lance until we see exactly what Shanahan’s got dialed up for him. The idea will be, at first, to highlight Lance’s strengths, to buy him time to develop as a quarterback. That, by the way, might’ve worked with Griffin, if the relationship part of things didn’t go sideways at the end of the 2012 season. And I think, over time, it will work with Lance.

From Hey Dere Bud (@hognickles): Who wins the AFC West? I know but do you?

I was gutless on this one. I took the Chiefs because, well, it’s hard to imagine Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes not winning the division at this point. But I also have the Raiders and Chargers in the playoffs, and I think the Broncos will be right there, too.

The one thing I will say is that Kansas City has more variables than it has had in years past. Obviously, there are the questions at receiver, with Tyreek Hill gone, and Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore, among others, in. Then, there’s a pretty big number of young players (Nick Bolton, Willie Gay, L’Jarius Sneed, George Karlaftis, Trent McDuffie) expected to play big roles on defense around the few mainstays, like Chris Jones and Frank Clark, left on that side of the ball.

So there are questions, for sure, but Reid and Mahomes get the benefit of the doubt.

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From Ryan Caban (@ryancaban24): Who wins Chiefs HB1 job down the stretch?

Ryan, I think Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon will have roles, and those have been earned. But it’s hard not to be intrigued by everything you hear coming out of there on seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco. And beyond just the rare size-speed ratio he brings, and the vision he’s proven to have in camp, I really like the way GM Brett Veach and his department came to land Pacheco where they did.

Because of the COVID-19 season of 2020, an outsized number of talented backs returned to school in ’21, and, as the Chiefs saw it, that created a glut of viable options at the position on Day 3 of the ’22 draft. So their board was crowded with backs going into that Saturday, and Pacheco was stood out among those available, based on his aforementioned athleticism, and, suffice it to say, he’s been better than they thought he’d be.

So if wouldn’t surprise me if he’s got a prominent role on early downs late in the season. If you want to call that “HB1,” so be it.

From Eric Michaud (@EricMichaudCT): Do the Dolphins make the playoffs?

I have them on the outside looking in—with only the Bills making it out of the East.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws the ball in the second half. The Eagles defeat the Jets, 33-18, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in East Rutherford. Nyj Vs Phi

From Eric Schultz (@etschultz17): Does Zach Wilson have potential to be a top-five quarterback in the NFL (eventually), or have you already seen enough?

Wilson’s got a lot of talent, no question. He’s not Josh Allen, but he’s got plenty of juice in his arm, a lightning-quick release, and creativity in his game.

What’ll determine how far he goes, I think, is what’s around him, and how much better he gets at seeing the field. One criticism he faced coming out of BYU was that he too often tried to hit the home run, in part because it was there for him a lot within a really potent Cougars offense. So the Jets have tried to slow the game down for him a little bit, in getting him to focus on his job and his job alone, and not worry about trying to see every last thing going on out there, and narrowing the playbook more to what he does well.

As for how the Jets are around him, that’s an open question, too. Duane Brown’s looked good at left tackle thus far, and how he holds up, at 37, will be one swing factor. Another will be how the young receivers—Elijah Moore and Garrett Wilson in particular—play. And then Breece Hall’s addition to the backfield, alongside Michael Carter, could really help take pressure off Wilson, as well.

Top five? I don’t know. But I do like that the Jets are trying to take the pressure off of him with how they’ve put together the roster, and think it should lead to a nice step over the next four months.

From Duke Ratanakarn (@sanddune80): What’s your expectations on Carson Wentz? Will he do better in Washington than Indy?

The optimist’s view: The Commanders’ stable of fleet-of-foot receivers (Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson) should better marry up with who Wentz is as a quarterback. And Scott Turner’s scheme, which relies on threatening defenses downfield, should be a nice match too, especially with a run game that produced with Antonio Gibson carrying the mail last year.

The pessimist’s view: Everything that happened the last two years.

It’s hard to unsee the recent past. But I think Wentz is in a decent spot going into the season, with what’s around him, and with Turner committed to better getting him into a rhythm (that was hard for him last year, at times, in an offense that leaned so heavily on Jonathan Taylor), so we’ll see what happens.

From K1SinceDay1 (@KSzn2021): Thoughts on Kyler going into the season? Heard he’s been much different this offseason, wondering what that means and if you think he will firmly step up into the elite QB category.

I think you’ll see a lot of the same things you saw the last three years—which is a spectacularly talented young quarterback—and then how he plays down the stretch will ride on the extra work he’s done, and the Cardinals have had him do (such as having him wear a headset and call plays in camp).

To me, you can play games with your scheme, and Kliff Kingsbury’s really good in that area, early in the year, but an offense, and a quarterback, need to have more answers later in the year as defenses build a book on what they’re doing. So the hope is that getting more from Murray in the classroom, and through the mental part of the game, will make Arizona better when it matters. We’ll see if it works.

From Matt Williamson (@willy4412): Who should the Bears hire to be their next president?

Matt, I’m on Chicago radio every week, and those guys told me that fans have been calling for Peyton Manning to take over for Ted Phillips as team president. Let me say first that I think Manning will, someday, be great in a football executive role. I just don’t think this one is the fit—because the Bears have a first-year coach, a first-year GM, and the biggest thing on the next president’s agenda will be decidedly nonfootball.

The Bears are trying to build a stadium in the suburbs, and that’s a big task, so along those lines I think there are a few people they should make a run at.

The Rams might be the best team to try and pluck from, given that getting SoFi Stadium built was Herculean task pulled off in a massive market (so there are obvious parallels there). And it’d be worth, I think, at least trying to poach their COO, Kevin Demoff, away. The Raiders are another one that got a stadium built, and their former president, Marc Badain, is available, and has some similarities to outgoing Bears president Ted Phillips.

After that, Packers president Mark Murphy, the former Northwestern AD, might be worth making a call on, given all the work done on and around Lambeau. But at 67, would he have the appetite to start anew somewhere else, and with the Packers’ archrival? Seems less than likely. And a dark horse, to me, would be NFL chief revenue officer Renie Anderson—she’s still in her 40s, and has a strong business background that’d suit her for the role.

Bottom line, there are good options out there, and the Bears’ job is a very attractive one, for all the obvious reasons.

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