This would be a careful cost-benefit analysis
Over the last few offseasons, there has been considerable movement of big-name quarterbacks.
Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz (twice), and Matt Ryan have found new homes, with varying results.
This offseason, there is more projected movement among quarterbacks of various skill levels, but the biggest name yet seems increasingly likely to be moved: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. The relationship between team and quarterback has apparently soured, as Jackson did not even travel to Cincinnati for the team’s Wild Card loss.
There have been multiple reports that the Jets will make an aggressive offer if Jackson becomes available. There is also a report from Peter King that the Ravens will place the transition tag on Jackson, allowing them to match any offers from other teams or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
The question is if such a pursuit of Jackson would be worthwhile, or if the team is better off going in a different direction. I am on the record stating that Derek Carr is a better option for the team, but that is a personal bias. If Jackson is, indeed, a franchise-altering QB, then it makes sense to spare no expense to acquire him. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Jets gave every appearance of being a signal-caller away from serious contention in 2022.
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty: just how good is Lamar Jackson, and would acquiring him put the Jets on the path to a championship?
Let’s start with Jackson’s clearest advantage as a QB: he is an elite runner, compiling 4,436 rushing yards on 542 career attempts, a 6.1 YPC, with 24 TDs. Jackson averages 2.87 yards after contact per attempt and has forced 156 missed tackles, an elite 0.288 average per touch. He has also racked up 262 first downs with his legs and fumbled 44 times. He holds the single-season record for rushing yards by a QB with 1,206 in his 2019 MVP season (a record that narrowly stands due to Justin Fields’s injuries this season).
In 2022, Jackson ran for 765 yards at a 6.9 YPC clip with three TDs. His 3.66 yards after contact per attempt and 0.395 missed tackles forced per attempt were both elite. However, he was limited to 13 games played due to a Grade 2 PCL sprain that, according to Jackson, still has significant inflammation six weeks later.
For his career, Jackson has a 63.7% completion rate, 7.4 yards per attempt, 101 TDs, and 38 INTs. Jackson’s career turnover-worthy play rate is 3.0%, while his INT rate is 2.3%. His adjusted completion percentage is 74.1%, which means approximately three-quarters of his throws are on target. His career passer rating is 96.7.
In 2022, Jackson’s 62.3% completion rate tied for 25th among 36 qualified QBs (min. 200 dropbacks). His 6.9 YPA tied for 22nd, and he threw 17 TDs vs. 7 picks. His 2.3% turnover-worthy play rate tied for fourth-best, and his 74.6% adjusted completion rate tied for 19th.
Jackson did endure a 9.0% drop rate from his receivers, the highest among all QBs. Lamar’s 3.11 time to throw was the third-slowest, but that’s usual for him due to his scrambling. His 91.1 QB rating tied for 16th. His -0.603 completion percentage over expected (CPOE) was 24th.
Overall, 2022 was a decent but not great season for Jackson. He has never fully recaptured his 2019 form, when he threw for 36 TDs against 6 picks. In 2021, he had a 16:13 TD:INT ratio.
Lamar struggled on deep balls this season, going 14-for-47 (29.8%, 32nd out of 36 qualified QBs) with a marginally better 31.9% adjusted completion rate (33rd). His 8.7 YPA on such throws was 34th. Overall, Lamar’s 72.0 passer rating on deep throws was 29th.
However, Lamar’s bread-and-butter was the intermediate area of the field. He ranked second with a 123.0 passer rating after completing 44-for-66 passes (66.7%, third) at 10.8 YPA (T-10th) with 4 TDs and zero picks. Lamar had a 0.0% turnover-worthy play rate in the intermediate area of the field.
Overall, these disparities mirror Lamar’s career trends. After a very strong deep-throwing season in 2019 and another good one in 2020, Lamar’s deep passing has regressed. His numbers on intermediate throws have always been his best.
Lamar struggled under pressure this season, completing just 40.9% of his throws (T-31st) at 4.5 YPA (31st). He was able to avoid the big mistake, as his 2.9% turnover-worthy play rate under pressure was tied for fifth-best. Overall, Jackson’s 60.7 QB rating under pressure ranked 23rd, compared to his 102.3 rating when not pressured, which ranked 11th.
