Lamar Jackson still doesn’t have a new contract, but neither he nor the Baltimore Ravens appear worried. Not when Jackson is playing solid football and leading a 6-3 team that’s beginning to look like the class of the AFC.
Still, perhaps the Ravens should be a little more worried that they’ll somehow to let their franchise QB hit the market next year, especially when a Super Bowl-winning head coach is dropping hints about his own free agency.
“Well, the No. 1 thing is: I have a chance to be a free agent and he has a chance to be a free agent,” said Sean Payton with a hint of mischief during an appearance on the Week 9 episode of “Manningcast.”
Payton, 58, has been out of the game after stepping away from the Saints’ head-coaching job last season, but he told The Athletic for a November 7 story that he wanted to return to an NFL sideline.
Payton Comments Could Fuel Rumor Mill
After his coy remark to Peyton and Eli Manning during the Ravens’ 27-13 win over the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, Payton quickly prefaced his next sentence with the phrase “on a serious note.”
Joke or not, Payton’s comments about Jackson’s status as a pending free agent will only fuel the rumor mill. Especially when they’re combined with Payton’s own uncertain future and the coach’s history of endorsing Jackson’s talents.
That history began prior to the 2018 draft, when draft analyst Mike Mayock said, “If [the Saints] moved up, and they moved up aggressively for Lamar Jackson, it wouldn’t surprise me,” according to a 2018 story by NOLA.com’s Christopher Dabe.
Payton called Jackson “a fantastic leader” and “a special guy” when asked about him a month before the draft. Significantly, Payton seemed at the time to be expressing a willingness to adapt his offense to Jackson’s skills: “He’s your quarterback; you start looking closely at the things he did well at Louisville and you build that way.”
Balancing Jackson’s dual-threat skills with the demands of a traditional pro-style offense has always been a point of contention throughout his career. Letting a play caller as talented as Payton adapt to what Jackson does best would surely be tempting as he chases his first Super Bowl trophy.
Payton’s Pedigree Tough to Ignore
Payton has a Lombardi trophy on his CV, but he wants more, at least based on the rumors he’s set to return to coaching. Though he didn’t put a timeline on a potential comeback, Payton told Jeff Howe of The Athletic “there are a lot of dysfunctional teams in our league. There are some places where talent can die. I just want to avoid those places.”
More importantly, Payton said he knew what he wanted from the quarterback of his next team: “We built a little bit of our offense around what we thought Drew did well. I don’t know how many out there can really evaluate that position well. A lot of it is: What are you looking for? I feel confident that I know what I’m looking for.”
The reference to Drew Brees is telling because Payton tried to move away from the classic pocket-based passer toward the end of his Saints tenure. Taysom Hill became the QB1 in waiting, something that’s significant for Jackson.
Both Hill and Jackson are multi-purpose QBs who can gash defenses with their legs. Although Jackson elevated his game as a passer in a way Hill hasn’t, the Saints still use the latter in multiple ways, including as a rushing threat, like for this 57-yard gain against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1:
It was straight out of the Payton playbook, but Hill’s run was also reminiscent of how the Ravens still use Jackson.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman turned his quarterback loose as a runner several times in New Orleans. Jackson rushed for 82 yards, including this 17-yard read-option scamper:
He wins operating a run-heavy offense, but every QB wants be in a scheme that lets him thrive as a passer. Jackson’s no different and he’ll know Payton would promise that after he “implemented an offensive system that finished in the top five in scoring nine times,” per Howe.
A chance to build an offense around a multi-threat athlete like Jackson, the way he couldn’t with Hill, would be too tempting to pass up for Payton. The question is would Jackson be able to resist leaving the Ravens for a proven offensive mind with championship-winning experience?
It’s a question sure to keep Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta up at nights until the start of 2023 free agency. Either that or they’ll play the franchise tag card sooner than expected.