PHOENIX — Lamar Jackson’s future in Baltimore was always going to dominate the discourse at Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s news conference Monday. But with a well-timed tweet, the quarterback made his trade request the dominant storyline at the NFL’s owners meetings.
Over his nearly 28-minute media availability in Phoenix, Harbaugh was asked repeatedly about Jackson— about the hopes for a reconciliation, the team’s timetable for a decision, contingency plans if Jackson is dealt, the team’s commitment to the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player and much more.
Here’s a look at Harbaugh’s most interesting quotes, and what they could say about what comes next.
Does Harbaugh expect Jackson to be the team’s Week 1 starter?
Answer: “You’ve got to plan for all the contingencies, for sure, but I’m pretty fired up about Lamar Jackson. I mean, Lamar Jackson is a great player. Lamar came back in great shape last year. He’s fired up to play. That’s the Lamar that I’m looking forward to seeing. Can’t wait to get back on the grass and go to work, and I’m confident that’s going to happen.”
Translation: Harbaugh has repeatedly gone out of his way to reaffirm the team’s commitment to keeping Jackson. Even Monday, faced with the clearest sign yet that Jackson’s relationship with the Ravens might be untenable, he was optimistic about a reunion. That will probably remain the case until Jackson leaves Baltimore, whether that’s in a trade a month from now or in retirement 15 years down the road.
By when do the Ravens need the situation with Jackson resolved?
Answer: “That’s a great question. I mean, the obvious [answer] is yesterday. You want it done already, but it’s just not always possible. I mean, this is the real world. This is big-time pro sports at the highest level, and contracts are important and they matter to both sides. The thing that I love about the situation, that I believe, is that, in the end, you’ve got good people working together. I mean, we’ve been with Lamar — I’ve been with Lamar as a coach ... for, what, five years now?
“We’ve been through some crazy things, some amazing moments, some tough moments, challenges, ups and downs together. We’ve hugged in the locker room after wins. We’ve hugged in the locker room after losses. Those are things that last forever. Those relationships never change. So this is part of it. This is part of the story that’s being written, and everybody’s writing the story. But I just appreciate that it’s been handled with class. Lamar’s handled it with class, and [general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and all of the people involved on that side of it have handled it with class. So that’s what I appreciate about everyone involved.”
Translation: The sooner the Ravens can figure out who their starting quarterback is, the better. Not only for Jackson, but also for offensive coordinator Todd Monken and whoever might be next in line at the position. And if a divorce is inevitable? Well, Harbaugh’s not keen on blaming either side. The Ravens built their relationship with Jackson on mutual trust — they believed he could be a franchise quarterback, and he believed they could help him win a Super Bowl. Public putdowns would only poison that well.
Will the Ravens take trade calls for Jackson?
Answer: “I’m sure that Eric will do a great job with that, whatever it is. I mean, everyone’s talking all the time about everything in this league. That’s just the way business is done. So I’m sure that business will be done the way it’s always done. But for me, my perspective, I’m getting ready for Lamar. That’s what I’m doing. And our offense, we’ve got a new offensive coordinator, very excited about Todd Monken. We’re in the lab right now building the offense and putting it together with the terminology and the plays and things like that. And that’s what you focus on as a coach.
“And the rest of it — you build your team. You build your team regardless. We’re building our team all the time in all the different areas that you’ve got to build it, and I know that train is moving, man. That train is moving fast. But here’s the thing: When Lamar gets back onboard that train, he’s fully capable of jumping on full speed. Lamar can go. And so when that train’s moving and he merges in with us, we’re going to be rolling. As a coach, that’s what I’m thinking about.”
Translation: Yes, the Ravens will take calls for Jackson. They’d be silly not to. But recouping value is crucial, and few players in sports have more transformative potential than a franchise quarterback. So of course Harbaugh believes there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. He has to. If a reconciliation is possible by the end of training camp, the Ravens would be happy to have Jackson back on a below-market salary cap hit of $32.4 million.
Is the damage to the Ravens’ relationship with Jackson irreparable?
Answer: “To me, this is the part of the way it works. And however it works — hey, in the end, when it’s all said and done, when we’re all not around the circle of this table right now, we’re going to see each other somewhere. We’re going to give each other a hug and say, ‘How you doing?’ And we’re going to be friends. And it’s even more so that way with the players and the coaches that you work with every single day.
“So I don’t know what direction it’s going to go. I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell the future. But I know whatever happens, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be OK. And I have my hopes. And, like I said, I love Lamar Jackson.”
Translation: Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that he hasn’t spoken much with Jackson this offseason, leaving much of the Ravens’ dialogue to DeCosta and the team’s negotiators. He wasn’t sure how much new quarterbacks coach Tee Martin had communicated with Jackson, either, during a recent trip to South Florida. With so much uncertainty, Harbaugh was open to the possibility that his optimism could be misplaced. At his end-of-season news conference in January, he said the team was “200%” committed to keeping Jackson in 2023. By now, he must know the odds of that have fallen drastically.
Are the Ravens developing contingency plans?
Answer: “It’s a good question. You’re building contingency plans for every position. You can go out there, and something can happen to any player, and they can be not there the next day for some reason, so you’ve got to build depth in your team. We’ve always been a team that wants to build depth in. Every position, we’re going to build depth into our team. We’re going to try to be prepared for every possible outcome. This is a unique one, no doubt, with Lamar and our quarterback situation. But everybody goes through this in some form or fashion with their quarterback. So this is part of it. This is part of the business.”
Translation: The Ravens have just one quarterback under contract: former undrafted free agent Anthony Brown. Jackson’s situation is up in the air. His backup, restricted free agent Tyler Huntley, received a right-of-first-refusal tender earlier this month, which gives the Ravens until April 21 to match any offer sheet that Huntley signs.