Surprisingly, though, Jackson posted much better numbers against the blitz than the perception of him would suggest. He threw 10 TDs to just three picks when blitzed with a seventh-ranked 77.0% adjusted completion rate. Jackson posted 51 first downs against the blitz, tied for 11th despite missing 5 games, and recorded a 100.9 passer rating, the 12th-best.
Jackson has now missed 10 games (regular and postseason) over the past two years, including his current PCL sprain. Quarterbacks who rely on scrambling as the key part of their game often drop off rapidly, seen most recently with Cam Newton. Injuries tend to catch up to these QBs. Therefore, even though Lamar is just 26, it is important to look beyond his age to the wear and tear on his body before committing to him long-term.
The Ravens run a power scheme that is suited to Jackson’s strengths and is buoyed by a consistently dominant offensive line. In 2021, Baltimore’s struggles had as much to do with line injuries as anything else.
The Jets, on the other hand, were constructed around a zone scheme under Mike LaFleur. Although Robert Saleh has already said that he’s casting a wide net in the offensive coordinator search and will not be tied to San Francisco’s zone scheme, the fact remains that many of the Jets’ players have only ever played in a zone scheme. Acquiring Jackson would mean that one of the QB or the rest of the team would be learning a completely new scheme, which does not generally speak well of hitting the ground running.
The Jets cannot afford a steep learning curve in 2023; after all, that is one of the purposes of acquiring a veteran QB. In this way, trading for Jackson may not be ideal, either.
Robby Sabo of Jet X has pointed out that in contrast with popular perception, the Ravens’ offense has hit a wall because of Lamar Jackson, not Greg Roman. Robby argues that Roman has constructed his offense to account for Jackson’s weaknesses as a passer, specifically his inability to consistently hit a 15-yard pass outside the numbers due to a lack of arm strength. In his view, a Jackson-led offense will always be predicated on tight ends for that reason.
It is noticeable that Lamar has never ranked lower than sixth among qualified QBs in play-action rate, which suggests a reliance on gimmickry to succeed. While play-action is a quarterback’s friend, when the top names in play-action rate include the likes of John Wolford, Marcus Mariota, Tua Tagovailoa, Desmond Ridder, Sam Darnold, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, Daniel Jones, and Justin Fields, it tells you something about that kind of play: it’s used to cover deficiencies in the QB’s passing.
Now, that play-action stat from Pro Football Focus may not differentiate play-action and run-pass options, but even so, that emphasizes the total reliance on misdirection rather than straight throwing.
Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape. I’m not going to go extremely in-depth—I’ll leave that to Joe Blewett and Michael Nania if this ever becomes a reality—but just from watching a few games, there are some tendencies that jump off the screen. We’re going with the passing game only, as fans are fully aware of Jackson’s elite rushing skills.
One thing that stands out immediately is that Jackson has a Zach Wilsonesque tendency to dirt checkdowns. Even when he completes them, they’re often off target or not in stride, preventing the receiver from a good YAC opportunity. We’ve discussed that Mike White’s touch on checkdowns allows for more YAC than average; Jackson does not have that skill.
In general, Jackson’s accuracy is not great. As we discussed earlier, his adjusted completion percentage this season was 19th in the NFL, meaning that his throws a slightly lower rate of catchable balls than average. Part of this is a high average-depth-of-target (9.2, T-9th), but there’s also some variance on Jackson’s throws; he’s in the top 10 in the league in rate of throws of intermediate depth only, so it’s not as if he’s chucking up deep balls repeatedly.
Overall, Jackson is “toesy,” which leads him to throw wildly or sail throws at times.
Coupled with poor accuracy, Jackson lacks anticipation on many of his throws. Like Zach Wilson, he has a tendency to wait until the receiver is truly open to make a throw, resulting in unnecessarily contested catches, pass deflections, and added pressure in the pocket. Additionally, Jackson tends to bail the pocket too early rather than waiting for his route to develop.
