Under normal circumstances, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens would have been back in Owings Mills this week for the start of the offseason workout program.
We would have heard about the work he’s been doing with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris, a partnership that resulted in a historic MVP campaign last season. His recent passing sessions with top wide receiver Marquise Brown — we’ll get to Antonio Brown’s presence in a moment — would have been praised rather than criticized for violating social distancing guidelines, measures unthinkable to us all before the coronavirus pandemic.
News of him being on the cover of the upcoming edition of Madden would have brought the same harmless debate about the video game’s alleged curse without the very real uncertainty of what the 2020 season might look like — or whether it will happen at all.
Instead, Jackson remains in South Florida, doing Pilates and working out by himself as we wait out a “new normal” that isn’t normal at all.
“I’m all business when it comes to football,” Jackson said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “Everything else, I’m laid back. I don’t really do too much. I like to chill, so the quarantine is not really bothering me at all when it comes to just staying inside.”
The 23-year-old quarterback working out with the controversial Antonio Brown sparked much debate with general manager Eric DeCosta declining to comment earlier this month. While lamenting the timing and optics of conducting the workout in the midst of the pandemic, Jackson said it was the first time he’d met the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and cousin of Marquise Brown who’s been out of football since being released by New England last September.
Jackson downplayed the encounter beyond it being an opportunity to work on his craft, but he was asked about the possibility of the former Pittsburgh Steeler joining the Ravens.
“I’d be happy if they signed him,” Jackson said. “He’s a great player. He showed it each and every year when he was with the Steelers in the past, but it’s not my decision.”
With the draft set to begin on Thursday night and many clamoring for the Ravens to add more weapons to make a record-setting offense that much more dangerous in 2020, Jackson shared only one request that doesn’t come as a surprise after he gifted each of his offensive linemen a Rolex watch last Christmas.
He knows replacing eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda won’t be easy and is a greater priority than drafting another wide receiver, tight end, or running back. Jackson also wasn’t about to slight incumbent teammates who were part of the first offense in NFL history to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in a single season.
“Get the guys we need. We need a replacement for Marshal,” said Jackson about his draft wish list. “Marshal was that guy — first-ballot Hall of Famer. We need a guy for him. And whoever else we need, come in and help get us a championship.”
After piling up numerous team and league records in a franchise-best 14-2 season and becoming the second-youngest player in league history to win MVP, Jackson understands January success is the next step for both him and the Ravens, who have lost home playoff games in consecutive seasons. The disappointing defeat to Tennessee three months ago didn’t invalidate a fun and unforgettable year, but it left a cold truth for 2020.
It’s Super Bowl or bust.
“I need to win a playoff game before anything because I’m tired of that already,” said Jackson of the postseason criticism. “Once I get tired of something, I have to make it happen.”
Last year certainly showed how unwise it is to doubt Jackson, but that goal feels far away right now, much like so many other aspects of our lives.
In the meantime, the NFL’s most electrifying player is doing his best to stay ready in a sports world that’s been shut down indefinitely. And he’s trying not to dwell on the unknown.
“The world needs football,” said Jackson, even struggling with the possibility of playing games without fans in attendance this fall. “I think we’ll be playing football this year, so I’m not going to put that in my mind.”