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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: Rash of injuries should be concern for Ravens and QB Lamar Jackson in contract talks | COMMENTARY

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was absent from practice Wednesday and Thursday, and he probably won’t participate Friday either. He’s expected to miss a game and possibly two — or three — because of his injured knee, which ESPN reports is a sprained PCL.

Combined with the four games he missed last season because of a bone bruise in his ankle, injuries should be a concern for both team officials and Jackson when the sides meet this offseason for contract negotiations.

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There is no need to panic. Jackson is only 25 years old, but the injuries have to be accounted for when a team considers making a running quarterback its franchise player for the next four or five years.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson scrambles for a 9-yard run before being tackled by Broncos linebacker Alex Singleton on Sunday.

According to ESPN, Jackson has been hit a league-leading 877 times since entering the NFL in 2018, an average of 12.5 per game. There are some who believe Jackson isn’t prone to injury even though he is a running quarterback, but that’s absurd.

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A running back who carries the ball 30 times a game is more susceptible to injury than one who has 15. That’s just basic math, but it’s also a big reason the average career of an NFL running back is shorter than any other position.

Players are bigger, faster and stronger than they were decades ago, which is why leagues on every level — from Pop Warner to college to the NFL — have altered their rules to cut down on the number of violent collisions.

Running quarterbacks get hit more often than the standard drop-back types. After Jackson, the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen is second in hits taken since 2018 at 805.

What do they have in common? Both are running quarterbacks, even though Jackson appears to have more scripted runs or run-pass options in his offense. But Allen is a behemoth at 6 feet 5 and 237 pounds.

Jackson is 6-2 and 212 pounds. There are a lot of linebackers and defensive backs who don’t want to take on Allen in the open field for fear of crashing into a player who is as big as some tight ends, but no one shies away from trying to knock down Jackson. They don’t want to be embarrassed by some of his slick moves in the open field, but no defensive player is going to back down.

None.

In five seasons, Jackson has attempted 1,655 passes and carried the ball 727 times. In his first three years, he wasn’t protected like some of the other pure pocket passers in the league. Young talents such as Jackson and former Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton took a lot of abuse until they proved themselves.

Injury prevention is one of the main reasons I think Jackson showed up at the start of training camp looking as big as 232-pound inside linebacker Patrick Queen.

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The muscle added protection but also raised questions about Jackson’s quickness. Jackson has been slower than in previous years. It’s not clearly noticeable, but there have been times when outside linebackers have run him down or he couldn’t turn the corner off the edge fast enough.

Two weeks ago, he missed a practice with a hip injury. Last week, he missed a practice with a quad injury. On Sunday, Jackson got hurt again when, on the last play of the first quarter, he was sacked from behind by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper.

This is often the pattern of a body breaking down. One week it’s an ankle, and the next it’s a hip. Then it’s a knee or an elbow.

As former safety Bruce Laird, who played in Baltimore from 1972 through 1981 said recently, “it’s not the big things but the little nagging ones that catch up with you.”

That’s so true.

The Ravens have a better idea of Jackson’s health than anyone and it must be factored into the equation when it comes to a new contract.

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Jackson is a great athlete who is a good quarterback, and he’s shown improvement over the years. But as of now, unless he takes the Ravens deep into the postseason, the suggestion here is that the team place the franchise tag on him for next season — which has a price tag of about $45 million in 2023 — and then begin the evaluation process over again.

The injuries have now become a major concern, even with his impressive record.


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