For a whole bunch of last offseason, all anyone could talk about was Lamar Jackson. It wasn't necessarily unwarranted – Jackson, with one MVP, two All-Pro nominations, and three Pro-Bowls, was in the middle of a contentious contract dispute, and the idea of him leaving Baltimore seemed, at the time, not totally unrealistic. The moment Jackson requested a trade last spring set off a very ugly couple weeks in the NFL, when a bunch of teams all came out and said that, after doing their 'due diligence,' they'd prefer their mid-level starters instead. The Falcons – long considered to be a logical landing spot for Jackson – were especially vocal about preferring current starter Desmond Ritter, who was benched multiple times this season for Taylor Heinicke.
There was plenty of speculation about the optics surrounding the whole thing, which felt disingenuous at best. Now, with Jackson closing in on his second MVP and one win away from having the Ravens in the Super Bowl, there seems to be a growing sentinment about Jackson's trade request that is benefitting an awful lot from hindsight. In a recent article written by The Athletic's Mike Sando, he argues that people who were wishing for their team to trade for Jackson were always being unrealistic. And Sando does so using, surprise, anonymous quotes from NFL executives:
“People constantly saying these other teams had no interest in Lamar Jackson is not true,” a longtime NFL exec said. “Jackson made it clear he wanted the Deshaun Watson contract. Teams don’t just get to say, ‘We want the player.’ He comes with a package.”
“Everybody was interested in the player,” the exec said. “They were not interested in the package. Because he was so vociferous about getting that guaranteed deal, those franchises made it clear, there is nothing to talk about. It wasn’t until Baltimore convinced him to take the non-guaranteed contract that the Ravens got a deal done.”
It's noteworthy, to some extent, that Sando – one of the most respected voices in NFL journalism – would agree with these executives. The price of trading for Jackson was certainly high, but like that one executive quite literally points out, it's not unprecedented. And to use Jackson's team success and injury history against him as precedent, while ignoring literally every good thing Jackson does on a football field (and in the community, no less) feels, again, disingenuous. The Falcons, or the Commanders, or like, 25 other NFL teams would have been smart to trade for Jackson, even at the price tag that was listed. The anger among fans was way less about Jackson's perceived value than it was about NFL executives seemingly banding together to make sure no one set a money-spending precedent that their friends would have to abide by later on down the line.
Those quotes from NFL executives that supposedly clear up the issue don't exactly resolve them of much. This wasn't a book-keeping issue. And the longer they try and frame it as such, while Jackson continues having one of the best seasons of his career, the worse they look.