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PHOENIX — The news that Lamar Jackson has asked the Baltimore Ravens to be traded, according to Jackson himself, broke as coach John Harbaugh sat down with reporters at the NFL annual meeting on Monday.
And it wasn’t at more or less the same time Harbaugh sat a table surrounded by the media. Jackson started his tweet stream by saying: “A letter to my fans” at 7:48 a.m. (MST). That’s exactly the time Harbaugh sat down.
Or exacting coordination from someone present to put the Ravens and Harbaugh on the hot seat with no time to prepare?
Harbaugh was immediately asked about Jackson’s tweet saying he asked to be traded on March 2.
John Harbaugh Reacts To Jackson Trade Request
“I haven’t seen the tweet,” a clearly surprised Harbaugh said. “It’s an ongoing process. I’m following it very closely just like everyone else is here. Looking forward to a resolution. Thinking about Lamar all the time. Thinking about him as our quarterback. We’re building our offense around that idea and I’m just looking forward to getting back to football …”
Harbaugh was asked if he anticipates Jackson being the Ravens quarterback on Week 1 of the NFL regular season and his answer wasn’t quite as telling as what came before.
“Ahhhh,” Harbaugh began with a noticeable pause. “I do. You got to plan for all the contingencies for sure. But I’m pretty fired up Lamar Jackson. I mean, Lamar Jackson is a great player. Lamar came back in great shape last year. He was fired up to play. That’s the Lamar I’m look forward to seeing.
“Can’t wait to get back on the grass and go to work and I’m confident that’s going to happen.”
Harbaugh admitted the current contract situation in which Jackson was tagged by the team as its franchise player has affected the communication between himself and the Jackson in that they haven’t talked as much as usual.
“It’s been a while,” Harbaugh said.
Ravens Apparently Still Want Jackson
But Harbaugh made it clear he’s a Lamar Jackson guy. He said he sees no problem bringing Jackson back into the locker room now that he’s asked to leave. Harbaugh also said, “of course, of course,” the Ravens are building their new offense around Jackson.
“You prepare for all contingencies but you build your offense for your players, right?” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you do. And Lamar’s under contract. Of course that’s the guy I want to see there at quarterback. That’s my guy.
“We made the decision to go with Lamar Jackson five years ago. Why? Because we love him. We love him. Love the way he plays. We love his mindset, his charisma, his style. The way he is in the locker room, everything about him. I love him personally and I love being the coach of the team he’s playing for.”
This was obviously a full-throated endorsement of Jackson as the Ravens quarterback. It sounded like Harbaugh is quite committed to the idea of retaining the player.
But it could also be interpreted as something of a message to other teams that might show interest. It could be Harbaugh making sure other teams know the Ravens value Jackson and thus, it’ll take a lot to get him.
Colts, Titans, Falcons Make Sense
One obvious landing spot is the Indianapolis Colts. And coach Shane Steichen discussed whether the club has considered that trade path.
“We do our due diligence on every player,” Steichen said, “whether it’s in free agency or the draft.”
The Atlanta Falcons make great sense but they have said, through club sources, they are not interested. That, of course, does not provide 100 percent certainty the Falcons won’t move forward on that front. Falcons coach Arthur Smith was not available Monday morning.
The Tennessee Titans, meanwhile, also make sense if they’d be willing to move on from Ryan Tannehill.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said “of course” Tannehill is the team’s starter right now. But could not guarantee that would be the case for the season opener.
“To make predictions, I’ve been through this last year, I’m not going to commit to anybody being on the roster at some time,” Vrabel said. “I’ve seen it change too quickly. But, of course Ryan is our quarterback.”
The New York Jets are locked into trading for Aaron Rodgers. But what if that falls through? Would they turn to the possibility of Jackson? Coach Robert Saleh deferred that question to general manager Joe Douglas.
“He’s a heckuva quarterback,” Saleh said. “But that’s a question for Joe.”
It is clear a price is already set if the Ravens do reach the point they are trading Jackson. They want two first-round draft picks. It could be negotiated but Baltimore has privately been adamant about that.
And it is obviously not certain there will be any takers.
The problem is a team trading for Jackson, or signing Jackson to a contract, not only has to give up the two first-round picks but also must pay him. And Jackson wants a fully or largely fully guaranteed deal.
But Jackson cannot, in return, guarantee he’ll be available for the entire term of the contract. His history actually suggests he won’t because he’s missed 10 regular-season starts the past two seasons — most late in the season when the Ravens needed wins to make a playoff run.
Jackson Injury History Gives Pause
Jackson’s style, which is a dual threat approach that gets him hit a lot, exacts a toll. And at age 26 the hits can begin to pile up.
There are actually only two quarterbacks in NFL history who have run the ball as much as Jackson. And like Jackson, they had trouble staying injury free.
Michael Vick had five 100-carry seasons. But played only one full season in his nine years as a starter.
Cam Newton had eight 100-carry seasons. He failed to play a full season in five of the six seasons he had after age 26.
Jackson has five 100-carry seasons so far.
The question any team trading for him must answer is how can he stay healthy if he signs a five-year contract that takes him to age 31?
Another question now that this trade request is know is whether Jackson would play on the franchise tag in 2023 if he’s not traded and does not get his new contract.
“I don’t know,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know anything, really.”