How the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson deals with added scrutiny during contract talks

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey watched Lamar Jackson go into a Baltimore-area IHOP and knew the Pro Bowl quarterback wouldn’t last long.

Before Jackson could even think about ordering bottomless pancakes, he was being escorted out after getting mobbed by fans.

“He thinks he’s a very normal guy, but I’m like, ‘Lamar, you are Lamar Jackson,’” Humphrey said. “You’re not me; you can’t just do normal things.”

And these aren’t normal times for Jackson, whose contract situation is one of the biggest storylines in the NFL. The Ravens are negotiating an extension with the former MVP, who is not represented by an agent, and if it doesn’t get done by March, Jackson will likely have to play in 2023 under the franchise tag with an uncertain future in Baltimore.

When Jackson turns on the TV, he hears commentary on his contract. When he clicked on Twitter during his vacation, he read criticism of his game by a former Ravens player.

“I guess this is what comes with it,” Jackson said recently. “When you’re trying to be great, when you’re trying to work your tail off, there’s going to be negativity.”

Teammates believe Jackson is motivated by the criticism. Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban said Jackson is adept at ignoring the outside chatter.

But Jackson hasn’t ignored all of the critiques.

In May, former NFL quarterback Chris Simms said “[Tom] Brady wouldn’t be missing OTAs in Year 4 of his career,” after Jackson skipped voluntary offseason workouts. Jackson responded on Twitter: “Lamar wants to be Lamar. This part of OTAs is voluntary.”

Last month, after Jackson was left off a top 10 quarterback ranking, former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard wrote on Twitter, “He’s definitely a Top 10 talent but as for a Top 10 QB, I don’t see it.” Jackson then had a long exchange with Pollard, saying, “I never heard of you [to be honest]. You got your Super Bowl cause of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.”

Jackson views the exchanges as benign.

“They want conversation; I just give them a little conversation here and there,” Jackson said. “But it really isn’t anything though. It’s not serious. I’m not mad or anything like that. I’m just engaging.”

Despite the contract situation and commentaries, Jackson appears as focused on football as he’s ever been. He bulked up over the offseason, adding more than 10 pounds of lean muscle. Jackson said he weighs 230 pounds. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Jackson is throwing the ball better than he’s ever seen him. A week and half into camp, Jackson has completed close to 70% of his passes.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he has never been concerned about Jackson being distracted by criticism, because he’s dealt with it through high school, college and the draft process as a dual-threat quarterback. The most popular critique of Jackson is his ability to throw the ball.

An anonymous defensive coordinator told The Athletic last month that he wouldn’t consider Jackson a Tier 1 quarterback even if he wins the league MVP 12 times. “If he has to pass to win the game, they ain’t winning the game,” the coordinator said.

Jackson has been off with his accuracy at times, and he threw a career-worst 13 interceptions last year. But last season was his best at winning games late with his arm.

In 2021, Jackson led double-digit comebacks in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts. His Total QBR when trailing in the fourth quarter last season (81) ranked fourth in the NFL.

"I don't know who this guy named 'Anonymous' is. I haven't met him yet,” Harbaugh said. "So, I don't even know why we report on what he has to say. But it is what it is. It's just baloney; it's just nothing; it's a big nothing burger.”

Baltimore outside linebacker Justin Houston believes the criticism of Jackson is almost on the same level as that of NBA superstar LeBron James.

"No matter what this kid does, he can't do right,” Houston said. "I love the way he's handling it. It's just motivation. So, I pray that everybody keeps talking about him, because it's fire.”

A couple of months after being criticized for not attending voluntary workouts, Jackson heard league observers say he shouldn’t practice in training camp until he gets a long-term deal.

But Jackson said he is not taking the “hold-in” approach -- report to camp but not participate in practice like other NFL players with contract issues -- because he wants to win, and he doesn’t want to leave his teammates “out there hanging."

"Lamar is not concerned about the contract, nobody should be concerned about the contract,” Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman said. "That's not up to us; we're going to let whoever handles that handle it. We're just going to play football. That's what we're called here to do, and that's what we're going to focus on."

Teammates say Jackson doesn’t talk about the negotiations. When Humphrey has brought up a long-term deal, Jackson has told him, “It’ll get done when it gets done."

"For a guy that is negotiating, he hasn't said a word, and his value just keeps going up. It's amazing,” Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler said. "For anyone who gives him crap, he's in charge of his own destiny right now, and I think that's the way he likes it. The way he plays, the way he prepares, the person that he is, and I think in the long run he's just going to keep winning.”

When asked how Jackson will handle all the noise going into the season, coaches and teammates point to 2019. After hearing all the questions before the season about whether he could throw the ball, Jackson threw five touchdown passes in the season opener and then delivered the line: “Not bad for a running back.” Jackson went on to become the second unanimous NFL MVP selection in history.

"I know he’s motivated by the critics,” Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. "... At the end of the day, he’s a phenomenal quarterback. Let the haters talk. We’ll let them chirp, but we just win football games.”