Analysis

Baltimore Ravens designed offense to maximize Lamar Jackson, not feed belly-aching wide receivers

This space was used a couple weeks ago to point out how overrated Lamar Jackson's contract negotiation has become as a topic. The thought process was that he's going to receive a massive extension from the Baltimore Ravens eventually, so dwelling on the pace of the process wasn't worthwhile. Today is a good time to explore another topic involving the Ravens' star quarterback that is getting old in a hurry: All the complaining that is coming from his former wide receivers. If you haven't been paying attention lately, the cackling is only growing louder.

Marquise Brown is one of the newest members of the Arizona Cardinals because he couldn't stomach playing in the Baltimore offense any longer. Brown made his discontent known to the Ravens, and management alleviated his concerns by trading him on draft day, just three years after he'd been the team's first-round pick. More recently, free agent Willie Snead spoke to Tyler Dunne about his own frustrations with Baltimore's system. Snead echoed similar problems that Brown raised to the I Am Athlete podcast in late April, when Brown said, "I wasn't put in the best situations."

"If the Ravens had more creativity in the passing game and they put more emphasis on it during the season, I think more receivers would be open to coming," said Snead, who played in Baltimore from 2018 through 2020. "Because Lamar is a great player to play with. He's all about the team. He's fun. He brings the energy every single day. You want to play with quarterbacks like that. But the system pushes guys away. That's why the Ravens are always drafting two receivers every year."

It's important to note here that both Snead and Brown love Jackson. What they don't like is the offense that has turned Jackson into one of the brightest stars in the league. It makes sense, because wide receivers want to catch as many passes as possible. What shouldn't happen now is more people, once again, piling onto the idea that the Ravens need a more prolific passing game to win a championship.

Jackson -- along with Arizona's Kyler Murray -- is the next high-profile quarterback poised to cash in on his accomplishments in what is a strong market for the position. In March, Green Bay rewarded Aaron Rodgers with a deal that pays him an average of $50.3 million annually. Days later, Cleveland fully guaranteed Deshaun Watson, who's been embroiled in legal issues stemming from sexual misconduct allegations by numerous women, $230 million over five years. Since Jackson already owns one league Most Valuable Player award -- and the Ravens have won 37 of the 49 regular-season games he's started -- it's understandable to think he'll earn something comparable to those lofty rates real soon.

This is also why all this complaining by former receivers doesn't matter much. Jackson has been -- and will always be -- the key to whatever these Ravens hope to accomplish on offense. Can he strive for more consistency as a thrower, having failed to reach 3,200 yards passing in any of his first four pro seasons? Of course. Does he need to turn into the type of quarterback who must rely on 100-catch wide receivers to thrive? Not at all.

The most striking aspect of the Jackson-led Ravens always has been their unabashed approach to a particular style of offense. Head coach John Harbaugh continually celebrates the uniqueness of Baltimore's run-heavy system, and he's predictably prickly when critics question if such an approach can win a Lombardi Trophy in today's pass-happy NFL. The Ravens consistently stick with the mantra that they are who they are. The people who don't like it can simply change the channel if they want to watch a different brand of football.

The reality of both the complaints by Brown and Snead is that they are primarily direct attacks on Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the man who created this offense specifically for Jackson's skill set. Brown felt he was underutilized, even though he just posted career highs in receptions (91) and yards (1,008) last season, with his 146 targets ranking 10th in the league. Snead's main contention was that Roman, while strong as a run-game coordinator, wasn't nearly as imaginative when it came to creating and capitalizing on matchups against certain pass coverages. Snead racked up 62 receptions during his first year in Baltimore, but then logged just 64 combined grabs over his final two seasons with the Ravens.

Again, this makes sense. Receivers, like players across the NFL, care about the kind of numbers that lead to better compensation. And at this position, paydays have exploded, with the best wideouts in the game now commanding $25 million to $30 million annually. But all these knocks on Roman's offense sound petty when considering what Jackson has accomplished in this system. This is still the same unit that has ranked top 10 in points and/or yards in each of the last three seasons, with the 2019 unit leading the league in scoring while ranking second in total offense.

Let's also not forget that the Ravens sustained an astonishing litany of injuries last season. Jackson missed five games of his own, as he wound up throwing just 16 touchdown passes and a career-worst 13 interceptions. The turnovers were undoubtedly an issue, but they also had plenty to do with a quarterback having to carry a decimated team for much of the season, which led to far more pressing on his part.

That same quarterback will be just fine this coming fall in the same offense he's been running. There will be more help in the backfield, with the return of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards (both of whom sustained season-ending knee injuries before the 2021 campaign even kicked off). There will be more maturity in second-year wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace. (Bateman was a first-round pick in 2021, while Wallace went in the fourth.) And don't forget about first-team All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews, who's the obvious top target for Jackson in this offense.

That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate questions that will come up in this negotiation between Jackson and the Ravens. His playing style does result in more hits than quarterbacks typically take, and structuring a contract that addresses that might be tricky. The type of money teams are showering on signal-callers also creates another interesting dynamic. After all, Baltimore will have a tougher time with roster construction once Jackson is off his rookie deal -- and given the kind of money being thrown at top veteran wide receivers lately, it can't hurt to have more cost-effective options at that position.

Those variables shouldn't be overlooked in the wake of all this complaining about the state of Baltimore's passing game. It's been a popular topic of debate ever since Jackson became a starter halfway through his rookie year, and it's not going to end anytime soon. Just know that the Ravens knew what they were signing up for when they made that change from Joe Flacco to Lamar. They also understood that the people catching the passes would never be as critical to this team's success as the guy who's throwing them.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter.

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