It was the Spring of 2018 and Lamar Jackson was making his pre-draft visits with teams. One of those teams in the quarterback market was the New England Patriots, who were preparing for the post-Tom Brady days.
Brady and Jackson couldn't play the game more differently, but New England was interested and had Jackson in for a visit. Then Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio went to Jackson's Pro Day at Louisville. Then Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hosted Jackson on a private workout in Florida.
Then Jackson met Head Coach Bill Belichick and came away with a different perspective. Jackson shared the funny story Wednesday as the two teams prepare for Sunday's meeting at Gillette Stadium.
"I've seen Belichick smile," Jackson said with a grin. "Usually, when I see him, he's puzzled face, a straight-faced guy. When I saw him smile, I was like, 'Damn, you've got humor.'"
Jackson told Belichick he wasn't expecting him to be smiling. He doesn't remember now four years later, however, what it was that made the usually stone-faced head coach smile.
Belichick still remembers the encounter fondly as well.
"Great visit, spent a lot of time with him," Belichick told Boston reporters Wednesday. "Really interesting guy."
The Patriots had two cracks at drafting Jackson. Instead, they took offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn with pick No. 23 and running back Sony Michel at No. 31 – one pick before the Ravens traded back into the first round to grab Jackson.
There were tons of pre-draft questions about whether Jackson's style of play would translate to the NFL and whether he would be an efficient enough passer. Looking back on it now, Belichick knows Jackson has answered them.
"Without a doubt," Belichick said. "That's the type of player that's an MVP-type of candidate. I think he's more than answered them.
"Wait 'til we see what his contract is. That'll answer them."