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Lamar Jackson through the eyes and words of Baltimore Ravens fans — Andscape

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that focuses on the phenomenon and uniqueness of the 2019 NFL MVP in the final guaranteed year of his rookie contract. Part 1 is here.

In a tweet heard round the world last week, a disgruntled Baltimore Ravens fan made public a debate that has raged among Ravens fans since the season began: Is Lamar Jackson, the Ravens superstar quarterback, worth the record-setting guaranteed contract he’s seeking?

After the Ravens’ disappointing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 12, the fan tweeted: “When someone is asking for over 250 mil guaranteed like @Lj_era8, games like this should not come to @jtuck9. Let Lamar walk and spend that money on a well-rounded team.”

The normally even-keeled Jackson responded with a profane tweet of his own. The tweet was taken down and Jackson apologized. Many fans dismissed Jackson’s response as the reaction of a player who is under increasing pressure to perform. Still, the looming question among Ravens fans is whether the 25-year-old Jackson can lead Baltimore to the organization’s third Super Bowl championship.

The questions intensified last week after Jackson was knocked out of the game against the Denver Broncos with a knee injury. He missed four games last season with an ankle injury and could miss up to three games this season (with Jackson sidelined, the Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-14 on Sunday). In this regard, Jackson is also facing a referendum on whether “running quarterbacks,” who possess the skills and physique to run with the ball if necessary, can win an NFL championship and, if not, are they worth long-term investments.

I spoke with a handful of Ravens season ticket holders — and a converted young Ravens fan — last week about Jackson’s importance to the team and his value to the city. Even among a small sample size of season ticket holders, there is a divergence of opinion about the Lamar Jackson experiment in Baltimore.

These are the fans:

tracey despeaux

  • TRACEY DESPEAUX, president of The Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts. She has been with the organization for 21 years and president since September. Despeaux has watched football since she was a little girl. “I mean, that’s what we did on Sundays. My mom, even when the Colts were here, she would make a big dinner and at halftime we would all go make plates, and come back up, and sit and watch the rest of the game while we ate our dinner. So, I’ve been a football fan ever since I was little.”

drew hawkins

  • DREW HAWKINS, former Morgan Stanley executive, founder and CEO of Edyoucore Sports and Entertainment. Hawkins attended Baltimore Colts games with his father as a boy and has been a Ravens season ticket holder for 13 years.
Deborah Thomas (left) attended Baltimore Colts games as a child in the 1960s.

Deborah Thomas

  • DEBORAH THOMAS, as a young girl growing up in the early 1960s, Thomas’ father was a Baltimore Colts season ticket holder. When the Colts returned from away games, her father would take her to the airport and meet the players as they returned. Her favorite players were Buddy Young, Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, Jim Parker, and Lenny Moore. “We knew all those guys. I just developed that thing about football from a little girl.”

matt muszelik

  • MATT MUSZELIK, a master plumber, owner of Frank J. Klein and Sons Inc. He has been a Ravens season ticket holder since 2008 and has not missed a game since 2006. “My parents never took me to games as a kid. My sister and I are the only season ticket holders in the family.”
Jordan Hill grew up a fan of the Ed Reed/Ray Lewis/Terrell Suggs Ravens teams.

Gil Talbot

  • JORDAN HILL, born in Silver Spring, Maryland. Grew up going to Washington Redskins games but admired the Ravens because they always were better. He was a fan of the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed/Terrell Suggs Ravens teams. He is a fan of the Ravens, but loyal to Washington. Hill played football at Harvard.
  • “JOHN.” A local television producer who requested anonymity because the business for which he works has ties to the Ravens and might not appreciate his candor. He was a Colts fan and has been a Ravens season ticket holder for the last 17 years.

What are your general thoughts and feelings about Lamar Jackson?

Despeaux: I personally don’t know Lamar. I’ve never met him. I think he’s a great young quarterback and he has a bright future. Hopefully with the Ravens. I think he’s exciting. Watching him is very exciting. He’s young. He makes all kinds of plays and, yeah, I know my husband, he’ll watch the game and he never knows when Lamar has the ball. He always thinks he handed it off to somebody. Meanwhile, Lamar’s going around the other side, running up through the middle, getting a first down. And that’s kind of funny the way he is really good at disguising who has the ball.

