Aaron Maybin was born and raised in Baltimore. After his NFL career, he returned to our city and is now known more locally for being an artist, writer and community activist. He’s the program director at the Hilton Recreation Center on the city’s west side, which announced in January that it was receiving a $20 million donation from the Baltimore Ravens and The Stephen and Renee Bisciotti Foundation to expand its physical structure and programming.

He’s also a Ravens fan. And with contract negotiations between Lamar Jackson and the Ravens at a stalemate, fans, including Maybin, are perplexed that it has come to this. To them, Jackson represents much more than simply being one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

“In a city like Baltimore, a blue-collar city of the disenfranchised and downtrodden, not only does Lamar represent that struggle of having to do more with less, but he looks like us, talks like us, dresses like us,” said Maybin, a former Penn State All-American linebacker who was a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2009. “He validates our kids’ existence.”

“I’ve been a huge Ravens fan my entire life, aside for the time that I played against them,” Maybin said. “There is no team that I’m prouder to be partnered with because they’ve always been a shining example of what doing the right thing looks like. But this situation with Lamar, in my opinion is totally counter to that.”

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After two years of negotiations between Jackson and the Ravens, the team placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on its quarterback who possesses such rare and breathtaking talent. Now, we wait. The rumors swirl. Are NFL owners colluding? Is Jackson open to leaving the Ravens?

“The fact that this has dragged out for so long and that the Ravens haven’t cashed him out is beyond disappointing,” Maybin said. “It’s frustrating as a former player to watch him being put into this position of being a pawn for billionaires. The fact that no franchise has extended Lamar an offer sheet, given his credentials and revolutionary talent, reeks of collusion and is indicative of the racism that is deeply embedded in the culture of the NFL.”

Last week when the executive director of the NFL’s players’ union publicly alleged possible collusion, a league spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment.

At this juncture of the impasse, Ravens fans who are ardent supporters of Jackson are fearing what once seemed unfathomable: Jackson actually playing for another franchise three years after being the youngest MVP in NFL history during his first season as a starter.

“Lamar is a generational talent and when he steps on the field, he’s the best athlete and the most exciting player out there,” said Bobby Sabelhaus, the former prep All-American at McDonogh in 1994 who was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country at the time. “He’s the Michael Jordan of football. And the question is, can the Ravens field excellent teams over the next few years with a shot of winning a Super Bowl or two without Lamar? I don’t think so.”

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Those yelling that Jackson should take what’s being offered to him and castigating him for not being represented by an agent during the negotiations are entirely oblivious to the bigger picture.

Let’s set aside the fact that without Jackson, the Ravens are appreciably inferior to the AFC’s best teams: Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati, who each have their own exceptional franchise quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, respectively. It’s incomprehensible to think that the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals would open the door to even the slimmest possibility of parting ways with those guys. And it’s beyond bizarre to see the Ravens doing just that.

Jackson is beloved by his peers in the locker room. As I sat in a private box earlier in the year at M&T Bank Stadium with the mother of one of his Ravens teammates, whenever Jackson dazzled with his passing and running, eliciting thunderous roars from the crowd, she’d invariably yell out, “Pay that man!”

It was a call to arms that was repeated at least 20 times.

After last season ended on backup quarterback Tyler Huntley’s bizarre goal-line fumble that was returned 98 yards to cement Cincinnati’s 24-17 playoff win, defensive end Calais Campbell was adamant about what should happen next with Jackson.

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“You can’t let a guy like him go,” Campbell said just minutes after the loss. “I know it’s football, and there’s always some new exciting toy, new exciting kid that has potential to go out there and be great. But this is a for sure, a known. You know Lamar Jackson is an incredible player. I think it’s in the best interests of the Ravens’ organization to give him a long-term contract, make him our guy.”

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So why haven’t the Ravens done so? And why hasn’t any other team desperate for a dynamic talent at the quarterback position that can awaken a slumbering fan base done so as well?

When the Browns signed Deshaun Watson to his groundbreaking, five-year $230 million fully guaranteed contract, the other NFL owners angrily fumed, saying that the deal was an outlier and wouldn’t be replicated.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was among them.

“It’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract.’ I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract,” he publicly stated at the owners meetings in March 2022. “To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to play that game, you know? We shall see.”

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As we all know, given the fact that Colin Kaepernick was never given an opportunity to play in the league again after his controversial stance of taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, NFL owners are not very adept at camouflaging their efforts to collude with one another for their own self-interests. Kaepernick and Eric Reid settled their joint collusion grievance with the NFL in 2019 after alleging the owners kept them out of the league.

The guys that put their lives on the line and risk real bodily harm every Sunday? The owners are letting them know that they’ll only get what the owners are willing to give them, and not necessarily what they deserve.

Sabelhaus, who makes a living nowadays selling luxury residential properties on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, is one of the more passionate Ravens fans that you’ll ever meet. Thanks to the NFL Sunday Ticket, he hasn’t missed a game in years, paying particular attention to Jackson and the quarterback position.

“Lamar is an MVP talent who hasn’t even approached his prime yet,” Sabelhaus said. “The Ravens would be making a major mistake if they don’t sign him. If he ultimately receives an offer that the team is unwilling to match, I don’t care how many draft picks they get, the franchise will be digging themselves out of a major hole.”

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Maybin doesn’t easily hide his frustration with the current state of limbo that Jackson finds himself in.

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“The success that the Ravens have enjoyed over the last few years is directly attributable to Lamar’s rare talent,” Maybin said. “You take him out of the equation, and they would have been a losing team over the past few years.

“The infuriating thing is seeing the owners send this message to any other player that tries to follow in Jackson’s footsteps contractually, that they better not dare to not abide by the blueprint that is beneficial to ownership and detrimental to the labor force, the actual talent that keeps the cash registers ringing. That they better simply abide by what they tell them they must abide by.”

Some Ravens fans are hopeful for Lamar’s return but say they won’t abandon the team if he goes elsewhere.

“I’m always going to be a Ravens fan, that’s my hometown team,” Sabelhaus said. “But I’m also a huge Lamar Jackson fan and I want him to be our quarterback for years to come. Talent like that does not come around often.”

Others are coming close to their breaking point.

Boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. — the only fighter in history to start his professional career as a light-middleweight and go on to win a heavyweight title — is a Florida native like Jackson and other franchise greats such as Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, among others. He’s a huge football fan who’s been following Jackson’s exploits since his remarkable college career at the University of Louisville.

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“To see how Lamar is being treated makes me angry,” Jones said. “Historically, the NFL has a terrible track record relating to how they’ve treated Black quarterbacks. This to me, with people still saying that he can’t throw and that you can’t win a Super Bowl with a running quarterback, using those as reasons for why he’s not worth what he’s asking for, is infuriating.

“It’s the same racism, but more subtle now, that guys like Warren Moon and Doug Williams had to endure. I’ll tell you one thing, I like the Ravens and I’m one of Lamar Jackson’s biggest fans. If the Ravens don’t do right by him and he signs with another team, I’ll never watch another Ravens game for as long as I live.”

I can only assume that scholars of the city’s patron saint, Edgar Allan Poe, can’t help but ponder the following lines from his poem, “The Raven,” when thinking about Jackson’s current state of limbo.

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token…”

Many of us with a vested interest in the team are wondering, fearing, doubting dreams no mortal Ravens fan would have ever dared to dream after that magnificent MVP season, waiting for the stillness and silence to be broken in hopes that Lamar Jackson will get to finish what he started here in Baltimore.

alejandro.danois@thebaltimorebanner.com