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Late for Work 1/19: Can Ravens Extend Lamar Jackson and Sign a No. 1 Receiver, Too?

Bears WR Allen Robinson

Can Ravens Extend Lamar Jackson and Sign a No. 1 Receiver, Too?

The Ravens reportedly will explore a contract extension with Lamar Jackson this offseason, but the team's No. 1 priority should be landing a No. 1 wide receiver for Jackson, ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote.

"The major storyline for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason is whether they will strike a mega-contract extension with quarterback Lamar Jackson that would pay him more than $40 million per season," Hensley wrote. "The best move the Ravens can make is not investing in Jackson right now but investing around him, starting with a No. 1 wide receiver like Allen Robinson."

The trend has been for teams to extend their franchise quarterbacks early in their rookie contracts. The Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson signed extensions heading into their fourth NFL season. Next season will be Jackson's fourth.

As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, the consensus among pundits is that the Ravens need to upgrade their passing attack, which ranked last in the league during the regular season, if they are to get past the divisional round of the playoffs.

In addition to Robinson, top wide receivers set to hit the free-agent market include Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Will Fuller IV. The question is whether it's feasible for the Ravens to both extend Jackson and sign a No. 1 receiver this offseason.

"The Ravens are projected to have $23.6 million in cap space, but much of that is likely to go to raises for Jackson and tight end Mark] Andrews,” [ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wrote. "Their passing attack is already about to get much more expensive, but they might need to go out of their way and spend even more to bring in the sort of receiver who can be a difference-maker for Jackson."

The Ravens have built a roster that's arguably as talented as any in the league, and one of the reasons they've been able to do so is that their franchise quarterback has been playing on his rookie deal (Jackson made $1.3 million this season). The days of having that luxury are rapidly growing shorter.

"We're still probably a year early for the window closing talk, but no doubt, it comes and goes quickly," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.

Faulty Narrative That Jackson Can't Win Big Games Has Returned

A week after Jackson led the Ravens to a win over the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round, the hot takes about him not being able to win a big game returned following the Ravens' loss to the Buffalo Bills Saturday night.

It's true that Jackson has not been able to replicate his outstanding regular-season performances in the postseason thus far in his young career, but it's an overreaction to say the Ravens will never win anything of significance with him.

"He certainly needs to play better on the playoff stage, but he just turned 24 and he's still learning," Zrebiec wrote. "A normal offseason when he can work on certain things and improvements in his supporting offensive cast should help. Playoff football is obviously a different animal, but for a guy who has done nothing but win in the regular season, it's way too early to suggest that he won't ultimately have more success in the playoffs."

To Zrebiec's point, Jackson is 30-7 (.811) as a starter in the regular season, and it's not like all of those wins were against bad teams.

"In both 2018 and 2020, the Ravens were in must-win territory for weeks and Jackson consistently delivered," Zrebiec wrote. "Last year, the Ravens had one showcase game after another and Jackson was the best player on the field throughout."

While Jackson rightfully bears some of the responsibility for the Ravens' 1-3 record in the playoffs with him as the starting quarterback, it's unfair to lay all the blame on him.

"If you look at those games, the Ravens had myriad issues, from dropped passes to penalties to bad snaps to getting dominated up front, that can't be pinned on Jackson," Zrebiec wrote.

Which Prospects Could the Ravens Target With the 27th-Overall Pick?

Now that they have been eliminated from the playoffs, the Ravens know they will have the 27th-overall pick in the draft.

Noting that the Ravens' most pressing needs are at wide receiver, interior offensive line and edge rusher, The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer took an early look at players the Ravens could target with their first selection.

"Among the prospects to watch are Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis, Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, Pittsburgh edge rusher Patrick Jones II, Penn State edge rusher Jayson Oweh and Wake Forest edge rusher Carlos Basham Jr," Shaffer wrote.

The only other time the Ravens used the 27th-overall pick, they selected cornerback Jimmy Smith in 2011. Smith, who signed a one-year extension earlier this month, remains a key player in the secondary because of his versatility.

ESPN’s Todd McShay had the Ravens selecting Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye in his first mock draft. Overall, the Ravens currently have five selections in the draft, with compensatory picks yet to be awarded.

Justin Madubuike Is a Breakout Candidate Next Season

Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is the top candidate to be a breakout player for the Ravens next season, according to Pro Football Focus.

The third-round pick out of Texas A&M came on strong late in the season after being sidelined with a leg injury for the first four games and missing more action because of COVID-19. Madubuike ended up playing in 10 games, starting three.

"Madubuike played 259 snaps in the regular season and had his best game against the league's best offensive line this year (Cleveland)," PFF's Sam Monson wrote. "Madubuike notched 10 total pressures and put enough quality on tape — including a 90.4 overall grade in Week 14 — to suggest he is deserving of a much bigger role in 2021."

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