PHOENIX – It was hardly a coincidence that at the precise moment John Harbaugh arrived at his table for a scheduled media session on Monday morning, Lamar Jackson was suddenly trending on Twitter.
Talk about breaking news.
Through a series of tweets, the franchise-tagged quarterback revealed that he demanded in early March that the Baltimore Ravens trade him.
What a trap. Jackson, locked in a contract stalemate with the Ravens and apparently attracting little, if any, interest on the market, decided to put the coach on the spot by dropping the bomb when Harbaugh had no choice but to publicly address the matter in the moment.
“I haven’t seen the tweet,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an ongoing process. I’m following it very closely, just like everybody else is here. Looking forward to a resolution.”
That’s optimistic, which is what we’ve heard from Harbaugh all along. During a half-hour window at the NFL annual league meeting that featured AFC coaches speaking Monday, Harbaugh handled it with aplomb, saying everything he could have to put the right face and positive tone on a trying situation that has left the Ravens and their quarterback stuck in a proverbial ditch.
Harbaugh declared that Jackson “is my guy,” that they are in the lab constructing an offense with new coordinator Todd Monken that still revolves around the league’s MVP in 2019. The coach expressed his love for Jackson and reiterated his faith that the situation will be resolved amicably. He maintained that he expects Jackson will be the Week 1 starter for the Ravens. And he doesn’t foresee any ill will from the contract talks would linger when Jackson is back in the fold, signed, sealed and delivered.
No, there was nothing with the messages Harbaugh delivered that could be construed as any type of slight, knock or diss of his quarterback.
It’s just that whatever Harbaugh said didn’t quite square with the tweets from Jackson.
The meat of Jackson’s social media post said: “As of March 2nd I requested a trade from the Ravens organization, for which the Ravens has (sic) not been interested in meeting my value.”
There was once a period when agents (hello, Drew Rosenhaus) would parade prominent free agents to the swanky resorts where NFL owners held league meetings in attempt to spark contract offers. That certainly sent the message, against the backdrop of big business brainstorming, that they were there to make deals. The presence couldn’t hurt.
Well, Jackson, 26, who doesn’t have an agent, found another way to show up and make a splash at the league meetings: by using social media.
Harbaugh, like GM Eric DeCosta and other leaders in the Ravens’ brain trust, knew about the trade request more than three weeks ago, in real time. Yet with Jackson revealing his demand on Monday, he effectively twisted the screws to apply a bit more public pressure on the Ravens.
Will it be effective? Stayed tuned. To this point, not much has worked to bring the sides closer together with guaranteed money the apparent hurdle while the price for quarterbacks keeps going up.
Someone asked Harbaugh if there is a point on the timeline when a done deal is needed.
“Yesterday,” he said. “You wanted it done already. But it’s not always possible. This is the real world. This is big-time pro sports at the highest level. And contracts are important. They matter to both sides.”
While Jackson stands to earn more than $32 million in 2023 if he plays under the franchise tag, his performance and the escalating quarterback market suggest that he’s worth well north of $40 million per year. After all, much-maligned New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones recently re-signed for four years at $160 million.
It’s unclear exactly what the Ravens are willing to commit to Jackson on a long-term deal, yet it is probable that it will take more than it would have two years ago after the Buffalo Bills signed Josh Allen – a quarterback from the same 2018 draft class – to a six-year, $258 million extension.
And the bigger sticking point is believed to be the guaranteed dollars, with many (perhaps including Jackson) pointing to the fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract that the Cleveland Browns gave to Deshaun Watson last year – which, by the way, prompted a negative reaction at the time from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
Ah, Bisciotti. While Harbaugh is the most consistent public voice of the Ravens – and as a coach, there’s no doubt that he is earnest in his desire to keep his dynamic playmaker at quarterback – the checks are signed by the owner.
The pressure attached to the uncertain status of the franchise’s most important player affects the entire organization – yet it starts at the top.
Nonetheless, Harbaugh and Co. are pressured to press forward – with contingency plans in tow – as the drama plays out.
“For me, from my perspective, I’m getting ready for Lamar,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what I’m doing in our offense. We’ve got a new offensive coordinator. I’m very excited about Todd Monken. We’re in the lab right now, building the offense and putting together with the terminology and the plays and things like that. That’s what you focus on as a coach. You build your team, regardless. We’re building our team all the time in all the different areas that you’ve got to build it.
“And I know that train is moving, that train is moving fast. But here’s the thing: When Lamar gets back on board that train, he’s fully capable of jumping on full-speed. Lamar can go. And so, when that train’s moving and he merges in with us, we’re going to be rolling. As a coach, that’s what I’m thinking about.”
While he’s thinking about No. 8, Harbaugh might also want to regularly check out Jackson’s Twitter feed.
“I don’t live in that world,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not a real Twitter guy. Have you seen my tweets lately?”
Still, the tweets from Jackson have a way of finding Harbaugh. Especially.
“Lamar’s great on Twitter,” Harbaugh maintained. “He’s fun to follow.”
Demanding a trade? That must be some fun.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.