Sitting at the bar in the Charles Village Pub, Jaz Rucker grew passionate.
“Pay the man,” she insisted.
She has followed the contract negotiations between the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson, and unlike some of the quarterback’s detractors, feels he is right in wanting to negotiate for what he feels he is worth.
“It’s not fair for people to get angry at him and say he’s asking for too much,” Rucker said. “I applaud him for knowing his value.”
A man sitting on the stool next to Rucker at the bar echoed her sentiment: “I applaud him,” he said, clapping his hands and standing up. “I applaud him.”
This exchange comes days after the latest plot twist in the two-year melodrama to extend Jackson and keep him in Baltimore for years to come. Faced with Jackson’s reported desire to have a fully guaranteed contract, the Ravens announced they would place a nonexclusive franchise tag on their quarterback, leaving him open to negotiate with other teams and potentially leave Baltimore for good.
While the Ravens can match any offer sheet he signs, if they don’t, they’ll receive two first-round draft picks. And they’ll likely need to rebuild the offense from the ground up.
To his most vocal supporters, Jackson is irreplaceable. Since taking over for Joe Flacco in Week 11 of the 2018 season, Jackson has added a spark to a team with a long legacy of moribund offensive play, using his elite-level elusiveness to make jaw-dropping runs or evade tacklers for long enough to throw a long pass.
“Baltimore sports has never had a star of this magnitude,” said Wendell Gowie, a Baltimore-based comedian, YouTuber and self-declared super fan. “If Lamar Jackson were to leave Baltimore, I think honestly it would be a tragedy.”
Kaan Orgut, another huge fan, agrees, saying that if Jackson were to leave, “a level of eliteness would just be lost.” The team would get someone else to start, of course. But “no one could ever live up to that caliber of athleticism,” he said.
Shawn Means, a longtime Ravens fan known for wearing a mask and cape at every game he attends, said he would be crushed if Jackson went to another team.
“Anytime he gets the ball, anything can happen — with either his arm or his legs,” he said. “It’s exhilarating.”
Many can rattle off the accolades: a unanimous MVP in 2019, the first quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in one season, the fastest passer to 30 wins, the first quarterback to have consecutive seasons with 1,000 rushing yards. On and on.
During Jackson’s five seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens are 45-16 with him under center. When he doesn’t start, they’re 8-13.
Fans from across the region have embraced him. Robbie Davis, owner of the baseball card shop Robbie’s First Base in Lutherville, said in his 35 years in the business, nobody’s memorabilia has moved faster than Jackson’s.
“Not one guy. Not Brooks Robinson, not Frank Robinson, not Cal Ripken,” he said. “One guy in a short period of time, he cast a spell on this town.”
If a deal can’t get done, Davis thinks there will be blowback from the fans.
“They’re going to take that stadium and shrink it, because you’re going to have a lot of empty seats without Lamar Jackson,” he said.
In Gowie’s view, Jackson’s talent draws people in — not just fans nearby, but also those from across the country.
Rucker said seeing No. 8 motivates her to watch the Ravens, and she’s become emotionally invested in him as a player.
“I haven’t felt that strong of a connection to a sports team, even being a long-term Ravens fan, for a long time,” she said. “Flacco did not motivate me in that way.”
Means, who has attended the majority of the Ravens’ away games for the past three years, said he may be more reluctant to follow the team on the road if a deal doesn’t get done. Jackson is the team’s best chance at winning a championship, so Means doesn’t want anyone else. “I want the best opportunity to win,” he said.
He’s hoping owner Steve Bisciotti will see it the same way and break out his checkbook.
“Pay the man for his merits,” he said. “He’s accurate, he’s fast, he’s smart, he has the arm. What else does he have to do?”
For Rucker, there’s a deeper meaning in the contract saga and Jackson’s demands.
“I honestly think him asking for that is a way of saying we as a team, we as a city, are worth it,” she said.