With Lamar Jackson sidelined again, Ravens see risk of QB injury — and value of a backup plan – The Denver Post


Injuries in football are inevitable. Greg Roman knows this. But after watching Tyler Huntley get knocked out of Sunday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, only one week after he watched starting quarterback Lamar Jackson get knocked out of a win over the Denver Broncos, the Ravens offensive coordinator had to remind his ever-more-valuable backup: Please, try to stay out of harm’s way.

“Yeah, we had a nice little chat about that,” Roman joked Wednesday. “It’s something that he’s keenly aware of. We’ve got to do a much better job in that area. We’ve got to emphasize it more, and he’s definitely more aware of it now.”

In an NFL season littered with potentially franchise-altering quarterback injuries, the Ravens are better off than most. Jackson is considered week-to-week as he recovers from a knee injury, and Huntley, one of the NFL’s top backups at the position, is on track to play Saturday against the Cleveland Browns. He was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, with Roman saying afterward that he was in “good shape.”

But Jackson’s second late-season injury in as many years — and the value of a plug-and-play option like Huntley — has come into even sharper focus in recent days, as the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player positions himself for a possible contract extension next offseason.

Across the league, more and more quarterbacks have found their way to the injury report. The Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray suffered a torn ACL in Monday night’s loss to the New England Patriots. His noncontact injury ended an already disappointing season and could threaten his availability for next season — the two years that Arizona had the greatest salary cap flexibility in Murray’s five-year, $230.5 million extension.

The San Francisco 49ers lost Week 1 starter Trey Lance in September to a season-ending ankle injury. Coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday that backup Jimmy Garoppolo, recently one of the league’s most efficient passers, has only an “outside chance” of returning from his broken foot late in the playoffs. That means the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes could rest on rookie Brock Purdy, the last pick in the NFL draft.

The Los Angeles Rams placed star Matthew Stafford on injured reserve earlier this month with a neck injury, likely ending his season and what little playoff hopes the team still had. Elsewhere, the list goes on and on.

Jackson, a pending free agent, has declined to comment on contract negotiations since he and the Ravens failed to agree to an extension before the season started. But the specter of injuries has hung over his contract situation.

Jackson, who missed the Ravens’ final four-plus games last season with an ankle injury and is expected to miss his second straight start Saturday in Cleveland, was seeking a fully guaranteed deal as he entered the final year of his rookie contract, according to a team source who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Jackson told ESPN in September that he turned down an extension that had $160 million to $180 million guaranteed; the total value of the reported five-year offer was more than $250 million.

For now, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract remains an outlier. The extensions that Murray and Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson signed this offseason surpassed Watson’s megadeal in total and average annual value, but neither was fully guaranteed.

Mark Rodgers, Wilson’s agent, said in a September interview with former NFL agent and front-office executive Andrew Brandt on his “Business of Sports” podcast that league executives are “all cognizant of having the market jump up. And let’s be honest, right now, the elephant in every room, in every negotiation for a quarterback, is going to be Deshaun Watson.”

He added: “If I’m the [NFL] commissioner for a day, one of the things that I would try to convince the owners of is, ‘Hey, really, the problem with guarantee is not a worry about the player. Like, Russell Wilson is always going to be able to throw a football, Lord willing, right? Unless something really terrible happens to him.’ And so I don’t think you worry so much about the skill guarantee. But let’s be honest: Everybody in the back of their mind has the career-ending injury that you’ve got to consider.”

Jackson’s recent injury history will have to be considered whenever he and Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta renew contract discussions next offseason. If they can’t agree on a long-term deal by March 7, the Ravens would have to use the franchise tag on a quarterback for the first time in franchise history to keep Jackson from becoming an unrestricted free agent. Under the exclusive franchise tag, he would make about $45 million in 2023.

But if a healthy Jackson gives the Ravens one of the NFL’s higher ceilings, a backup like Huntley can at least raise their floor when he’s unavailable. The third-year veteran kept the team competitive when Jackson was sidelined last season, despite his 1-3 record as a starter. Pressed into action this month, he helped finish off a narrow win over Denver, then started another narrow win Sunday over Pittsburgh before leaving in the third quarter after a big hit by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

With Huntley’s dual-threat skill set, along with that of third-stringer Anthony Brown, Roman said the Ravens “don’t have to reinvent the wheel” on offense.

“Each guy’s a little bit different, so we will definitely do certain things differently with them,” Roman said Wednesday. “But I feel really good about those guys. ‘Snoop’ has got a lot of experience. Anthony, it’s pretty remarkable getting thrown in your first snap in the NFL with the first-team offense in the closed end of Pittsburgh on your minus-1-yard line. I thought he played with ice water in his veins. So [I’m] really excited about him and his prospects.”

Jackson’s injury will likely keep him from making his first head-to-head start against Watson, who was suspended for the season’s first 11 games, including the Ravens’ Week 7 win in Baltimore, after being sued for sexual harassment and sexual assault. (Watson has denied any wrongdoing despite settling 23 claims of sexual misconduct.)

The Ravens this season have already faced one star quarterback thriving on a recent megadeal (the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen) and another faltering after having just signed his (the Broncos’ Wilson). Sunday’s matchup will give them another look at a big-money player — and perhaps a reminder of how important it is to have someone else behind him, just in case.

Week 15

Ravens at Browns

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4, NFL Network

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Browns by 3



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