Is Playing With Lamar Jackson a Lure for Free-Agent Wide Receivers?
No matter what Lamar Jackson accomplishes, the same questions about him are raised by pundits.
Even though Jackson, 23, is coming off a season in which he threw a league-leading 36 touchdown passes and was the youngest and second unanimous MVP in NFL history, ESPN analysts debated whether free-agent wide receivers would want to play with him.
The Ravens ran the ball nearly 100 times more than any other team last year (setting an NFL single-season record for rushing yards in the process) and their tight ends had more targets (182) than their wide receivers (180, the fewest in the league).
It proved to be a winning formula. The Ravens went a league-best 14-2 and Jackson improved to 19-3 in his career as a starter in the regular season. Baltimore's success since Jackson became the starter is something free agents will consider.
"From the standpoint of walking into an organization where you know you've got a chance to go win because the quarterback's going to give you that opportunity, there's some benefit there," ESPN's Rick Smith said. " … I think overall anyone who's invested in winning and playing with a good football team and with a quarterback who can make plays, that has to be attractive to them."
However, former wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson – who famously said, "Give me the damn ball!" during his playing days – had an opposing view.
"If I was a guy who was caring about statistics and things of that nature to get [a big contract], I'm probably steering away from that offense because it just doesn't fit me," Johnson said. "For me personally, I would have a hard time playing with that type of quarterback given … he's in a learning curve right now and I don't want to deal with that. That's not for me as a veteran player."
There's a deep free-agent wide receiver class, but not too many top-tier options.
ESPN's Adam Schefter disagreed with Johnson. He cited Jackson's magnetic personality and reputation for being a great teammate as reasons why players at any position would want to play with him.
"I think the conversation has shifted, because when he first came into the league you heard some speculation around the league that there were receivers that wouldn't want to go Baltimore to go play with him, and now I think you hear just the opposite," Schefter said. "You want him as your teammate. He's one of the most well-liked and well-respected guys there. He's one of the young stars in the league if not the young star in the league.
"When there is a player like that, that's got that type of charisma, that type of personality, and he's that type of a magnet, people want to go play with him, whether it's a wide receiver, running back, tight end, anything."
When Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked in his season-ending press conference if free-agent wide receivers would want to play in Baltimore after the huge strides Jackson made as a passer, he didn't hesitate to answer in the affirmative.
"Yes," Harbaugh said. "I absolutely believe that players are going to be very excited to be here and to be a part of this offense."
The Athletic: Hayden Hurst, Matthew Judon Among Trade Candidates
Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst and outside linebacker Matthew Judon were among The Athletic's list of 42 players who could be traded.
The New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars have inquired about trading for Hurst, according to a report by The Florida Times-Union's Eugene Frenette a couple weeks ago.
It's understandable that teams looking for an upgrade at tight end would have interest in acquiring Hurst, and the Ravens do have depth at the position. However, Baltimore uses its tight ends more than any other team.
Hurst, 26, had a 77 percent catch rate (first on the team among non-running backs) and his 349 receiving yards were third on the team. He also made essential contributions as a blocker and in clutch situations.
"It's not that the Ravens want to trade the 2018 first-round pick, but they probably would if they got a compelling offer," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Hurst has flashed when given the opportunity, but Mark Andrews is already a Pro Bowl tight end and Nick Boyle is one of the top blocking tight ends in the NFL, so the Ravens have some depth to withstand a move at the position."
As for Judon, the popular opinion is that the Ravens will place the franchise tag on the 27 year old, who is ranked No. 13 on The Athletic's list of the top 100 pending free agents. The designation period ends Thursday.
"The most likely scenario is the Ravens using the franchise tag on their top pass rusher, but that doesn't mean he's in their long-term plans," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens are expected to consider tag-and-trade scenarios if they are unable to bridge the gap between Judon's asking price and what they're willing to pay on a long-term deal."
There were several names on the list who could potentially interest the Ravens, including: wide receivers Marvin Jones (Detroit), Stefon Diggs (Minnesota) and Will Fuller (Houston); and pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue (Jacksonville), Arik Armstead (San Francisco), Chris Jones (Kansas City) and Trent Murphy (Buffalo).
Would Ravens Trade Out of the First Round?
Speaking of trades, Ebony Bird's Norman Getsinger wrote that the Ravens trading out of the first round of the draft would make sense.
The Ravens, who have the 28th-overall pick, have a history of trading down in the first round to acquire additional picks, and they traded out of the first round in 2010 and 2012. This year's draft is deep at positions of need for the Ravens.
"The draft class is teeming with wide receivers, pass rushers, and defensive linemen," Getsinger wrote. "While there is a possibility that a player the Ravens really value could be around at the time the Ravens are picking in the first round, there is an argument to be made that they could get a player with a similar talent level in the second round. Also, the haul that the Ravens could get by trading away their first-round pick might be too much to pass up."
Last year, General Manager Eric DeCosta traded the 22nd-overall selection to Philadelphia for the Eagles' first-, fourth- and sixth-round picks. With those picks, the Ravens selected Marquise "Hollywood" Brown (No. 25 overall), cornerback Iman Marshall and quarterback Trace McSorley.
Josh Norman's Reported Deal Could Set Market for Jimmy Smith
Cornerback Josh Norman reportedly signing a one-year, $6 million deal with the Buffalo Bills yesterday morning could help in determining the market for Jimmy Smith, Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote.
"Smith's age (he will be 32 years old next season) and injury history put him in a similar boat as Norman," Stevens wrote. "They're both stopgap starters or higher-end backups with starting experience, which caps their value. That's especially true for Baltimore considering they have their starters in place with Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey under contract.
"Though Norman's deal might not really change what Smith is ultimately looking for or what the Ravens are willing to pay, it makes the picture a little clearer for both sides."
DeCosta said at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Ravens are talking with Smith about a contract extension, but he expects Smith to test the free-agent market.
"Lots of respect for Jimmy. Thought he played his best football later in the year," DeCosta said. "Jimmy's a guy that we value, so we'll see. I suspect Jimmy's going to want to hit the market and assess what his value is, as he probably should. He's a veteran, he's worked hard to see what his value is on the market. Lots of respect for Jimmy as a player. His agent and I have a really good relationship. So we'll just see."
Smith made NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal's list of free agents who could be overpriced.
"His injury history is the reason he's on this list," Rosenthal wrote.