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As Lamar Jackson waits to sign the next huge quarterback contract extension, one NFL Draft expert thinks the Ravens could explore the radically different approach of letting him leave in free agency.
Cycling through different quarterbacks every 4-5 years to always keep one on a salary-cap-friendly rookie contract is a theory that bounces around NFL inners circles but no team has had the gumption to actually try it because of how difficult it is to draft the right quarterback. Letting go of an elite quarterback and replacing him with a potential draft bust is a recipe for egg on your face and fire under your seat.
So, why would Ravens coach John Harbaugh risk parting ways with Jackson, who was the 2019 NFL MVP in his first full year as a starter? Well, after trading offensive tackle Orlando Brown to the Chiefs, the Ravens now have two first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) in Thursday’s draft and the ability to move up to select a potentially sliding quarterback like Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
“In Harbaugh’s words he said, ‘We are the army of the NFL,’” NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks said during a television appearance.
“I just wonder about a scenario if Justin Fields happened to fall low enough where he is within range, if the Baltimore Ravens decide to really go all in on this army approach – meaning they take a collegiate approach to the quarterback position. They cash in on a blue chip, they take Justin Fields, and then maybe they operate like a college team: One quarterback graduates, the other quarterback steps into the starter’s role.”
In this case, “graduate” is a fancy word for letting Jackson leave in free agency rather than re-signing him to an extension like the four-year, $156 million contract the Texans gave last season to Deshaun Watson. Because of Jackson’s scramble-heavy playing style and thin build, there are concerns about whether his body will hold up over the long-term in the NFL as well as it should for Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Watson.
“You now have the opportunity to keep a starting quarterback, potentially, on a young deal,” Brooks said. “Build up the rest of the assets, play smashmouth football the way that they play and continue to build a better team around the quarterback. Something to think about.”
The Boston Globe reported in February that Jackson and the Ravens were far apart on extension negotiations.
While Brooks mentioned Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is another quarterback prospect who has been compared to Jackson by some experts.
“The Ravens are the one team that could utilize this approach because they’re systematic on offense,” Brooks further explained on Twitter. “They’re like Army, so they can plug-and-play with a dynamic dual threat at QB with similar success. No disrespect to No. 8 [Jackson] but college supplies plenty of QBs that fit the bill.”
Jackson is 30-7 as a regular-season starter (1-3 in the playoffs) with 68 passing touchdowns compared to 18 interceptions, plus back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The Ravens transitioned from former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to Jackson in 2018. Replicating Jackson’s success is easier said than done.
“I’m not saying that they will do it,” Brooks wrote, “but some team should explore utilizing a collegiate model at QB. Unless you have an elite QB, let ‘em graduate and find another. Don’t overpay for average performance and production. [It] comes back to bite you in the end. Food for thought.”
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