Would Huge Contract for Lamar Jackson Hinder Ravens?
It's just a matter of time before Lamar Jackson receives a contract extension that will make him one of the highest-paid players in the league, but will the salary cap hit hinder the Ravens' chances of remaining a perennial playoff contender?
It's a legitimate question, but Russell Street Report's Darin McCann contends that teams can successfully navigate a large contract to their quarterback if they have several factors working for them.
Here's a look at three of those factors and McCann's assessment of how they apply to the Ravens.
You're not a one-star team
"The Ravens are theoretically good here, pending health. Players like Mark Andrews, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, (the assumed return of a healthy) Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins, Justin Tucker, Gus Edwards and others are guys who can step up in big moments and change games in an instant. Rashod Bateman and Odafe Oweh, this year's first-rounders, have shown glimpses of their vast potential, as well. That's a really good base."
You have a coaching staff that consistently coaches players 1-through-53
"As this year has proven, this is a strength of the Ravens franchise under John Harbaugh. … When you have to make some sacrifices due to financial constraints, dominating on special teams and being able to play the substitution game to your advantage is critical."
It better be the right quarterback
"I'm on board with paying Jackson, and paying him handsomely. Is there room for improvement? Yes. Sure. And, in fact, there's room for a lot of improvement. That's part of what makes him so tantalizing.
"But he works hard. He's liked by his teammates and coaches. He's conscious of his position in the city and within the fan base. He has shown that he can bring his team back from nearly any deficit. And he can single-handedly win a game by himself when everything else goes sour on him. And, in the NFL, things inevitably go sour from time to time. If you're not going to pay that guy, who are you going to pay?"
John Harbaugh Praised for In-Game Decisions Against Browns
As noted in Monday's Late for Work, pundits were split over whether Harbaugh's decision to go for the two-point conversion down by nine points with 8:56 remaining against the Browns this past Sunday was the correct one.
The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia said not only was going for two the right call, but Harbaugh's overall performance in the game "was one of the best examples we've seen this year of how a coach can give his team an edge with in-game decision-making."
Kapadia cited two examples, in addition to the two-point attempt, of Harbaugh's sound decisions in the game:
Harbaugh was aggressive at the end of the first half, even with Tyler Huntley at quarterback.
"The Ravens' offense got the ball at their own 23 with 44 seconds left. They were trailing, 24-3. Given the score and the Jackson injury, a lot of coaches would have just called for a couple kneel-downs and gone into halftime. But Harbaugh stayed aggressive. The Ravens put together a drive and kicked a 42-yard field goal. Essentially, they stole three points before halftime because they stayed aggressive and didn't coach scared."
Harbaugh went for it on fourth-and-11 from his own 30 with 10:10 left.
"Fourth-and-11 is an automatic punt for a lot of coaches in the NFL. They don't make decisions based on what outcome will give them the best chance to win. They make decisions based on worst-case scenario. That's not Harbaugh. And remember, he was playing with his backup quarterback! It didn't matter.
"The Ravens were down 24-9 at the time. Harbaugh knew they needed two or three scores to win the game. Time was a factor. So he didn't over-weight the downside of failing. The Ravens converted and scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-15."
There's been buzz that this season has been one of Harbaugh's finest coaching performances considering the widespread injuries.
"Again, the Ravens are not a great team, and they're banged up," Kapadia wrote. "Not every decision is going to work out. But Harbaugh's approach … is consistently well thought-out and gives the Ravens an edge against most opponents."
ESPN Writer Doesn't Think Ravens Can Make Deep Playoff Run
The Ravens' playoff aspirations have taken a hit after two straight losses, Jackson's uncertain status due to an ankle injury, and a tough remaining schedule.
Still, Baltimore (8-5) has a 72.9 percent chance of making the playoffs and 51.7 percent chance of winning the AFC North, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
If the Ravens do indeed make it to the postseason, will they be able to go on a run?
ESPN's Bill Barnwell doesn't think so.
"The good news for the Ravens is that they've probably done enough to make it into the postseason, Barnwell wrote. "Even if Jackson misses Sunday's game against the Packers, they would still be in good shape by winning two of their final three contests. The bigger question for me is whether there's a threat of them doing something if they get there. Can this team, given all its injuries, make any sort of serious postseason run?
"It's difficult to imagine the Ravens doing anything of consequence without Jackson. Even with him in the lineup, though, they have not been an effective offense for several weeks."
Barnwell suggested the best way to remedy the offense is to rely heavily on bigger personnel sets.
"Playing with bigger personnel groupings might not be the best long-term thing for a team that wants to develop its young receivers, but given where it stands in the playoff picture, John Harbaugh's team probably needs to focus on what's going to get their offense clicking now," he wrote.
On the other side of the ball, Barnwell cited the Ravens' need to create more turnovers, possibly by blitzing even more than they already do.
"Don Martindale's defense has forced just 11 takeaways in 13 games, a remarkably low total for a team that averaged more than 25 per 16-game season over the prior five campaigns," Barnwell wrote. "Some of that is subpar luck, as they have only recovered five of 12 opposing fumbles on defense this season, but they can't count on Peters to pick off a pass every month. Getting more aggressive with their blitzes might create one-on-one opportunities for opposing receivers, but it could also create the takeaways Harbaugh's defense is missing.
"Unless something changes, though, it doesn't feel like the Ravens have enough in the tank to do more than make a token visit to the postseason."
Justin Tucker Selected as PressBox's Mo Gaba Sportsperson of the Year
PressBox named Tucker its Mo Gaba Sportsperson of the Year for his accomplishments on the field and presence in the Baltimore community.
Tucker's kicking resume is well-documented. The four-time All-Pro is the most accurate kicker in NFL history and kicked a record-breaking, game-winning 66-yard field goal earlier this season.
During his 10 seasons with the Ravens, the Texas native has adopted Baltimore as his second home.
"Tucker also has immersed himself in the Baltimore community, engaging with fans at local parks during offseason workouts, showing off his baritone voice in charity concerts at the Baltimore Basilica, and landing in living rooms all over the area as the singing pitchman for Royal Farms coffee," PressBox's Bo Smolka wrote. "He's also been a steadfast supporter of the Baltimore School for the Arts and has been seen belting out an 'O!' during the national anthem at Ravens games. He even proposed to his wife, Amanda, overlooking the Inner Harbor."