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By: Michael Nania
Lamar Jackson is sitting there as a potential alternative for the New York Jets
The New York Jets are in hot pursuit of Aaron Rodgers. Woody Johnson, Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas, and Nathaniel Hackett flew out to California on Tuesday to meet with Rodgers in person.
But the Jets’ meeting with Rodgers was not the only major quarterback news in the NFL on Tuesday. The Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson, which officially puts him on the market. Jackson is free to negotiate a contract with any team, and if the Ravens decline to match a contract he signs, Jackson’s new team would owe Baltimore two first-round picks.
Should the Jets change course and pivot to Jackson?
In my opinion, while Jackson would be the Jets’ best fallback option if the Rodgers pursuit fizzles out, I think Rodgers is clearly the Jets’ best option and should remain their primary target.
Here are a few reasons why.
Mounting durability concerns
The biggest question with highly mobile quarterbacks is always their long-term durability. We’ve seen too many run-heavy quarterbacks have their primes shortened due to injuries, such as Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.
For the first three years of his career, Jackson silenced this narrative as he did not miss any games due to injury. However, over the past two years, all of the hits Jackson has taken have started to catch up with him. Jackson missed five games in each of the past two seasons, plus a playoff game this past season.
Committing long-term to a run-heavy quarterback who is already showing signs of deterioration is a very risky move.
Three years of declining passing production
Outside of his 2019 MVP season, Jackson’s passing production is unspectacular. He’s been a league-average passer over the three years that have passed since that tremendous campaign.
Here are Jackson’s ranks out of 31 quarterbacks (min. 700 pass attempts) from 2020 to 2022:
- Passer rating: 92.5 (19th)
- Completion rate: 63.7% (25th)
- Yards per attempt: 7.3 (16th)
- Interception rate: 2.7% (27th)
- Touchdown rate: 5.4% (8th)
- Sack rate: 7.9% (26th)
Whoever commits to Jackson will be hoping they can figure out how to get Jackson back to his 2019 levels, when he had the league’s third-best passer rating (113.3) and led the NFL in passing touchdowns (36).
But that was four years ago by now. Jackson has strung together a three-year run of mediocre passing production. That’s tough to overlook.
Sure, his incredible rushing talents offset his passing woes to some extent, but as Jackson ages, his rushing skills will likely decline and he will have to lean heavier on his passing. He’s going to have to be much more productive as a passer to be a great quarterback going forward.
He has already been well-supported
With the Ravens, Jackson has already benefited from playing in a great environment throughout his career. That’s concerning as you project him to a new team, especially a struggling franchise like the Jets.
The Ravens’ defense is elite just about every year. The same goes for their offensive line. It’s a heavenly landing spot for a young quarterback.
Yes, Jackson has not been given much talent at wide receiver, but the Ravens’ offensive scheme (which was built specifically to complement Jackson’s skill set) does not emphasize wide receivers anyway. It places more emphasis on the tight ends, and there, Jackson has had one of the game’s absolute best weapons in Mark Andrews.
Plus, John Harbaugh is an excellent head coach, and the Ravens have had one of the NFL’s best cultures for a very long time. Baltimore is competitive on a yearly basis, seemingly no matter what. Winning habits are ingrained in the organization.
Greg Roman is a much-maligned offensive coordinator, but his established track record of success with getting the absolute best out of mobile quarterbacks – namely Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor – cannot be denied. Kaepernick and Taylor fell off the map after leaving Roman, and I’d be wary of Jackson suffering a similar (albeit nowhere near as harsh) decline without Roman.
Jackson was seen as a project coming out of Louisville (hence his fall to the end of the first round) and the Ravens had him playing at an MVP level by year two. They deserve a mountain of credit for their role in his rapid development.
It’s hard to imagine a place where Jackson could get more help than he did in Baltimore. If there is one, I don’t think it’s the Jets. Yes, the Jets have tremendous offensive weapons and would give Jackson his best group of wide receivers, but they also have chronic offensive line woes and would have a chance to give Jackson the worst protection of his career. Additionally, their coaching staff and overall organizational culture are also nowhere near as proven as Baltimore’s.
When adding a new quarterback who has been underperforming, you want to be confident that you have the right pieces to help him ascend to his maximum potential. This was true about the Jets and Derek Carr, as New York offered an overall roster that was more talented than any of Carr’s Raiders teams. It’s also true about the Jets and Rodgers, as the Jets can give him a much-improved supporting cast over the 2022 Packers and reunite him with Nathaniel Hackett, who led Rodgers to the highest passer rating of his career among any offensive coordinator he has played under.
Jackson has already been playing in a fantastic environment. That makes it difficult to picture him improving on a new team. And if he doesn’t improve off of where he was over the last three years, he is probably not leading the Jets to a Super Bowl.