Hawkins: He’s a talented football player. I don’t think the sport has seen anything like him. I think you see some comparisons to Michael Vick, some comparisons to others, but I think he’s very unique in terms of his style of play. But that being said, I think it’s a dangerous style of play and I think back to guys like RG3 [Robert Griffin III] and how his career ended so early based on him jumping out there and being as aggressive with his style. I also have concerns. He runs the ball a lot and unfortunately one day it’s not a matter of if, but when that wrong hit comes up on him and there could be some real damage that takes place. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen until way down [the line] in his career.

Thomas: I feel he can be considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. I like him, I like his enthusiasm about the game. I love the way he plays the game. I’ve watched a lot of football from the ’60s or ’70s, he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks, I think, that there has been. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, Peyton Manning.’ Peyton Manning was a good quarterback, but Peyton Manning wasn’t the whole package like Lamar is. The problem that I have with Lamar, I don’t think he’s being led in the right direction. He’s got this thing, he doesn’t want an agent. His mother is his agent. That’s my biggest thing with Lamar. Yes, he’s her son, she’s his mother, and she wants the best for her son. But can she promote his career [in a way] that would be the best for him? I don’t think so. That puts a little thorn in my side with him.

Muszelik: What he means to us is just the biggest breath of fresh air ever. We were a defensive team, had been for my entire football career with the Ravens, as a fan. In one pick we became a high-powered offense. It was something us, as Ravens fans, had never seen. We never really had a quarterback, a versatile dual threat, high-powered player like Lamar. When we drafted him and those couple plays he got early on in his rookie campaign, it was just like you saw, you’re like, ‘Wow, this guy’s special.’ The concerns I have lately and what’s changed lately have been him possibly thinking he’s bigger than the team, which I don’t know if it’s true or not.

Hill: Lamar is the most electric QB in the game and is the main reason the Ravens have been Super Bowl contenders over the past three years.

“John”: I think Lamar is a very good quarterback, but I don’t think he’s in the top tier of quarterbacks that could possibly … I think he could win a Super Bowl if he got the right team around him. I think he’s in that second tier, that 5, 6, 7, 8, one of those guys, because he’s a very dynamic player. But he still has not really progressed at diagnosing defenses quickly. Holds the ball way too long. But he’s good enough to win a Super Bowl and he’s dynamic enough to win MVP.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson looks on during the first half against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 4 in Baltimore.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Was Lamar right to lash out at the fan?

Despeaux: I think when you’re in the public eye, you are, what do I want to say? You’re constantly criticized, and you can take it only so much, and then you just, you’re at your breaking point. So, I think when he said that on Twitter, he was just at his breaking point, and he had momentary weakness, so he just let down his guard, said what he thought. Because I think a normal person is eventually going to blurt out what they really think.

Hawkins: I think Lamar is an innocent, nice young player that would not intentionally try to hurt or defame or disrespect somebody, so that’s my impression of his character. But again, you look at some of these other guys that have the right people around them that are going to vet their tweets or OK, let’s have a process when we get off the field, there’s certain things that we’re not going to do right away when we have a bad game. And the first thing we’re not going to do is get on our phone and respond or look at social media within a certain period of time until we’ve had an opportunity to calm down, chill, have our press conference and get our head together. That’s standard operating procedure that a lot of folks will have for their players. But again, he’s got no agent.

Thomas: And that Twitter thing last week, I don’t think that was part of his character, but just like any of these young men, older men too. Somebody throws something at you. Some of them guys throw something at you. You know what, somebody did it, the first thing you going to do is say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get this sucker for saying this.’ I don’t hold that against him. I don’t. Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

Muszelik: I think the fan was just ignorant and angry. I think that there’s a lot of those guys out there that are very quiet when he is doing good and kind of wait for him to play bad. So, I thought the fan was a jackass personally. That’s what I think.

