In his first news conference in five months, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson spoke for about 10 minutes. He took about 40 questions from reporters on Thursday when a handful of Ravens executives, including team president Shashi Brown, looked on. He scoffed at the name of his new restaurant. He was amazed by the speed of rookie center Tyler Linderbaum.
And he was asked repeatedly about his future in Baltimore.
“It’s a negotiation,” Jackson said of his contract talks with team officials, including general manager Eric DeCosta. “That’s all. We’re just keeping it private.”
As the Ravens wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp and moved into the off-season, their most important players walked away from the crowded podium at Owings Mills, answering some questions, dancing around others and picking up new ones.
Jackson, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, reiterated at the start of his first question-and-answer season since January 10 that he hopes to play in Baltimore for the rest of his career. “Yes,” he said, “I do.” Asked shortly thereafter whether contract discussions, which resumed this week, could continue in the regular season, Jackson said, “We are in talks.”
Checking out the specifics of their conversation, he used a variation of that line eight times, even when it seemed to contradict other statements he made on Thursday. At one point, Jackson said he did not “buy” the notion that, with his dual-threat style of play in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense, he should not play without securing his financial future. “I play football,” said the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player. “that’s what I’m here for.”
At another point, Jackson said he plans to meet with his receivers before training camp at Florida Atlantic University, continuing the off-season workouts he started with Rashod Bateman and James Proche II in February. “We’re going to work out, watch some movies and just build our chemistry on something else,” he said.
But when asked if he would still play in the Ravens season opener without an extension, Jackson said, “We’re in talks right now,” and nodded. Not long after, asked again whether he would attend the team’s training camp, which starts in late July, or play in Week 1 without a new deal, he declined to commit. “We are in talks about it,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, players face harsh penalties for skipping training camp practices. Teams are required to fine players who are not on rookie contracts — including Jackson, who is on option in his fifth year — up to $50,000 per day for absenteeism. DeCosta said in March that he did not expect Jackson to be out.
Jackson is set to earn $23 million this season, a significant increase from his first four years in Baltimore. A contract extension would cost more than $40 million a year, easily the richest deal in franchise history and the biggest deal in the NFL.
Responding to questions about his readiness for a deal and the scope of a possible framework, Jackson seemed to push back on some Owner Steve Bisciotti’s Comments from March. At NFL owners’ meetings, Biscotti told reporters that Jackson “is so obsessed with winning the Super Bowl that I think, deep down, he doesn’t think he deserves. I think he wants him to say, ‘Now I deserve to be on top.’ People can guess however they want. I don’t think he’s that much on with money and he knows it’s coming some way or the other.”
On Thursday, Jackson said he felt worthy of a new deal, but added: “I still want my Super Bowl.”
Bisciotti called Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshan Watson’s fully-guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal “groundbreaking” and acknowledged it would make some negotiations difficult. “I don’t know if he should have been the first to get a fully guaranteed contract,” Biscotti said.
Jackson, one of the few NFL players to represent himself in contract negotiations, said Thursday that Watson’s deal has not changed his thinking about moving forward. He said, “I am my own man.” “I don’t care what those people get out of.”
In February, DeCosta said the team was proceeding at “Lamar’s pace” in contract negotiations. Over the past year, Ravens executives have said they are committed to signing Jackson to a long-term extension. If a deal doesn’t work out, it is expected that the team will put the franchise tag on him next year.
With Jackson absent from the team’s voluntary practices in organized team activities, the Ravens’ contract negotiation status was re-examined. Jackson said on Thursday that his decision to leave the OTA for the first time in his career was not related to the contract.
“I just wanted to stay away and just grind,” he said. “I just wanted to come back and just see how it felt. I love it. I asked my friends how they would feel if I stayed home. They were like, ‘You know, that’s cool’ .’ You know, I want to get some chemicals. They tell me, ‘I want to get some chemicals.’ I’m like, ‘Man, we’re going to have this when we get back.'”
Jackson reported a bulk of 220 pounds to Minikamp on Monday, and he impressed in his first three practices since trading wide receiver and close friend Marquis “Hollywood” Brown. Quarterback’s coach James Urban said it was clear that Jackson had “handled his business while he was away from us.”
Despite throwing three interceptions in three days, Jackson impressed with his accuracy and his rhythm in coordinator Greg Roman’s slightly modified offense. His deep deliveries rarely flopped, and he needed little time to reconnect with tight ends such as Mark Andrews and Bateman.
“As far as throwing and catching and targeting and all that, and what you’re saying – playmaking stuff – I’m glad to see that,” said coach John Harbaugh. “And I was thinking about it – what’s he going to look like? To see how cool he was, to see what shape he was in, how well he bowled, just for a coach, this is exciting. “
“There’s only been one Lamar Jackson in this league so far,” Proche said. “And the fact that the media disrespects them, what I said earlier, is barbaric.”
Urban called Jackson a “master” for ignoring “external distractions”. With five-plus weeks to prepare for training camp, it is unclear how the contract talks will fit into his off-season plans. On Thursday, Jackson said a lot, but not much.
“Football season is here,” he said at the end of his season. “So we’re just going to grind.”