It's been a while since it happened, but with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson about to win his second MVP award following a spring full of contract-related drama, the topic has been brought back to the spotlight: did the NFL and their owners collude against Lamar?
Just a few days after heavily criticizing Lamar Jackson and the Ravens while forecasting an easy victory for the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, Mike Florio is back at doing what he does best: generating headlines with his hot takes.
This time, however, he might be supremely right.
Jackson called out Mike "Flores" Florio following the Ravens victory against the 49ers, and Florio publicly apologized to the quarterback and the Ravens as a whole minutes after that. Now, Florio is talking about the NFL "colluding" against Lamar Jackson last spring when the quarterback was given a a non-exclusive franchise tag.
Florio wrote a piece for Pro Football Talk in which he made clear that he thinks the lack of interest in Lamar shown by the other 31 franchises was "about collusion, not competition."
Despite Jackson's talents, which allowed him to win a unanimous MVP in 2019 (and most probably another one next February) no NFL team extended the QB an offer sheet last March.
Florio thinks this was a "deliberate effort" by team owners to avoid the precedent set by the Cleveland Browns when they handed fellow QB Deshaun Watson a fully guaranteed $230 million contract. Several team owners, including the Ravens' Steve Bisciotti, publicly criticized Watson's contract, per Florio.
Florio thinks that this only had to do with collusion and that owners simply wanted to "bring balance back" swinging it in favor of owners, not players. By not pursuing Jackson, franchises seemingly "wanted to ensure that Watson's contract would be an aberration, not a trend."
Fellow analyst Rich Eisen, who is employed by the NFL and appears on NFL Network daily, had a very different (shocker!) take compared to that of Florio and even the information shared on X by ESPN's insider Adam Schefter.
According to Eisen, only two things are canon in this story: Lamar was never a free agent (factually wrong) and the Ravens were not going to let him (Eisen's personal belief, not a fact).
Eisen seems to believe in a rather naive way that no teams offered Jackson a contract to snatch it from Baltimore simply because there was no way to get the quarterback. Eisen thinks the Ravens would have matched the offer, or topped it, which is a wild assumption to make.
Of course, owners are to blame here too and they showed some red flags in their process and their reasoning for not pursuing Lamar. Just for an example, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank tried to acquire Deshaun Watson (in legal trouble) but passed on Jackson because he didn't like his style of play.
Jackson's style of play has Baltimore sitting atop the NFL and himself about to win a second MVP award. Meanwhile, the Falcons are already scouting the upcoming draft class.
Obviously, it's also a stretch to throw the word "collusion" around quickly and lightly. It's simply very hard to prove it's happened without documents, recordings, and whatnot. In other words: we all know but we will never really, officially know.
So, there is that. For now and forever, we're happy Lamar Jackson stayed put in Baltimore, that the quarterback is still, and for the time being the face of the franchise, and that the Ravens are about to embark on another postseason run that could end with a third Super Bowl trophy arriving in Baltimore next February. Sounds like a plan.