Hill: I’m sure that wasn’t the first person to say something like that to him. After a tough loss, I feel like guys are pretty raw emotionally and that’s what we got. Also, there was a general push for being mindful of mental health in the NBA, but NFL players aren’t given the same energy. He shouldn’t have done it, but nowhere else can people publicly call for you to lose your job and our idea be that the person not respond or does so with a smile.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson visits with the media after the AFC team practice in preparation for the 2020 Pro Bowl on Jan. 22 in Kissimmee, Florida.

Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Do you think the Ravens should give Jackson the guaranteed contract he wants? Should he have taken the contract the team reportedly offered?

Despeaux: Well, with his current injury and possible more injuries, I think maybe he should have considered their offer and been a team player and just taken it. But I guess if he thinks he’s worth more, then that’s why he decided to hold out.

Hawkins: I’m all about betting on yourself, but you’re in a big money business scenario now. And so, last year you got hurt and so you’re not Superman and you know that you can get hurt and when you get hurt you are missing games and missing money. If you’re going to take the risk this year of coming back and betting on yourself, I’m fine with that, but I think you got to do it in a smart way. You’re playing Russian roulette with so much money because you can get hurt driving your car, you could get hurt walking into the grocery store, doing all these other things and all of a sudden that $185 million or $190 million that was guaranteed that they were giving you — that’s all off the table now. How do you take that kind of risk?

Thomas: I think he should have signed. I really do. He has already proven himself on the field. Look at the records that he’s broken. He’s proven himself. He is a great, elite player. I mean, when he was the most valuable player, nobody else in the league could really touch him. So yes, they should have paid. I think they should have paid him. That’s just my opinion. I think the offer that they made him was a decent, good offer. I really do. I try not to think about him leaving. But I think if he gets an offer, he’d be a fool not to leave.

Muszelik: Lamar 100% should bet on himself and as a Ravens fan I’ve been very happy with him as my quarterback. I wouldn’t want anybody else. I think Lamar did everything to this offense. If we don’t have Lamar, I think we’re a four-win team by far. I don’t think we are anything without him. I just would hate to sign him for six years and have him not be able to complete a full season after or win a playoff game or not to even be there in the playoffs. I would pay him, but not guaranteed, to protect the future of the team. I know it sounds terrible, but I’m a team guy first. And Deshaun [Watson]? The Browns are the only idiots that were willing to make that offer. I would give him [Jackson] all the money he wants. I’d lump it up in the front or give him a huge signing bonus, however you can hide the money to give him the most money possible. But I would not make it guaranteed.

Hill: I see why they’re cautious. Because he’s such a good player because of his athleticism and that wanes with age, they don’t want to invest into a future that potentially doesn’t look like what we’ve been seeing. But Lamar is a good QB, a good leader and is the face of the franchise, so letting him walk will set the Ravens back significantly. Betting on himself and turning down the offer was the right move because if Baltimore doesn’t pay him, someone will. He also deserves to be the highest paid QB in his division. Also, with his style of play, he puts himself at risk a lot, so getting fully guaranteed money makes sense for him.

I’d give him his money because we don’t have another option, and it’s a good sign to the rest of the team that their MVP quarterback is valued by the organization.

“John”: I wouldn’t give him what Cleveland gave Deshaun Watson. I do think he’s probably a little better than Deshaun, just a little. I don’t think he needs to be the first $300 million quarterback. We don’t know what they really offered him. We’ve heard between $180 and $190 [million] guaranteed. The $190 would be guaranteed, and then they can at least put a team around him. But they’re not going to be able to get guys around him if he takes all the money. And Lamar hasn’t even been playing with the same energy that he generally plays with. He’s going through the motions. That joy and that passion isn’t there. And I think that’s because he doesn’t have an agent. An agent will filter out some of that noise that you’ll hear from the management side of it. Now, he’s got to hear all the negative things that they say, and I think that’s affecting him.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson greets fans after winning against the Los Angeles Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 17, 2021, in Baltimore.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

How popular is Jackson compared to other Ravens? How closely is he connected to the city?