Another important point regarding the Ravens is this: Throughout their entire history, they have proven themselves to be one of the smartest and most well-run franchises in the NFL when it comes to personnel decisions. If they are not sold on Jackson, it should be a warning signal to the rest of the league.
Lack of playoff success
Jets fans who clamor for Jackson over Rodgers usually point to the difference in potential longevity as their primary reason. Jackson is 26 and can be the Jets’ quarterback for years to come. Rodgers is 39 and will give the team either one or two seasons.
I can see the logic here, but what I’m more focused on is how many Super Bowl-contending seasons each quarterback would give the Jets – not how many actual seasons.
Even if Rodgers only plays two years with the Jets, you can feel supremely confident that the Jets will be legitimate Super Bowl contenders in each of those years. Heck, even if he plays one year, you can still feel very confident that he would give the franchise one season as a Super Bowl contender
Now let’s say that Jackson signs a four-year deal with the Jets. Even over four years, I’m not sold that Jackson would give the Jets more Super Bowl-contending seasons than Rodgers would.
Jackson spent five seasons with a tremendous organization in Baltimore and could not reach one AFC Championship Game. Part of that was due to his durability – a late-season injury in 2021 caused Baltimore to miss the playoffs and another late-season injury in 2022 caused him to miss the team’s Wild Card game. Part of that is due to his 1-3 playoff record with a 68.3 passer rating and 56% completion rate.
Considering his issues with durability, his alarming postseason production, and his three years of declining passing production, it’s not a guarantee that Jackson would give the Jets even just a single Super Bowl-contending season, no matter how long he is with the team.
I feel confident Rodgers will give the Jets a real shot at winning the Super Bowl in 2023. That might be the only season he plays, but I think it still gives the Jets a better shot at winning a Super Bowl than multiple years of Jackson.
Say what you want about Rodgers and his one Super Bowl ring (as if that’s something to criticize), but the guy has an 11-10 career playoff record with a 100.1 passer rating, 65% completion rate, and 45 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. He performs and wins in the playoffs.
Rodgers has made four NFC Championship Games since the Super Bowl win. No, he didn’t win any of them, but just the fact that he’s gotten that far so frequently means he is capable of giving his team a strong chance of winning a championship – and a chance is all you need. A couple of balls bounce differently, and Rodgers could have another ring or two.
Jackson should be the Jets’ fallback, but Rodgers is Plan A
Despite all of my Jackson criticism in this article, don’t get me wrong – I still think he is the Jets’ best option if Rodgers does not work out. But comparing him head-to-head against one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history? It’s not much of a debate for me. Rodgers is the Jets’ best option.
A big reason why I’d be okay with Jackson as the Jets’ Plan B despite all of my aforementioned concerns is that I think he can be had rather affordably. Jackson is going to find out on the open market that he is not worth nearly as much as he thinks he is. At that point, he will either come back to the Ravens at the price they have been demanding all along, or he will decide he’s had enough of Baltimore and take a similar contract elsewhere.
Jackson’s contract should end up being a very fair value for all of the pluses and minuses he brings you. As for the trade package of two first-round picks, that would pale in comparison to recent quarterback trades.
Past Rodgers and Jackson, the Jets don’t have any options that are appealing to me. Going for a bridge/stopgap quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo or Ryan Tannehill feels like a waste of time with the talent New York has on its roster. Settling for a competition between Mike White and a fringe quarterback like Jacoby Brissett is equally unappealing. I want to see the Jets take a swing. With the pieces they’ve assembled, they have a window to compete here. Choosing a bridge quarterback would be a bridge to nowhere.
Jackson, for all of his flaws, is an extremely exciting roll of the dice. He has proven there is MVP-caliber talent within him – we know that much. Someone just needs to find the right formula to help him rediscover that ceiling. I think there is a chance the Jets’ west-coast system can allow him to do that. I am a fan of Jackson’s arm talent and would be intrigued to see what he can do in a new system that asks him to do more as a passer. He throws a pretty ball and has a smooth throwing motion. I love his feathery touch, especially in the intermediate range and over the middle.
But throwing Jackson into a brand-new system like the west-coast is undoubtedly a huge risk, even if the upside is high. Jackson very well might struggle in the west-coast system. It’s possible that Baltimore had the perfect system for him, meaning 2019 was his ceiling (when he was healthy and he hadn’t been figured out by the league yet) and the guy we saw from 2020-22 is the best he can be going forward. If that is the case, the Jets’ system would reveal the flaws that Baltimore was hiding, making him worse than he was in Baltimore.
There’s elite-level potential with Jackson. That’s why I have him ahead of all the other options whose ceilings come nowhere remotely close to his. However, there is also an abundance of red flags with Jackson, and that’s why I’d much rather see the Jets take their chances with the proven superstar Rodgers, even if it’s only for one year.
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor