As the NFL playoffs approached and the football world wondered more and more about Lamar Jackson’s whereabouts, Ravens teammates knew what few others did. They’d seen their star quarterback around the team facility. They knew he was hurting.

After the Ravens’ season ended Sunday night with a 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC wild-card round, cornerback Marlon Humphrey estimated that Jackson, sidelined for six weeks by a PCL sprain in his left knee, was at “50 to 60%” health. Three days earlier, Jackson had shared on social media that he was dealing with a “borderline” Grade 3 sprain, in which the ligament is completely torn. He’d tweeted that his knee was still “unstable.”

“I just don’t think he was really healthy enough to go out there,” Humphrey said in the Ravens’ locker room inside Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium. “He kind of made that clear with the tweet he sent. There was a lot of speculation with him not having the contract, this, that and the third. But you know, I don’t even know if I should say this, but he’s, like, limping around the facility. That’s kind of the crazy thing that people don’t see. Obviously, we knew that he wasn’t going to be out there with us, but hopefully we sign him to a big-term deal and he’s a Raven with me forever.”

As the Ravens’ offseason dawned on Monday with one question looming over the franchise, if not the NFL itself — would Jackson be back in 2023? — some of the biggest voices in their locker room answered in unison: We sure hope so.

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Jackson, a pending free agent, kept his silence. He has not commented publicly since early December, and he did not enter the locker room during the clean-out window open to media. But he garnered support in his absence.

“I hope that he’s going to be back,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who arrived in Baltimore along with Jackson in 2019. “That’s my guy. I have nothing but love and respect for No. 8 as a person, as a player and as a friend. So, yeah, I love the guy. So I hope he’s back.”

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell said the Ravens “can’t let a guy like him go.” Campbell, who missed time late in the season while rehabilitating his own knee injury, said Jackson “worked as hard as he could to give himself a chance to play” during his recovery process. But he acknowledged the unpredictability of injuries: “Some stuff, you can play through; some stuff, you can’t.”

“The man loves football, and there’s always some new exciting toy, new exciting kid, that has the potential to go out there and be great,” he said. “But this is a business of for-sures and knowns, and you know Lamar Jackson is an incredible player, and I think it’s in the best interest of the Ravens’ organization to give him a long-term contract and make him your guy.

“And I know the front office is thinking the same thing. They’re smart guys. They built teams that are always competing for a reason, so I’m sure it’s going to get done. But you never know. You’ve got to take it one day at a time, but Lamar Jackson, it’s his time, man. He deserves [it]. He played like it, and he deserves to have the opportunity to lead his team to hopefully multiple championships. As long as he’s on the field, you know your team has a chance.”

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Left tackle Ronnie Stanley said he was not only sure that he wanted Jackson back in Baltimore, but also that Jackson would be back. He said he had “full faith” that the Ravens’ front office, which has tried for two years to sign Jackson to a long-term deal, would “work something out.” If the sides can’t agree on an extension, the Ravens are expected to tag Jackson this offseason, affording them the flexibility to keep him in 2023 or find a trade partner.

“He’s a competitor and he wants to win,” Stanley said. “This is his team. This is his offense. The money is not the most important thing to Lamar. He really wants to win, contrary to popular belief.”

With Jackson keeping quiet, an Instagram story he shared early Monday seemed to speak to the uncertainty of the moment. The post featured an unsourced quote: “When you have something good, you don’t play with it. You don’t take chances losing it. You don’t neglect it. When you have something good, you pour into it. You appreciate it. Because when you take care of something good, that good thing takes care of you too.”

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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