Jackson also doesn’t have great touch on his throws, which may partially explain why he suffers from drops. In general, his throwing motion and the spin of the ball out of his hand is somewhat awkward and looping. (This particular example is one you will see from every QB around the league at times, but Jackson just has it happen more frequently than others.)
It’s not that Jackson never makes throws with touch and anticipation; there are just more poor ones than you’d ever expect to see on tape from a can’t-miss QB.
One other, smaller knock on Jackson is that he is not great at QB sneaks. There have been a number of examples of him just not getting there. That may be due to his 6’2″ frame and inability to push the pile, but it’s also a lack of gap awareness. The Jets know all about frustrations in short-yardage situations, so it’s something to keep in mind.
Jackson’s lack of success in the playoffs is troubling more for how it has happened than that it has. Many quarterbacks start their careers with playoff struggles for one reason or another. However, it seems with Jackson that the blueprint is out on how to stop him, and if a team executes the plan well, Lamar will have no answers.
A classic case in point occurred in back-to-back years in 2019-20. (We will ignore 2018, as it was Jackson’s rookie season in which he had started very few games and was largely being protected by the gameplan.) The Titans and Bills followed the same gameplan to beat Jackson, and he struggled mightily.
What both teams did is maintain gap integrity and clog the middle of the field, both on the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. They brought pressure up the middle and took away Mark Andrews, forcing Jackson to make tougher throws to the outside. This is not Jackson’s forte, and he struggled mightily.
In Jackson’s 2019 MVP campaign, he went 31-for-52 (59.6%) for 365 yards, a 6.2 YPA clip, with 1 TD and 2 picks in the Divisional Round against Tennessee. Per PFF, Jackson actually had three turnover-worthy plays in the game. He was sacked 4 times and posted a 63.2 QB rating. Although Jackson rushed 12 times for 143 yards, a 7.2 YPC average, he fumbled once and was overall unable to get his offense going. The Titans cruised to a 28-12 victory.
In 2020, Jackson got his revenge on Tennessee in the Wild Card round, going 17-for-24 for 179 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT en route to a 20-13 victory. He still put up a 74.8 QB rating and was sacked five times, but his 15 rushes for 136 yards and a TD led the way.
However, the Bills were able to use that blueprint successfully, keeping Jackson to 14-of-24 passing (58.3%) for 162 yards with 0 TDs and a pick-six. Jackson was sacked three times and posted a passer rating of 61.5. This time, Buffalo limited Jackson to 6 rushes for 34 yards and 1 fumble, including just 14 yards after contact (1.56 per attempt).
If the Jets want to make a playoff run, they need to consider that Jackson has been stopped in the postseason in the past. It’s important to note that Derek Carr is 0-1 in his playoff career, as well, but Carr does not have quite as strong of a book out on him (and has also played with notoriously poor defenses throughout his career).
Timing of a trade
Derek Carr is a likely Jets trade candidate in the offseason. If the Raiders want to get a return for him, they must trade him by February 15. However, if the Jets hold out for the big fish in Jackson, the franchise tag window only first opens on February 21 and ends on March 7. It would be quite risky for the Jets to wait so long to find their QB, particularly since their entire offseason strategy will be predicated upon who that QB is.
Additionally, if the Jets wait and do not get Jackson, their options may be quite thin. There’s a chance the Ravens will wait until closer to the draft for a trade, in which case Jimmy Garoppolo, a likely Plan C, will have signed elsewhere. The Jets cannot afford to end up with a QB like Jacoby Brissett or Ryan Tannehill in 2023 with an unspoken playoff mandate for Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh.
Cost of a trade
Presumably, the Ravens will place some sort of franchise tag on Jackson. Most likely, it will be the regular franchise tag, which would then require a tag-and-trade. Peter King reported that a transition tag is possible, in which the Ravens would be able to match any other team’s offer or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
The transition tag provides a much more straightforward process for acquiring Jackson, even though the offer sheet would be tricky. Figuring out what price point is enough for Jackson to accept and for the Ravens not to match is interesting. However, the price-point of two first-round picks would be fixed, allowing the Jets to make a simple evaluation.
