Lamar Jackson lost his all-pro tight end, Mark Andrews, to injury during a mid-November game. And the Baltimore quarterback still led his Ravens to a win and has won the four games since.
Jackson lost his main running back, J.K. Dobbins, in the first game of the season. And Jackson picked up the slack by rushing for 182 yards and four touchdowns inthe next three games.
Jackson inherited a new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, to whom he adjusted his style to pass more than ever, and he has done so at anefficient pace to a mix of young receivers and veterans such as 31-year-old Odell Beckham Jr., who had not played in a year.
Maybe most remarkably, Jackson wasn’t afforded fair treatment by the NFL last offseason, yet, with his mother’s guidance and some assistance from the players union, still was able to garner what was then a league-record $260 million contract from the only team for which he has played and create some freedom for himself as an agent in our favorite pro sport that is least forgiving of its athletes.
The MVP award that Jackson should be handed at season’s end will not adequately represent all that he accomplished this season. For himself. For his team. For other players in the league.
The league has never seen such an impactful, transformative performance by a player in a single year since maybe Joe Namath.
The argument that there is a more worthy winner for the league’s most notable individual honor isn’t up to date with what Jackson has done. Christian McCaffrey is having an outstanding year as San Francisco’s star running back. The quarterback from whom he gets the ball, Brock Purdy, is also performing exquisitely, no matter his wilting on the same field last weekend against Jackson, who led the Ravens to a resounding victory over the 49ers.
But those are campaigns, superlative notwithstanding, we’ve seen before.
“Lamar Jackson, he’s unlike anybody else,” said Miami defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on Thursday via the Dolphins’ website.
In many ways, Jackson is, along with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, cutting a new swath for other quarterbacks who can pass and run with equal effectiveness. But Jackson is more likely to run by design than survivability.
“The only other player that’s been like him in the last 50 years is Michael Vick,” said Fangio, who has been tasked with slowing Jackson on Sunday in Baltimore. “He’s a tremendous player. Kudos to Ozzie [Newsome] and Eric [DeCosta] for picking him. Thirty-one other teams that passed him by are kicking themselves.”
Some of those teams maybe twice. After all, as Jackson and the Ravens appeared to hit a wall in their contract negotiations last offseason, none of the many teams in need of a quarterback were said to have reached out to Jackson after he announced he wanted to be traded. It was as if the league colluded against Jackson. It made little sense, as many of Jackson’s teammates and opponents opined on social media. And for good reason.
What any team in quarterback need missed out on by not reaching out to Jackson was a 26-year-old quarterback in his sixth season this year completing a career-high 66.3 percent of his passes at 7.7 yards per attempt. One who is still the leading ground gainer among quarterbacks but is gaining less than ever at 52.4 yards per game, ostensibly protecting his body more against injuries like the one that knocked him out of last season’s playoffs, which the Ravens didn’t survive without him.
Injury was said to be the main reason other suitors didn’t develop for Jackson. He has missed 10 games over the past two seasons with various pains. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank even allowed as much in explaining why his Falcons didn’t pursue Jackson, who in just his second season in 2019 won his first league MVP award in electrifying fashion. The Falcons are 7-8 with an offense 20 rungs behind that of Jackson’s Ravens. Injury history didn’t stop the Bengals from sewing up their young quarterback, Joe Burrow, who is hurt and out again, to a big deal.
“He’s really improved over the years,” Fangio noted of Jackson. “Dynamic with the ball. Good passer. He makes their offense go.”
Jackson hasn’t missed a game this season, one in which it looked as though he would play only under the franchise tag, which is the NFL’s way of restricting free agency, particularly for the game’s biggest stars.
But Jackson stuck as best he could to his convictions. He came as close to doing what other players of his stature should do to get what is due them. He held out for every million he could get, guaranteed. He apparently shunned the noise that he was anything but smart for trying to go the distance himself. And he managed a five-year, $260 million contract, of which $185 million is guaranteed. Jackson also got the Ravens to agree not to pin a franchise tag on him again when the deal expires after the 2027 season, which gives Jackson the freedom to shop his talents to every team.
Jackson’s brethren in the union ought to take as much notice of Jackson’s negotiations as they do his passing, running and guile on the field. He was steadfast. He was unmoved by criticism swirling about him as a contract negotiator following his mother’s counsel. They understood and exercised his value, something too few NFL players do.
And with all the pressure of expectations that a quarter-billion-dollar contract brings, Jackson is handling it. He appears to be doing so with the same calm and collectiveness he showed in negotiating his deal with the Ravens.
Jackson is winning his bet on himself — breaking the house, I would say, unlike anyone except his mother and he probably imagined.