Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson has regularly attended prescribed rehabilitation and treatment procedures for his injured knee and is on target to return within the four- to six-week recovery window as far as team trainers and physicians are concerned, according to a league source.
The source wouldn’t make a prediction about when Jackson would step back on the playing field but said the quarterback has been perfect in his attendance and compliant with all rehab practices as he recovers from a knee sprain he suffered in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 4.
Jackson hasn’t practiced since the injury, missing his 11th straight session on Thursday as the Ravens prepare for a Sunday night game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. According to the source, Jackson’s time frame to return isn’t any different from most players who suffer knee sprains, though a few have come back in three weeks.
The source said the Ravens were hopeful Jackson would return to play against the Atlanta Falcons (Dec. 24) or Steelers, but team doctors were more concerned about Jackson because of the position he plays and because he is a mobile quarterback. Even after missing nearly four games, the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player still leads the Ravens in rushing with 764 yards on 112 carries.
According to the source, Jackson has been at all his mandatory rehab sessions. That was not the case last season when he missed several after he suffered a bone bruise in his ankle and sat out the final four games as the Ravens finished 8-9 and missed the playoffs.
The source said Jackson will probably undergo another MRI before he is allowed to practice.
Because he failed to return from an injury a year ago, there was speculation Jackson had adopted a similar strategy this year and missed rehab sessions with the training staff. There was also concern that his failed negotiations on a long-term contract — the No. 32 overall pick in the 2018 draft is playing under his fifth-year option worth $23.016 million after he and the Ravens failed to reach an agreement on an extension before Jackson’s self-imposed Week 1 deadline — was a factor.
The Ravens finished last season on a six-game losing streak, dropping each game after Jackson’s injury, but they are 3-1 without him this season and are playing the same conservative offensive style with backup Tyler Huntley as they were with Jackson before he got hurt.
Huntley, who is prepared to start against the Steelers, has completed 61 of 91 passes for 528 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Jackson is 203 of 326 for 2,242 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Ravens clinched a playoff berth last weekend after beating the Falcons, 17-9, and are currently the No. 5 seed in the seven-team AFC playoff picture. They can win the AFC North with wins over Pittsburgh and the Bengals in Cincinnati on Jan. 8.
Regardless, the Ravens have been inconsistent on both offense and defense throughout the season, and most believe they can’t get past the opening round of the playoffs without Jackson under center.
According to the league source, the Ravens still plan to negotiate a long-term contract with Jackson after the season. If he and the Ravens do not agree on an extension by March 7 of next year, Baltimore would need to use its franchise tag to keep him from becoming a free agent. Under an exclusive franchise tag, Jackson would likely be owed about $45 million in 2023. The team can tag him again in 2024 at an even steeper price. The Ravens could also trade him to a team with draft capital looking for a franchise-caliber quarterback.
The Ravens offered Jackson a long-term contract before the season but negotiations broke down after the quarterback demanded a fully-guaranteed contract, which the Ravens declined to do. The Cleveland Browns redefined the quarterback market earlier this year when they signed Deshaun Watson to a five-year, $230 million deal, fully guaranteed. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti commented on that deal when he spoke with Baltimore reporters at the end of March: “To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.”