OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It only took a couple of hours after wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reached a one-year agreement with Baltimore on Sunday night for him to make his first connection with quarterback Lamar Jackson as a Raven. On his Instagram, Jackson posted a screenshot of him FaceTiming with Beckham along with the caption “Truzz.”
The Ravens are hoping Beckham can dramatically improve the NFL’s least productive wide receiver group -- last season, the Ravens' wide receivers had the fewest receiving yards (1,517), fewest targets (200) and second-fewest receptions (124) in the NFL -- with his impressive catch radius and penchant for spectacular grabs. But the Ravens hope the more immediate impact is to serve as an enticement for Jackson to play in Baltimore in 2023.
A month after Jackson -- who doesn't have an agent and is representing himself -- requested a trade from Baltimore, it’s still unknown whether he will play under the nonexclusive franchise tag with the Ravens or sign an offer sheet with another team. While Ravens officials have talked all offseason about how much they want Jackson to be their quarterback, they delivered a more persuasive message with their biggest investment ever in a wide receiver, giving Beckham $15 million in guaranteed money. This was a statement for a franchise not known for giving big paydays to wide receivers.
It seemed like Beckham was already trying to make sure Jackson was going to be throwing passes to him in the fall. When Beckham announced Sunday that he was going to Baltimore, he posted a picture on Instagram of his 1-year-old son Zydn wearing Jackson’s No. 8 Ravens jersey.
From Jackson’s social media, it appears as if he placed his stamp of approval on bringing in Beckham, who represents what Jackson has never had. The Ravens have never had a Pro Bowl receiver since they became a franchise in 1996. The next longest drought belongs to the Carolina Panthers, who haven't had a Pro Bowl receiver since Steve Smith Sr. in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Beckham, a three-time Pro Bowl player, is the most established and dynamic wide receiver in Jackson’s five seasons in the NFL.
All of these receivers were bargain stopgap pass-catchers. Beckham is the Ravens’ best veteran playmaking wide receiver since Smith in 2016. There are questions about Beckham’s health and his productivity after not playing since tearing the ACL in his left knee 14 months ago. But Beckham was a difference-maker during the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl run, scoring seven touchdowns in his last 11 games. His productivity, however, has tailed off since recording 1,000-yard seasons in five of his first six years. He hasn't surpassed 600 yards receiving since 2019.
The lack of consistent targets on the outside for Baltimore showed in Jackson’s productivity. He has thrown 51 touchdown passes to wide receivers in his career. Beckham, meanwhile, has caught 56 touchdown passes in his nine-year career.
Luring Beckham to Baltimore is the latest move for a Ravens offseason that revolved around Jackson. The Ravens hired new offensive coordinator Todd Monken to modernize a run-centric scheme. Baltimore changed Jackson’s quarterbacks coach, moving wide receiver coach Tee Martin into that position. The only other outside free-agent signing by Baltimore was wide receiver Nelson Agholor, a former first-round pick.
That means the Ravens have revamped the wide receiver group and teamed it with a Pro Bowl tight end in Mark Andrews, two productive running backs in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and one of best blocking offensive lines. The biggest question mark on offense is at quarterback.
Until Jackson signs his $32.416 million franchise tender, Jackson can skip all of the offseason workouts in the spring and miss all of training camp because he’s technically not under contract. There is even a possibility that he becomes the first player since running back Le’Veon Bell in 2018 to sit out the entire season to protest the franchise tag.
But shortly after Beckham’s deal became the buzz in the NFL, former NFL running back James White tweeted: “So this must mean Lamar is back in Baltimore."
In an offseason where the contract stalemate with Jackson has loomed over the franchise, the agreement with Beckham could represent the first sign that Jackson will be quarterbacking the Ravens in 2023.