CINCINNATI — Now that the Ravens’ season is officially over, the team should begin to search out a trade for quarterback Lamar Jackson and shut down the experimental run-oriented offense designed by coordinator Greg Roman.
This “revolutionary offense,” a phrase coined by coach John Harbaugh, hasn’t worked out. Enough is enough.
The Ravens proved something to themselves Sunday night in a 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC wild-card playoff game: They can go toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the NFL without Jackson.
If Jackson had played, maybe the Ravens would have won. But in crunch time during the last two years, he has been missing in action. He missed the final four games of the 2021 season with an ankle injury and missed the final six games this year because of a sprained knee.
There is speculation that he didn’t return this season because the team failed to sign him to a long-term contract extension before his self-imposed Week 1 deadline. Some fans also want to know why he couldn’t play with the aid of a brace. That kind of talk was all over the radio and pregame TV shows.
The Ravens, though, have to deal with that reality and perception. Do Jackson’s teammates really want to play with him again? The locker room has to be somewhat fractured.
Once he got injured, most of his offensive teammates talked about how they could make a strong run in the playoffs once Jackson returned. But on Sunday, the mood seemed to have shifted, as if the Ravens wanted to prove they could win without Jackson.
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta is not naive. He knows that other teams are aware that Jackson, who represents himself in negotiations, is unhappy about not getting the extension, in particular the fully guaranteed deal.
The Ravens might not get what the Seattle Seahawks got from the Denver Broncos in exchange for Russell Wilson — two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks and a fifth-round pick, as well as tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock — but there will be a lot of teams in the market for a franchise quarterback.
The Ravens can still designate Jackson as the franchise player before March 7, but they need to make some kind of deal. Sometimes a player needs a different environment or coaching staff to elevate his game and it appears that both Jackson and the Ravens are at that point.
We were all mesmerized by his explosive running ability as a rookie when he replaced starter Joe Flacco and won six of the team’s final seven games. He was named the NFL Most Valuable Player the following season when he passed for 3,127 yards and rushed for 1,206.
But since then, has he really gotten that much better? He still has trouble with touch on long passes and struggles reading the outside of the field, which is why he throws a lot to tight ends over the middle.
With the injuries the past two years, you have to be concerned about the cumulative effect of playing in this run-oriented offense in which he takes more punishment than most quarterbacks.
So, if Jackson wants to play for a team with better receivers like, say, Miami, the Ravens should talk with the Dolphins. If Jackson wants to play in a dome in Detroit or in the sunshine in Los Angeles, the Ravens should inquire. The bottom line is that San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy and second-year Jacksonville Jaguars signal-caller Trevor Lawrence have as many playoff victories as Jackson (one), who just completed his fifth season.
I understand why the Ravens built their offense around Jackson. Most teams do the same thing with a franchise quarterback. Roman was the ideal choice as coordinator, having built similar offenses in San Francisco and Buffalo.
The scheme works to a certain level, but it’s hard to win a championship without balance. A team can still rely on a strong running game but needs to be able to throw effectively down the field when it falls behind.
The Ravens can’t do that. Their passing scheme isn’t sophisticated enough and their quarterbacks lack downfield accuracy. They’ve spent years bringing in big, burly, top-heavy offensive linemen who can’t pass block, which is another downfall of the passing game.
The anticipation here is that Roman will be gone soon, and the Ravens will go back to a more standard, drop-back offense. And if Roman leaves, it makes even less sense to keep Jackson around.
When you look back on his time in Baltimore, Jackson could have owned this town. He is one of the most popular athletes in the city’s history and almost everyone was caught up in the Jackson phenomenon in 2019.
Even after last year, he was still very popular in town. But that’s all changed this year, especially after he missed the first round of the playoffs. Once he tweeted Thursday night detailing his injury and why he wasn’t playing, it was clear that he felt he needed to defend himself from his teammates and fans.
And it proved one other thing: It’s time for the Ravens and Jackson to part ways.