Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said Monday that he was considering getting vaccinated for the coronavirus after his second positive test in eight months, but that it was a “personal decision” he would reach after consulting with his family and team doctors.
In his first news conference in almost two months, Jackson said his second infection left him fatigued and upset about missing the Ravens’ first eight practices of training camp. But he was still uncertain about whether he would get vaccinated.
“I just got off the COVID list,” said Jackson, who made his debut Saturday and was sharp in his second session Monday. “I got to talk to my team doctors and try to see how they feel about it, keep learning as much as I can about it, and we’ll go from there.”
Jackson reported to the team facility in Owings Mills about a week before camp opened, and returned negative tests until July 27, the day before practice started. Under NFL protocols, unvaccinated players must test negative every day. About 90% of the players on the Ravens’ roster entering camp were vaccinated, according to coach John Harbaugh, meaning they’re required to test only once every two weeks.
Jackson, who first contracted the virus in late November, said he was frustrated to learn he’d been infected a second time. “What the ... ?” he recalled thinking, mouthing an expletive and gesticulating dramatically. “Again? It was crazy. I was heartbroken because I wasn’t looking forward to that at all right before camp. It was like, ‘Not again. Not right now.’ But it’s over with. It’s over with.”
Jackson on Saturday reiterated that he “wouldn’t wish [COVID-19] on anybody”; he was one of 23 Ravens players placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list during an outbreak last season that was the NFL’s worst. When asked why he was then uncertain about the vaccine, which reduces transmission, he called it a “personal decision.”
“I’m just going to worry about that with my family,” he said. “Keep my feelings to my family and myself. I’m focused on getting better right now. I can’t dwell on that right now, how everybody else feels.”
Harbaugh, who along with his coaching staff is fully vaccinated, has called the decision an “individual” one for players. But under the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols, the potential costs of not getting the vaccine have already been realized in Baltimore.
Jackson missed a week and a half of practice, during which he slept “a lot,” worked on his footwork in backyard sessions with his cousins and communicated with his coaches. He acknowledged that, after missing so much of the offense’s installation periods, he was “trying to catch up with my guys [on offense], because they’re on the train. … I’m ‘in the car’ right now.”
Running back Gus Edwards, who tested positive for the virus, missed the first seven days of practice. Outside linebacker Justin Houston, signed last week, had to wait five days to practice under the NFL’s intake protocols because he was likewise not vaccinated. Unvaccinated players are also required to wear a mask at their team’s facility and while traveling, may not eat with teammates, cannot participate in sponsorship activities and won’t be able to travel during the bye week.
But the greatest threat to their in-season availability could be the league’s close-contact protocols. After Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kellen Mond tested positive for the virus, starter Kirk Cousins, who is not vaccinated, had to isolate for five days early in camp after being deemed a high-risk close contact. Even with the spread of the virus’ delta variant, vaccinated players are not required to quarantine as a result of close contact with an infected person.
“I’m just going to follow the NFL protocols as much as I can, as best as I can,” said Jackson, who missed the Ravens’ Week 12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. “I’m not worried about it. Last year, [when] I came off COVID[-19], I felt like we did pretty good, and this year, I’m trying to do the same thing, if anything. So, just like I said, I’m just going to follow the protocols.”
Harbaugh said Saturday that Jackson was “hit hard” by the virus, but Jackson has described his symptoms as minor; he said he had flu-like symptoms last year, along with the temporary loss of his taste and smell, and suffered mostly from fatigue after his latest infection.
“I’m taking it day by day right now,” he said. “I’m just glad to be back. I’m glad to be back with my guys, man.”
It had been a long-awaited reunion. After mandatory minicamp ended in mid-June, Jackson said he worked with Adam Dedeaux, a former college pitcher and the founder of 3DQB, a California-based training facility that has tailored workout plans for a number of NFL quarterbacks.
The coronavirus halted his progress. When he tested positive, Jackson said he “wasn’t doing too good.” He missed his teammates and coaches. He would look at highlights of the Ravens’ camp on social media and think to himself, “I wish I was out there. They’re looking good.”
Jackson wanted to get back to camp, wanted the virus to go away. But for 10 days, the NFL-mandated quarantine for unvaccinated players who test positive, he couldn’t. He passed the time by throwing to his cousins, “just trying to fire the ball as much as I can.” He started an Instagram account for a puppy he’d named Zombie. He shared a photo of what he’d look like with a shaved head. (“Noooooooo,” rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman commented beneath the rendering on Instagram.)
The day before Jackson returned to practice, after being medically cleared by team doctors, he was reminded of what was at stake — not only the chance to build toward a Super Bowl title, but also generational wealth. On Friday, Buffalo Bills star Josh Allen, the third quarterback taken in Jackson’s 2018 draft class, signed a six-year contract extension worth up to $258 million, including a record $150 million guaranteed.
The deal, worth $43 million annually, could be a benchmark for Jackson, the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player and one of the league’s winningest quarterbacks since he landed in Baltimore. Jackson is signed through 2022 but is eligible for an extension.
“That’s good for him, but like I said, I’m not worried about that,” Jackson, who does not have an agent, said Monday. “I’m just trying to work on getting better right now.”
“Both sides want [a deal] to happen,” Harbaugh said. “There’s really not a hurry on it. Lamar is going to be our quarterback for many years to come. We want him. He wants us. We’re focused on what’s important now, which is a good practice.”
Harbaugh got it Monday morning. Jackson missed on his first attempt of 11-on-11 action, his pass to rookie wide receiver Tylan Wallace broken up by cornerback Tavon Young, then didn’t miss for a while in full-team or seven-on-seven settings. He hit wide receiver Sammy Watkins on a quick out. He found wide receiver James Proche II over the middle on his third read. He got a leaping, one-handed catch from tight end Mark Andrews. He delivered a sidearm check-down to running back Justice HIll.
About the only thing Jackson didn’t do well was manage the clock late in a hurry-up scenario in one period. After moving the offense into the red zone with time for only a few more plays, he misfired on a pass to Andrews, his low throw too difficult to bring in. Then Jackson scrambled to his right, looking for an opening, before throwing across his body to Watkins, open for a buzzer-beating touchdown. The pass missed, and the scoring opportunity vanished.
Unofficially, Jackson finished 11-for-16 in 11-on-11 action and 8-for-9 in seven-on-seven action, impressive marks for a quarterback missing four first-team offensive linemen — tackles Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva, center Bradley Bozeman and guard Kevin Zeitler — and two of his top wide receivers — Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Rashod Bateman — for most of practice because of minor injuries.
Jackson will practice three more times this week, then maybe play a short stint in Saturday’s preseason opener against the visiting New Orleans Saints. “If I’m able to go, if coaches say I can go, doctor says I can go, I’m out there,” he said. “I want to be out there with my guys.”
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It’s Jackson’s hope, and the Ravens’ as well, that nothing will get in the way of that this season.