It’s still more likely that the Ravens place the regular tag on Jackson. After Russell Wilson brought back two first-rounders and two second-rounders and Deshaun Watson returned three first-rounders plus a few mid-round choices, Jackson would seemingly be a candidate for a haul a lot richer than merely two first-rounders.
However, given the tricky nature of Jackson’s injury, perhaps the Ravens and potential suitors understand that the cost might be somewhat lower. Still, Watson was coming off two years out of the league and Wilson had battled injuries and some fall-off in play in Seattle. I think it’s more likely than not that Jackson would cost at least three first-rounders.
Can the Jets afford to pay such a steep price in draft capital? They are already cap-thin at approximately $8 million in 2023 space, and they have needs at multiple OL positions, receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker, and safety, in addition to working on Quinnen Williams’s extension. The only way to fill some of those holes cheaply is via the draft. You can argue that having a top QB makes some of those holes more livable, but if you can’t protect the QB, the injuries will pile up very quickly. The offensive line is a must.
Somehow, I don’t see Joe Douglas being willing to hamstring the Jets’ draft future, even for a QB like Jackson. Two first-round picks are one thing, but three and possibly more picks are too much.
Cost of a contract
Besides trading for Jackson, the Jets would then have to give him a contract. Jackson is said to have turned down a six-year, $290 million offer with $133 million guaranteed from the Ravens. It’s likely that the starting point for his negotiations is Deshaun Watson’s five-year, $230 million fully-guaranteed deal.
Is Jackson really worth that amount? Look at how recent long-term contracts have looked so far, including Watson’s, Russell Wilson’s, Kyler Murray’s, and even Matthew Stafford’s. Jackson has some similar question marks to several of these players. Can the Jets really afford to guarantee such a contract?
The question is if you think Jackson is elite. In my opinion, he is not the kind of QB who can elevate those around him to make them championship-caliber. If Jackson could not get close to the Super Bowl with the Ravens’ offense built around him, it is unlikely he’ll be any better with the Jets. The somewhat superior receiving weapons do not offset the lack of an offensive line. Jackson’s passing limitations and injury history are likely to show up in all-caps in New York.
Ravens red flag
The Baltimore Ravens are generally one of the most well-run franchises in football. Rarely do they overpay for a free agent. If a player receives an inflated offer from a different team, they will wish the player well and let them walk. More often than not, the player does not perform at the same level with their new team (Matthew Judon is one notable exception, while C.J. Mosley proves the rule).
If the Ravens have set up their entire offense around Lamar and then decide to let him walk, it raises an immediate red flag. There is no obvious replacement on the market, and any QB they would draft with the haul received from the Jets (or any other team) would likely not be ready to start from Day 1. Why would the Ravens let Jackson walk?
The answer would most likely be some combination of the above: not a good enough passer, injury prone due to playing style, rushing QBs have shorter shelf lives, and he’s asking for too much money. On their side of the equation, you can add the prospect haul that they can receive for him.
Now, it does appear that the relationship between Jackson and the Ravens has soured. There have been multiple indications of it in the way that the Ravens have handled Jackson’s current injury, his own comments on Twitter, and impressions from executives within the league. However, the Ravens would be unlikely to give up Jackson right when their Super Bowl window is open if they thought he was a long-term answer at QB.
Baltimore could still bring Jackson back, in which case this whole discussion becomes moot. But if they do make their QB available for the right offer, the very fact that they have allowed the situation to come to this point should give any team thinking of trading for him considerable pause.
Jets fans and media members have gotten used to seeing Lamar Jackson’s highlight reels and tend to think of him as a top-five quarterback in the league. However, the tale of the tape and the numbers is not quite as impressive. Jackson is a good player, but there are so many different reasons that trading for him would be unwise. From both tactical and fiscal perspectives, it would be an extremely high-risk move that does not necessarily have enough of a high-reward offset.
Jets fans, Derek Carr is the most responsible move for Joe Douglas to make. After the Zach Wilson disaster, swinging for the fences on a hard-to-hit curveball is likely to be just what it seems—a whiff.