INDIANAPOLIS — When the Baltimore Ravens’ brain foundation held a season-ending press conference on Jan. 19, the tone was hopeful but sharp: There was a lot to cover in contract negotiations with quarterback Lamar Jackson and a shrinking time to work with .
Six weeks later, talks are bogged down in a quagmire of ambiguity, as the atmosphere among the Ravens grows increasingly tense.
The final twist came this week, when general manager Eric DeCosta somewhat stunningly shaded his wide receivers during a media meeting in the NFL combine, framing Baltimore’s struggles in evaluating the position with a phrase that would undoubtedly attract the attention of his dressing room:
“I would say a lot of people would say the same thing; it is a challenging position to evaluate in different ways. If I had an answer, that means I’d probably have better receivers, I think. We keep trying.”
The reaction from one of DeCosta’s wideouts—2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman—was predictably frigid. The less predictable aspect was Bateman publicly responding on social media, while also recording a defense of Jackson.
In a tweet that was deleted minutes later, Bateman responded directly to DeCosta’s comments:
“[H]If you play to your player’s strength and & stop pointing the finger at us and number 8,” Bateman wrote, referring to Jackson. “[B]lame whoever makes you do this…. we take heat 24/7. & keep us healthy… care about us and see what happens… there are no promises hear… tired of you all lying and attacking players for no reason.’
After deleting the message, Bateman tweeted out “I apologize” with a hugging emoji.
But what can’t be erased or replaced is the simplicity of the message: Bateman seemed frustrated enough to publicly go to his own general manager (in a way that you could argue was fair game, given DeCosta’s comments ), and he chose to include Jackson in his post despite the quarterback not being part of DeCosta’s quote.
The line “blame whoever made you do this” also turned out to be a not-so-veiled reference to former offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who “stepped down” in January and was replaced last month by Georgia Bulldogs offensive coordinator Todd Monken, a hire allegedly made without Jackson being a central part of the process. And if that wasn’t enough, Bateman’s inclusion of “keep us healthy” and “take care of the USA” comes a day after the NFL Players Association released league-wide team report cards that gutted Baltimore’s strength coaches and put them ranked last in the NFL. with a degree of F-.
In that report, which was the result of anonymous polls of more than 1,300 of the NFL’s more than 2,200 active players, the NFLPA noted that Baltimore strength coaches “[W]There even significantly lower than the second worst team [in the NFL]. Players do not feel that the power wand helps them become more successful. The team recently parted ways with Head Strength Coach Steve Saunders, so we are curious to see if this area improves in his absence.”
That criticism of Saunders led to tweets from former Ravens players Carl Davis Jr. and Quincy Adeboyejo, who directly attacked the former coach.
“I was definitely a victim of the strength coaches. Two Labrums and multiple pec tribes,” Davis Jr. wrotereferring to past injuries.
“Definitely Ruined My Career” adeboyejo wrote. “3 years of season ending with injuries in a row after being healthy my whole career before.”
On its own, that public flogging by the NFLPA and subsequent conversation about injuries should worry the Ravens. But coupled with Bateman’s comments directed at DeCosta, and mixed with the ongoing awkward contract dance with Jackson (who ended his season in a seemingly tense injury deadlock), it just adds another layer to an ongoing saga that is getting worse and worse. for Baltimore. And it only draws more attention to the pressing questions about how the Ravens and their star quarterback appear to be entering coin-flip territory between Jackson signing an extension or being traded in the offseason.
DeCosta doesn’t seem to have an easier time answering some of those questions, especially after the past six weeks have passed and this week has been basically nothing to report on the combine. Not even a usual “we’re making progress” comment.
If anything, DeCosta’s comments about negotiating with Jackson sounded like they were ripped from his end-of-season press conference six weeks prior, when work had supposedly just finished. starting.
“Yes, Lamar and I are talking,” DeCosta said. “We recently met. It’s an ongoing discussion. We both understand the urgency of the situation; it has been a good dialogue, a good discussion. I’m optimistic, as I remain optimistic, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Pressed by the challenges of the negotiations, DeCosta subtly mentioned one aspect that remains a problem. Most elite quarterback negotiations involve some sharp moments when a general manager openly voices his criticism of a player to his agent, stimulating conversation as the two sides try to find common ground. Jackson doesn’t have an agent, which makes that kind of head-on negotiating tactic much more risky. Largely because the general manager knows he can say blunt things to an agent that won’t scar his relationship with the player. In this case, DeCosta would have to say those things directly to Jackson, and that could affect the future of Jackson’s relationship with both the front office and coaching staff.
“I think when you’re dealing with a cop, sometimes you can speak very freely [and] position yourself in a certain way,” DeCosta said. “You have several arguments that you might not say to a player. So I think that’s part of it. There’s a lot of respect – huge respect – because I’m working with a player like Lamar, a player like Roquan Smith who is also himself represented Every day you see the devotion, [and] you understand where they come from. So it’s definitely a different dynamic.”
Instead of approaching the March 7 franchise tag deadline with any traction, it looks and sounds like the Ravens and Jackson are no closer to a long-term deal. Meanwhile, the two sides exchange behind-the-scenes leaks that tell different stories about the kind of deal Jackson is looking for.
All indications from league and union sources are that Jackson is seeking a fully guaranteed, long-term deal similar to that of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson last year. This is despite a report from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that Jackson is not seeking a fully guaranteed deal, which continues to be shot down by multiple sources familiar with the negotiations between Jackson and the Ravens.
The next five days will reveal what all this means, with the ultimate answer likely to come in whatever form of franchise label the team puts on Jackson, followed by his subsequent response to the move. Either he accepts the tag and goes off-season with the team, or he rejects the tag and asks to be traded. What seems less likely to happen with each passing day is a last-ditch extension.
The period to realize this is coming to an end. And about the only change that’s happened is that things around the Ravens have gotten worse rather than better.