The AFC North managed to send two teams to the playoffs this year, and very nearly three. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the two teams that made it had to play one another in the wildcard round, so one had to lose.
In this instance, it happened to be the Baltimore Ravens under head coach John Harbaugh, who owns the record for the most road playoff victories in NFL history. It didn’t work out for him on Sunday night in Cincinnati, however, where, before last season, the Bengals hadn’t won a playoff game since 1990 (or anywhere else for that matter).
How different would things have been had quarterback Lamar Jackson been available to play? Greatly, most likely. The offense was exceptional with him this year. It was only the defense holding them back, and that side of the ball improved significantly in the second half of the season, perhaps largely thanks to the acquisition of linebacker Roquan Smith.
But not only was Jackson unavailable for the game, he wasn’t even at the game with the team. According to former teammate and fellow quarterback Robert Griffin III, Jackson did not travel with the team “because he was sick”, via Pro Football Talk. “They diagnosed this, said that he was sick, he didn’t go on the trip”.
So he was sick? Well, I guess so, but there was no mention of that at all in the official transcripts over the past two days, before the game, after the game, or in interviews and press conferences that were conducted yesterday, so I’m not sure where they “said” that he was sick, unless he just meant that he was told he was sick. But if he was sick, why are we hearing it from Robert Griffin III a day later?
Perhaps even a little more confusing, at least for me, is the fact that Griffin described Jackson’s relationship with the Ravens organization as “salvageable”. That strikes me as an interesting choice of words that could imply that there’s more frustration behind the scenes than is obvious on the surface, from either side or both sides.
The Ravens worked all offseason to try to get Jackson signed to a long-term contract extension, but he seemingly refused to accept any offer that wasn’t fully guaranteed after the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson a fully-guaranteed five-year deal. Jackson represents himself and does not have an agent.
He has also finished the past two seasons missing extended time due to injuries. He missed the final four games of the 2021 season and continued to rehab for several weeks after that, implying that he wouldn’t have been available for the postseason had they made it. He also missed the final five games of the 2022 regular season in addition to their postseason loss.
Who can blame the Ravens for being reluctant to give Jackson an unprecedented-for-a-functional-franchise fully-guaranteed long-term contract? While he is a phenomenal, historically great talent, the risk of time lost due to injury is significant, as the past two years have shown. So unless Jackson is willing to move away from a fully-guaranteed deal, I’m not sure how salvageable in the long term this is.