Lamar Jackson finally signing a long-term contract on the cusp of the 2023 NFL draft spared the Baltimore Ravens from making a tough decision. The team “would have considered” selecting a new signal-caller with the 22nd-overall pick had Jackson not agreed a new “deal by the start of the draft,” according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Kentucky’s Will Levis didn’t go off the board until he heard his name called by the Tennessee Titans in Round 2, but Fowler believes, “after asking around,” the Ravens would have mulled taking “the best option” among available passers late in the opening round.
Levis would have made a curious choice to replace Jackson or at least act as his deputy for a year. Jackson is perhaps the most exciting dual-threat quarterback in the league, while Levis was content to rely more on his arm talent during two years with the Wildcats.
Ultimately, Ravens’ general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t have to choose between two contrasting styles of passer. Instead, he managed to come to terms with Jackson and instead use key draft selections from a five-pick haul to continue putting more talent around a legitimate franchise QB.
Ravens Got What They Wanted from Lamar Jackson Standoff
Keeping Jackson in the fold and improving his supporting cast was the dream scenario for the Ravens entering this offseason. Their hopes were answered on draft day, first by Jackson agreeing to sign a five-year contract worth $260 million, then by DeCosta using the 22nd pick to equip him with wide receiver Zay Flowers.
The latter is a diminutive and versatile burner capable of beating defenses at multiple levels, and Flowers has already been showcasing his skills at the Ravens’ rookie camp.
These are fleeting but intriguing glimpses of what the 5-foot-10, 177-pound wideout who tallied 78 catches and 1,077 yards for Boston College in 2022 might become at the pro level. Flowers’ chances of making the grade as a rookie will be increased by playing alongside Odell Beckham Jr., who arrived on a lucrative one-year deal in free agency to give Jackson another marquee target.
OBJ joins fellow new arrival Nelson Agholor, along with tight ends Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely and running back J.K. Dobbins. It’s a formidable and dynamic contingent of weapons for Jackson to use.
Being surrounded by so many talented playmakers explains why expectations are already high for Flowers, per NFL Rookie Watch.
The Ravens are suddenly loaded at the skill positions, but things would be different had Jackson’s future still been atop DeCosta’s agenda during the draft.
Drafting a Quarterback Would’ve Altered Ravens’ Plans
As Fowler noted, the Ravens might have used taking a rookie quarterback as leverage during any further negotiations with Jackson. The 26-year-old was set to either sign the non-exclusive franchise tag or consider a holdout, but his options would have been limited if the Ravens acquired a viable alternative.
Levis qualified after throwing 43 touchdowns following his transfer from Penn State in 2021. They included this scoring strike to the son of Ravens great and Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis against Mississippi State.
Ample experience in a pro-style offense should help Levis be an asset for the Titans, but the 33rd player drafted this year would have offered the Ravens something different. Compared to ex-Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears’ starter Jay Cutler by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Levis might have relished operating a system called by new Ravens’ offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Things will be more expansive and pass-heavy with Monken calling the plays, but he’ll be happier to get to work with Jackson, Beckham and Flowers. Had DeCosta used a first-round pick on Levis, Monken would have been counting on reinforcements from the wide receivers available in Round 3, but picking at 86 meant the Ravens already missed out on Tank Dell, Jalin Hyatt and Josh Downs.
The Ravens bolstered their team to convince Jackson to stay put. Their efforts would have counted for little if DeCosta was forced to replace No. 8 with a rookie.