Three years ago, the Ravens used the 32nd pick in round one on quarterback Lamar Jackson, who became the league’s MVP in only his second season. As Jackson inches toward his second contract, Bucky Brooks of NFL Media has an intriguing idea.
Brooks thinks the Ravens should at least consider drafting Jackson’s replacement, in Justin Fields.
The Ravens now hold the 27th and 31st, along with multiple third- and fourth-round selections. If Fields slides, do the Ravens move up to get him? If Fields makes it all the way to 27, do the Ravens take him?
Brooks isn’t simply throwing out a hot take. He has a reason for suggesting that the Ravens consider avoiding the presumption that sufficiently good rookie quarterbacks will get mammoth second contracts.
“They [could] take a collegiate approach to the quarterback position,” Brooks said on NFL Network’s Path to the Draft. “They cash in on a Justin Fields. And then maybe they operate like a college team. One quarterback graduates, the other quarterback steps into the starter’s role. You now have the opportunity to keep a starting quarterback potentially on a young deal, build up the rest of the assets, and then play smash mouth football the way that they play, and continue to build a better team around the quarterback. It’s something to think about.”
It’s definitely something to think about. With the Ravens hoping to sign Jackson to a long-term deal, and with Jackson not represented by a traditional agent, they potentially could find themselves at an impasse sooner or later. Given the manner in which the Joe Flacco rookie deal played out, with the Ravens eventually giving Flacco two giant contracts after failing to get him signed before his initial agreement expired, maybe they’re willing to consider the concept of quarterback “graduation.”
But college quarterbacks “graduate” only because they’re out of eligibility, or because they leave for the level of football that pays them to play. NFL teams with great quarterbacks typically keep them as long as they can, even if the quarterback’s contract creates salary-cap challenges.
Inevitably, more NFL teams will say to a quarterback who has landed on the “pass” side of the pass/fail line and who is eligible for a second deal, “No thanks.” The Rams, for example, should have done just that with Jared Goff. The Buccaneers did it with Jameis Winston. It’s currently very hard to imagine the Ravens doing that with Lamar Jackson.
But it’s definitely something to at least think about, even if it’s ultimately something better suited for other teams to actually execute. With quarterback contracts continuing to take up so much of a team’s cap space, and with so many great young quarterbacks entering the league, perhaps any team that doesn’t have a true, short-list, franchise quarterback should consider going younger and cheaper at the position.
It’s most likely not the right move for the Ravens, because Jackson is a short-list franchise guy. If, however, they have any concern about wear and tear on Jackson from the run-heavy approach on offense, at some point they’ll need to think about turning the page before the wheels come off.
While it’s way too early to actually do it, it’s never too early to consider creative ideas, even if those ideas ultimately aren’t implemented.