OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- While some have expressed uncertainty about the future of Lamar Jackson outside the Baltimore Ravens' facility, his teammates strongly supported their starting quarterback after Monday's final team meeting of the season.
A day following the Ravens' 24-17 wild-card loss at the Cincinnati Bengals, the players expressed optimism that Jackson would be back in Baltimore next season and said he did everything he could to return from a knee injury.
"You can't let a guy like him go," Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. "There's always some new, exciting kid that has potential to go out there and be great. But this is a business of 'for sures' and 'knowns,' and you know who Lamar Jackson is. I think it's in the best interest of the Ravens organization to give him a long-term contract and make him 'the guy.'"
Jackson's contract situation is the biggest storyline for the Ravens and perhaps the entire NFL. Jackson and the Ravens can now resume negotiations on a long-term deal after suspending talks at the start of the regular season.
Now, Baltimore will have to decide whether to reach a long-term deal with Jackson, put the franchise tag on him or look to trade him. After Jackson finished out the fifth-year option of his rookie deal this season, the Ravens have less than two months to work on a contract extension before they have to use the franchise tag on him in early March to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
"In my mind, I know he's going to be here," Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. "He's a competitor. He wants to win. This is his team, and this is his offense. The money is not the most important thing with Lamar. He really wants to win, contrary to popular belief."
Jackson missed the last six games with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee, and the Ravens struggled mightily on offense without him. Baltimore failed to score more than 17 points in a game during Jackson's absence.
Some NFL analysts, including former quarterback Michael Vick, suggested that Jackson should put on a brace and help Baltimore in the postseason.
"The outside world, and all the different narratives that people paint in their minds, sometimes it's humorous," Campbell said. "Lamar Jackson is a guy who loves the game of football, and I truly believe he worked as hard as he could to give himself a chance to play."
As Baltimore safety Chuck Clark added, "He's not healthy. You've seen him barely walking here. You can't force somebody to play."
Jackson's durability has become a major issue. Dating to Week 15 of 2021, he has been sidelined for 10 of Baltimore's past 22 games.
On Thursday, Jackson tweeted the severity of his injury, writing that he "suffered a PCL Grade 2 Sprain on the borderline of a strain 3."
"When you do this at a high level, you know if you can be effective or not," Stanley said. "I trust Lamar."
Last week, Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins implied to The Washington Post that Jackson would be back on the field if not for a contract standoff with the team. On Monday, Watkins clarified his remarks, saying, "If a guy is hurt and can't play, he shouldn't be out there. I was just very selfish in saying, 'Shoot, I hope he plays, and I hope he hobbles out there.' It was nothing personal. He said something to me the other day. We laughed about it."
Jackson did not travel with the Ravens for their playoff game in Cincinnati. He has been dealing with an illness, a source said.
Jackson did not walk into the locker room on Monday during the hourlong media availability.
"I hope that he's going to be back. That's my guy," Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said. "I have nothing but love and respect for No. 8 as a person, as a player and as a friend."