Despeaux: During the Ray Lewis era, we had a big connection with, like, Edwin Mulitalo and Haloti Ngata. And we were actually friends with them. They came to different events and stuff, and so we got to know them more on a personal basis. We don’t really know a lot of the newer Ravens. I don’t know if they’re just busy in their own charities and stuff, but I do think Lamar does go out into the community and does a lot of good things. I saw him at some high school football games doing some stuff. So, it’s good that he’s out there representing.

Hawkins: If you put a poll out there, I would not be surprised if you had to rank Lamar versus Ray Lewis in a popularity contest. My gut says Lamar’s going to come back higher than Ray.

Thomas: I think between Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, I think he’s right up there with them. I mean, I think Ray Lewis is probably the all-time favorite Raven. I think Ed Reed is right up there, and I think the top 3, he would be right up there with them. They said that a couple weeks ago Lamar was at a flea market trying on some stuff. I read that he was there socializing with the people. So, I think he is an all-around guy. Let’s just put it like that.

Muszelik: He’s my favorite Raven since Terrell Suggs. I just love him. I’ve never been more excited as a fan, especially after three very complacent years with Joe Flacco.

“John”: I think he’s right up there because we’ve never had a player this dynamic since maybe Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. I mean, players that make a real difference on the field. Lamar’s the first person, offensively, that we’ve had like that.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson celebrates after J.K. Dobbins scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 2 in Baltimore.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Can the Ravens win a title with Lamar Jackson?

Despeaux: We’ve been to the playoff several times with Lamar, and I think he has matured and learned. I think that the game needs to be put into his hands, I think the coaches need to leave him alone, let him run the game as he sees fit. And then I think we’ll win. I’m probably one of the most optimistic people that you’ll ever meet. And I believe we can go all the way. We have Justin Tucker, I think we won one of the other Super Bowls on a lot of field goals, so we can go all the way and take the ring this year.

Hawkins: Is he going to take them to Super Bowl in the next couple seasons? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Down the road, do I think he’s got the ability to mature to get that way? Yeah, I do. But I think a big part of his problem still is that he’s trying to go this road alone. He needs some quality, professional people around him to be able to talk to him and advise him. I think that’s a challenge for him.

Thomas: This team that we have this year? I just personally don’t feel that they’re going to go all the way. I’m not completely happy with our offensive line. [Ronnie] Stanley can’t [stay healthy]. It’s so many injuries. I don’t know what’s going on. Are the conditioning trainers doing what they’re supposed to do to keep these guys fit? I hope we win our division, we’re in first place now. Hopefully we can beat Pittsburgh. I would like to say we will win the division and we’ll go onto the playoffs. Whether we get to the Super Bowl, I’m not sure. I would like for Lamar to be healthy. If he can be healthy and we can get our line healthy, I think we should be able to make it to the playoffs. Let’s put it like that.

Muszelik: I do. I know he tends to play a little tighter in the playoffs. The numbers just show it. He has had his worst games in the playoffs. But I think that he’s young. I think he’s very talented. The talent he has, you can’t teach. He’s hungry. I don’t doubt his drive or effort or anything. But I worry about being there in the playoffs. I worry about him being able to play in the playoff games and lead us to a Super Bowl, but he has the talent to take us there 100%. It’s just if he can give us his best effort in those games. So far, the history has shown in four playoff games he’s only won one. I think that he can lead us to Super Bowl. I think it will come. I just really hope we can find a way to sign him.

Hill: He’ll win. If not this year, by 2024, assuming he continues to play well.

“John”: I think we probably are one-and-done in the playoffs. If we get into the playoffs, we’re probably going to be the wild card team. I think Cincinnati’s going to probably beat us to take the division. He’s bet on himself, but he hasn’t met that bet. At least [Joe] Flacco took us to a Super Bowl. And I wasn’t a big Flacco fan, but he at least bet on himself and [it] paid off in the end. And I think if Lamar comes back, he’s going really have to ramp it up and really get going. What would make me change my mind? At least win two rounds. Two rounds. Get us to the championship game.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.





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