February 2, 2023

With the apologies for Tom Brady’s upcoming free agency/retirement, Lamar Jackson’s standoff with the Baltimore Ravens remains as the most intriguing storyline of the offseason.

Jackson is a perennial MVP candidate, the league’s closest thing to a one-man offense. He just turned 26. But he also plays a distinctive collision-based style, and his last two seasons have ended in injury. His electricity Style has a shelf life – and the question is whether it can evolve with age or how that evolution affects its value.

Jackson has reportedly turned down an offer from the Ravens that includes $130 million with a full guarantee, a number that would put him behind Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes in the contractual pecking order. Jackson wants to get paid like the best quarterback in the league — whether it’s from the Ravens or anyone else.

Let’s rank in ascending order the likely landing spots for Jackson this off-season.

6) New England Patriots

Let’s start with an external candidate. Nearing the end of his career, New England head coach Bill Belichick is ready to make a move to bring the Patriots back into playoff contention. That’s an upgrade at quarterback — even if you’re a Mac Jones truther.

Belichick has secluded itself in building its staff and attracting players in recent years. Defense is being worked on. For the past two seasons combined, the Pats have ranked third in the EPA per game, a championship-caliber performance. But the offense hit a wall. New England looks unimaginative; Belichick’s plan to put his former defensive lieutenant Matt Patricia in charge of the Pats’ offense in 2022 was a predictable disaster. Jackson’s takeover would force a much-needed, radical shift in philosophy.

Making a swing for Jackson would also fit into the timeline of Belichick’s coaching career. Who cares if the back-end contract is ugly when it gives 70-year-old Belichick and 81-year-old owner Robert Kraft a shot at a seventh joint title before they call it a day?

Would Baltimore allow a deal with Belichick, a rival throughout the Brady era? No chance. Is it possible for Jackson to sign a non-exclusive tender? You bet.

5) Miami Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa’s health concerns will survive Miami’s offseason. Tagovailoa has given no indication that he plans to retire (quite the contrary) after suffering multiple concussions during the season, but the Dolphins know that’s a possibility in the medium term. Either they’ll have to scramble for a reliable, expensive backup, or they’ll upgrade their starting spot now.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is a notorious intruder. And he desperately craves any shred of success as he nears his mid-80s. He spent two years manipulating Tom Brady. He spent the last offseason messing around Sean Payton and Brady cost his team a first-round pick in this year’s draft, which could see them knocked out of the Jackson Sweepstakes.

Could Lamar Jackson replace Tua Tagovailoa in Miami?
Could Lamar Jackson replace Tua Tagovailoa in Miami? Photo: Julio Cortez/AP

Ross could sign Tagovailoa, who played healthy at MVP level in 2022. Or he could stalk Brady again. Or he could choose the middle ground, opting for a proven star with fewer near-term injury worries.

For Jackson, the Dolphins would be the ideal place to land. He would be surrounded by more firepower than ever before in his career – and he would be working with an offensive guru who sits at the top of the league.

4) New York Jets

The Jets will go whale hunting at quarterback this offseason. And they have the kind of young, talented core — on both sides of the ball — that should get veteran quarterbacks rolling over to move to New Jersey. Aaron Rodgers has already been linked. Derek Carr would be a significant upgrade over the Zach Wilson Experience. Even Tom Brady makes sense if he wants to end his career in the country’s biggest media market by doing the impossible: turning the losers’ franchises’ losers into winners.

However, when Jackson is out, the Jets should push themselves to the front of the queue. Robert Saleh makes the defense buzz. The offensive is brimming with talent. In the roster comparison, it’s likely a dead heat between the Ravens and the Jets, although the Jets have a clear advantage at the receiver. The Jets have put a lot of resources on the offensive line, and they’ve drafted two potential super-duper stars in Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall.

The question then becomes whether Jackson would be willing to trade the Ravens’ consistency and seriousness for the Jets’ volatility.

3) Detroit Lions

The Fighting Dan Campbells are more than a feel-good story. After two years of rebuilding, Detroit is ready for a run. The Lions finished the season as the hottest team in the NFL: Defense began to pulse midseason; The offense was explosive, efficient and creative.

The Lions are closer to fighting it all than consensus suggests right now. They finished the 2022 season with the third-youngest offense and second-youngest defense by snap-weighted age. When healthy, the Lions offensive line is as talented as any in the league. They’ve assembled a dynamic receiving group led by Amon-Ra St Brown, DJ Chark and first-round pick Jameson Williams, the most explosive receiver in last year’s draft. The trio’s average age: 23.

With Jared Goff at quarterback, the Lions are favorites to win the NFC North next season. With Jackson, they would fight for the NFC as a whole.

2) Atlanta Falcons

Jackson can turn a rim playoff team into a championship contender in the blink of an eye, and Atlanta seems like the ideal place. The path to the playoffs runs through a lousy NFC South. Now that Brady is a free agent, who’s the best quarterback in the NFC South? Andy Dalton? Sam Darnold? Put Jackson on the Falcons roster, with no off-season additions, and they’d go to the NFC South title by a comfortable margin.

The Falcons already have better weapons in the skill slots than the Ravens. Kyle Pitts and Drake London are the kind of malleable one-two that any great modern offense needs, and they have the kind of rare, overlapping skills that would be difficult for Baltimore to replicate in an offseason.

And the Falcons are just beginning their process. They have No. 8 in the draft and $80 million in cap space to improve their roster. You can hunt Another Get weapons through the trade market – or spend the money to upgrade a ailing defense. And they can do so with plenty of spare cash to give Jackson any contract he wants without it being too punishing on the back end when things go sideways.

If Jackson wants to work with a front office to build a franchise — and a team — in his image — one that can compete from year one — the Falcons make the most sense.

1) Baltimore Ravens

A stay in Baltimore remains the most likely scenario. There are some Logic in the Ravens that doesn’t meet Jackson’s contractual requirements. The injury history. His style of play. The difficulty of building a quarterback that makes $50 million a year. And yet, if the Ravens don’t take up their offer, then they must be willing to be the franchise that ran Lamar Bleeping Jackson — and step off the ledge into the quarterback void.

Good luck with it.

Jackson knows this. But the Ravens know this: Baltimore remains an ideal place to compete for championships. Jackson balances two priorities: first, he maximizes his value, knowing his style is less enduring than some of his contemporaries; Second, finding a place where he can immediately compete for a Super Bowl. With the Ravens, it’s possible to achieve both goals.

Across five seasons, Jackson was a one-man offense at Baltimore. He needs help. The defense has held its end of the bargain — after taking on linebacker Roquan Smith midseason, the defense shot from 31st in EPA per game to first in the league.

And so, in another offseason, we’re asking if the Ravens can expand and improve their offense. The Ravens broke away from offensive coordinator Greg Roman at the end of their season and will be chasing a coach whose style is more in line with league trends. Above all, they need talent. If the Ravens can hold on to Jackson, they’ll have to do so while still having the scope to go after a veteran receiver in the trade market — say, DeAndre Hopkins.

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