As Pittsburgh Steelers fans grind their teeth in frustration over this or that player’s absence from OTAs, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves without their starting quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract—and whom the team is desperately trying to bring to the negotiating table. So why isn’t he showing up?
“We’ve been down this road many times through the years”, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters yesterday as he addressed the elephant in the room, that being Jackson’s absence. “I’ll just let Lamar speak for himself on that. It’s for him to talk about. You can ask him”.
A 2018 first-round draft pick, and a full-time starter since the 2019 season, Jackson has never missed a voluntary workout prior to this past week, and in fact has even put together a number of informal private workouts for teammates during the offseason.
These practice sessions, of course, are voluntary. But when you’re talking about a starting quarterback who is dealing with a significant reshuffling of his skill positions and the offensive line—even if not the offense itself—and who has never missed a voluntary practice session before, in the final year of his contract, the absence becomes more notable.
Jackson even tweeted on the first day of OTAs that he “Can’t wait to get back” with his teammates, and retweeted posts about the Ravens’ practices—though the evidence clearly indicates that he can wait. It’s not like he has an agent, so he’s not acting on anybody else’s advice.
The veteran is set to earn over $23 million this year under the fifth-year option amount for a player at his position and with his accolades. The Ravens, particularly general manager Eric DeCosta, have repeatedly stated that they would love to have their quarterback at the negotiating table so that they could hammer out a long-term extension.
It is not fully clear why Jackson has not been eager to do so. Perhaps the most likely scenario is that he intends to play out his rookie contract, betting on himself to bolster his market value and play up against an even more inflated salary cap next year, rather than negotiate coming off of a down year when the whole roster was ravaged by injury—which included himself missing the final five games.
New Ravens president Sashi Brown (yes, that Sashi Brown) said that Jackson has “been very vocal in terms of his support and desire to be in Baltimore”, so they have no concerns about him being unhappy and wanting to leave.
Perhaps there would be more concern of his teammates and coaches were not fully confident that Jackson is working out hard on his own. Mark Andrews talked about that, and he has worked out with wide receivers Rashod Bateman and James Proche in private sessions.
Still, it is at least curious that he has elected not to be at OTAs, which the Ravens perhaps were not expecting. They just signed quarterback Brett Hundley to the 90-man roster, giving them three quarterbacks in Jackson’s absence to navigate the May practice period.