Could Lamar Jackson and other young QBs be in line to be replaced?
One might think that an MVP quarterback's future would be secure with the franchise that drafted him.
But in the case of Lamar Jackson, there's at least one voice that believes the best order of operations for the Baltimore Ravens would be to move on from their young quarterback who won the 2019 NFL MVP award if – and only if – a particular circumstance presents itself.
Despite Jackson's having led the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, retired NFL veteran and current analyst Bucky Brooks believes that if Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is within range on draft night, the Ravens should take a "collegiate approach" to their quarterback situation.
"They cash in on a blue-chip, they take Justin Fields, and then maybe they operate like a college team," Brooks said. "One quarterback graduates, the other quarterback steps into the starter's role. You now have the opportunity to potentially keep a quarterback on a young deal."
With a proclamation that bold, it should come as no surprise that Brooks' comments were met with immediate pushback, with the likes of Colin Cowherd coming to Jackson's defense on "The Herd."
"Lamar Jackson is 30-4 against every quarterback not named Patrick Mahomes," Cowherd said. "He's 24, he wins 80% of his games, he has won a road playoff game. Outside of Mahomes, [Aaron] Rodgers, there are no perfect quarterbacks."
Cowherd wasn't alone.
Retired NFL quarterback Michael Vick also stated that Jackson is irreplaceable for the Ravens while discussing the quarterback on "First Things First."
"I even heard people utter that Lamar Jackson, in his first three years, was better than me or any other mobile quarterback that has ever played the game," Vick said. "He's irreplaceable."
For good measure, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh stood behind his quarterback when he stopped by "The Rich Eisen Show."
"His fifth-year option will be picked up," Harbaugh said. "He's definitely going to be our quarterback. That's the plan."
Jackson's talent, ability and résumé thus far in his career are beyond reproach. But as Jeff Zrebiec, the Ravens beat writer for The Athletic described, the real conversation comes down to money, as the Ravens have notoriously preferred to have their quarterbacks on cost-efficient contracts.
"The Ravens' picking up Jackson's fifth-year option was a formality," Zrebiec wrote. "One of the reasons they traded into the first round back in 2018 to get Jackson was they wanted that fifth year that is part of the contract for first-round picks.
"Looking forward, Jackson will make $23 million next year if he plays the season under the fifth-year option. That's a huge adjustment for a Ravens team that has benefitted from having a quarterback on a cheap, rookie contract, and their roster construction will have to be done with Jackson's escalated cap number in mind."
Recent young quarterbacks such as Mahomes and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson – who were first-round picks in 2017 – were rewarded with large contract extensions after three seasons with their respective franchises.
But the 2018 class of quarterbacks doesn't appear to be getting the same treatment so far, as evidenced by Mayfield and Jackson having yet to be offered extensions. Fellow 2018 draft class member Josh Allen is in the same boat, lacking a contract extension offer despite leading the Buffalo Bills to consecutive playoff appearances in 2019 and 2020.
All of this caused Nick Wright to ponder the possibility of teams being increasingly willing to replace young quarterbacks – even good ones – through the draft to save money. If it's a consideration with a great player such as Jackson, perhaps it could be a sign of a broader trend, Wright noted on "First Things First."
"I thought the Rams were going to do it with [Sean] McVay and [Jared] Goff. I think they were considering it," Wright said. "Got a little squeamish at the end and then made a big mistake in signing Goff to the extension.
"I think that some people would have made the argument that is what the Browns should be considering. Are you going to pay Baker [Mayfield] $42 million a year?"
Whether teams progress toward rotating cheap, effective and young quarterbacks remains to be seen. It seems highly unlikely to happen in the case of the Ravens and the former MVP Jackson.
But as teams increasingly look to save money as they construct their rosters, it might make sense in some instances to replace a promising young quarterback through the draft before his big payday.
However, at that point, it becomes about how promising the new quarterback can be – and if the cycle will then repeat itself.
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