A day after losing a heartbreaking 24-17 wild-card game to the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens players made it clear they don't want to lose their franchise quarterback during the offseason.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has reinvigorated the franchise since overtaking Joe Flacco as starter in 2018, helping the team to four playoff trips in five seasons, but the fact that he finished a second consecutive year sidelined by injury, did not travel to his team's playoff game and remains a pending free agent has muddied the outlook of his future.
"You can't let a guy like him go," Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said during the team's final locker room availability, via ESPN. "There's always some new, exciting kid that has potential to go out there and be great. But this is a business of 'for sures' and 'knowns,' and you know who Lamar Jackson is. I think it's in the best interest of the Ravens organization to give him a long-term contract and make him 'the guy.'"
The 36-year-old Campbell, who has played alongside Jackson for three years and admitted he'll also be pondering his football future this offseason, has plenty of numbers and accolades to back up his point of view.
Jackson has a preternatural blend of arm talent and mobility, which was on display in his 2019 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player season and has helped him put together a 45-16 record as a starter with 12,209 passing yards, 101 touchdowns and 38 interceptions with a 96.7 passer rating, plus 4,437 rushing yards (6.1 yards per carry) and another 24 scores.
Baltimore was 7-4 and averaging 25 points a game this season before Jackson sprained his PCL. The offense sputtered to a halt without him and limped into the postseason averaging 12.5 points a game in its final six regular-season contests. Including the playoff loss, the Ravens finished 3-4 without Jackson.
The difference was stark, and it had to be lingering in players' thoughts as they cleaned out their lockers Monday.
"In my mind, I know he's going to be here," Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. "He's a competitor. He wants to win. This is his team, and this is his offense. The money is not the most important thing with Lamar. He really wants to win, contrary to popular belief."
Still, the idea of money being a sticking point has lingered throughout the season. It's part of the reason Jackson and the Ravens hit pause on negotiations prior to the 2022 season, which ultimately allowed speculation to pick back up with the campaign now over.
There's also been instances where Jackson seemed to combat outside sentiment that he could push through his knee injury to be his same old self against opposing defense, such as when he tweeted on Jan. 12 that he had a grade 2 PCL sprain, saying it still had "inflammation" and was "unstable."
His contract status, his injury and his inability to return to the field before Baltimore's elimination culminated in a perfect storm that grew with each passing week, and the ultimate result now rests in the front office and Jackson's hands. But if you ask the players for a forecast, Baltimore's key contributors appear to badly want their QB1 back.
"I hope that he's going to be back," tight end Mark Andrews said. "That's my guy. I have nothing but love and respect for No. 8 as a person, as a player and as a friend."