OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey watched Lamar Jackson walk into a Baltimore-area IHOP and knew the Pro Bowl quarterback wouldn’t last long.
Before Jackson could even think of ordering bottomless pancakes, he was being escorted away after being mobbed by fans.
“He thinks he’s a very normal guy, but I’m like, ‘Lamar, you’re Lamar Jackson,'” Humphrey said. “You are not me; you can’t just do normal things.
And it’s not a normal time for Jackson, whose contract situation is one of the biggest storylines in the NFL. The Ravens are negotiating an extension with the former MVP, who is not represented by an agent, and if that doesn’t happen by March, Jackson will likely have to play in 2023 under the franchise tag with an uncertain future at Baltimore.
When Jackson turns on the television, he hears comments about his contract. When he clicked on Twitter while on vacation, he read a former Ravens player’s review of his game.
“I guess that’s what goes with it,” Jackson said recently. “When you’re trying to be awesome, when you’re trying to work your tail, there’s going to be negativity.”
His teammates believe Jackson is motivated by criticism. Ravens quarterback coach James Urban said Jackson was able to ignore outside chatter.
But Jackson didn’t ignore all the criticism.
In May, former NFL quarterback Chris Simms said “[Tom] Brady would not run out of OTAs in Year 4 of his career,” after Jackson skipped voluntary offseason practices. Jackson replied on Twitter: “Lamar wants to be Lamar. This part of the OTAs is voluntary.
Last month, after Jackson was dropped from the Top 10 quarterback rankings, former Ravens guard Bernard Pollard wrote on Twitter, “He’s definitely a Top 10 talent, but as far as a QB goes of the Top 10, I don’t see it.” Jackson then had a lengthy exchange with Pollard, saying, “I’ve never heard of you [to be honest]. You have your Super Bowl because of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Jackson views the exchanges as benign.
“They want a conversation; I just give them a little chat here and there,” Jackson said. “But it’s really nothing. It’s not serious. I’m not crazy or anything like that. I just commit.
Despite the contract situation and the comments, Jackson seems as focused on football as he has ever been. He bulked up in the offseason, adding over 10 pounds of lean muscle. Jackson said he weighed 230 pounds. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Jackson was throwing the ball better than he had ever seen. A week and a half into camp, Jackson has completed nearly 70% of his passes.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he never worried about Jackson being distracted by criticism because he dealt with him in high school, college and in the draft process in as a dual threat quarterback. Jackson’s most popular criticism is his ability to throw the ball.
An unnamed defensive coordinator told The Athletic last month that he wouldn’t consider Jackson a Tier 1 quarterback even if he won the league MVP 12 times. “If he has to pass to win the game, they don’t win the game,” said the coordinator.
Jackson was inaccurate at times, and he threw a career-worst 13 interceptions last year. But last season he was the best at winning late games with his arm.
In 2021, Jackson led double-digit fourth-quarter returns against the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts. His QBR total when trailing in the fourth quarter last season (81) ranked fourth in the NFL.
“I don’t know who this guy named ‘Anonymous’ is. I haven’t met him yet,” Harbaugh said. “So I don’t even know why we’re reporting what he has to say. But it is what it is. It’s just rubbish; it’s nothing; it’s a big nothing burger .
Baltimore outside linebacker Justin Houston believes Jackson’s criticism is almost on par with that of NBA superstar LeBron James.
“No matter what this kid does, he can’t do well,” Houston said. “I like the way he handles it. It’s just motivation. So I pray that everyone keeps talking about him, because it’s on fire.
A few months after being criticized for not participating in voluntary practices, Jackson heard from league observers that he should not practice in training camp until he was awarded a contract at long term.
But Jackson said he’s not taking the “hold-in” approach — showing up to camp but not attending practice like other NFL players with contract issues — because he wants to win and he doesn’t want to leave his teammates “over there hanging.”
“Lamar is not worried about the contract, nobody should be worried about the contract,” Ravens catcher Rashod Bateman said. “It’s not up to us; we’re going to let whoever takes care of it. We’re just going to play football. That’s what we’re called to here, and that’s what we’re going to do. focus.”
His teammates say Jackson doesn’t talk about negotiations. When Humphrey brought up a long-term deal, Jackson told him, “It’ll be done when it’s done.”
“For a guy who trades, he hasn’t said a word and his value just keeps going up. It’s unbelievable,” Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler said. now, and I think that’s how he likes it. The way he plays, the way he prepares, the person he is, and I think in the long run he’s going to keep winning.
When asked how Jackson would handle all the noise this season, coaches and teammates point to 2019. After hearing all the pre-season questions about whether he could throw the ball, Jackson threw five passes from touchdown in the season opener, then delivered the line: “Not bad for a running back.” Jackson became the second unanimous NFL MVP selection in history.
“I know he’s motivated by the critics,” said Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell. “…At the end of the day, he’s a phenomenal quarterback. Let the haters do the talking. We’ll let them tweet, but we’re just winning football games.