But given the team’s reported interest in the free-agent-quarterback market, which amounted ultimately to nothing, the Ravens might not feel too comfortable with Huntley as their Week 1 starter. DeCosta said in January that he and Harbaugh are not interested in a rebuild. That leaves two likely paths forward: keeping Jackson or trading him for draft assets that can help them land a blue-chip quarterback prospect.
How did the Ravens and Jackson reach this point?
Answer: “I don’t really go back and track all that. I think it’s natural. I think it’s part of the natural environment of professional sports. These are challenging things. There’s way more going on, and you guys have all written about this stuff. There’s a lot of little moving parts to this deal that go beyond one player or one team or anything like that. There are pro sports issues with collective bargaining agreements and all that kind of stuff that matter to people, and I think that’s all kind of weaving its way into that, and that’s just part of it.
“So you take it in stride. You try not to worry about it too much, and for us, try to keep the focus on the things that matter, which, for us, is football. We’re here for football. We’re here to keep it simple and get ready to play football as well as we can as a football team. And that’s what we try to do.”
Translation: Nothing about these negotiations has been normal, from Deshaun Watson’s precedent-setting, fully guaranteed deal, to Jackson’s decision to represent himself in contract talks, to the role of the NFL Players Association, to the emergence of a business partner reportedly contacting teams on Jackson’s behalf. The Ravens are taking this in stride because they have no other recourse.
Does Jackson need more traditional representation?
Answer: “One thing I learned from Andy Reid — he had a sign, a little card, in the back of his desk, on the bulletin board, and it said: ‘Don’t judge.’ I think that’s really important. Everybody’s got their way of operating and doing things, and we have relationships, and when we’re together, we talk about things with all the different guys all the time. That’s how you do. That’s how you work. And so I’m not going to try to judge anybody’s style for doing things.
“I love Lamar. I love what he stands for, love who he is as a person. His mom is a wonderful lady. I haven’t had a lot of time with her, but I met her. He’s got a beautiful little girl. It’s a good family, and I just know what he’s all about as a person, where his heart’s at, and that’s what you think about.”
Translation: No matter how much Jackson’s atypical approach to representation might affect negotiations, no matter how much his mother might be involved in his professional career, Harbaugh and DeCosta have presented a united front. They’ve not said one cross word about the influences in Jackson’s life over the past two years — in public, anyway. Yes, they’ve acknowledged, these talks are different, sometimes difficult. But no, they’ve insisted, that won’t preclude the possibility of a deal.
Does Harbaugh know whether Jackson would play under the tag?
Answer: “I don’t know. I don’t know anything, really.”
Translation: Jackson doesn’t have much leverage here, but one possibility is holding out. The cost — to player and team — would be significant. If Jackson sits out this season, he would forfeit a salary worth about $2 million more than his total career earnings of $32.8 million. That’s not nothing. The Ravens could also tag him again next offseason, when the value of a second consecutive tag would be about $38.9 million in 2024, a 20% markup on Jackson’s first tender.
A midseason return for Jackson could come as late as November. Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, players who’ve received a tender must sign by the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season, or else they’re barred from playing that season.
How do the Ravens and Jackson resolve this situation?
Answer: “It’s going to work itself out. Believe me, if we’re playing football next year and Lamar Jackson is the quarterback, we’re all going to be happy. He’s going to be fired up to play and he’s going to be happy to be out there, too. That’s the kind of guy he is. He loves to play and he loves his teammates. He loves his coaches. That’s how it works. It’s a fluid kind of a thing. There’s no periods on any of this.”
Translation: After Jackson skipped voluntary organized team activities last offseason for the first time in his career, he showed up to training camp and opted against “holding in” as a negotiating tactic. Whatever misgivings he might’ve had about the Ravens’ unwillingness to meet his contract demands before the season weren’t apparent in his play; he emerged as an early-season MVP candidate and helped carry the team to a strong start. Jackson does love football. He does love his teammates. If he gets a chance to sit down with Monken, he might start to love him, too. If the Ravens can put a Band-Aid on their relationship with Jackson this offseason, it’d be reasonable to expect his best effort next season.
How much ground do the Ravens have to cover to meet Jackson’s contract demands?
Answer: “To me, that’s a very good question and a very good point. At the end, that’s the important thing. You’ve got two sides that appreciate each other here. Lamar believes in us, and we believe in Lamar, and we know where we want to go forward. It’s a monetary thing that can be figured out, that can be worked out. It’s just a matter of negotiating and continuing down that road. Eventually, it will get worked out. There’s always going to be creative ways to figure that stuff out.”
Translation: Jackson’s had over two years to negotiate a deal with the Ravens and nearly two weeks to find his market value as a quasi-free agent. According to ESPN, Jackson last year rejected an offer that included $133 million guaranteed at signing, $175 million guaranteed for injury and $200 million in total guarantees if he’s still on the roster near the start of the 2026 league year. Only Watson, who last year signed a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns, has agreed to a deal with more than $124 million guaranteed at signing.
If Jackson can’t find a contract offer he’s satisfied with — he’s believed to be seeking a Watson-esque figure — this standoff could drag on for months. The Ravens won’t trade Jackson elsewhere unless he’s agreed to the framework of a deal with his new team. Next month’s draft could help drive Jackson’s market, making him a priority for a team unhappy with its quarterback situation. But the Ravens won’t deal an asset like Jackson at a significant discount. They know how valuable he is. They attached a dollar figure to that value. Now Jackson has to figure out whether (and where) he can do better.