Lamar Jackson To Patriots? Pros, Cons Of Acquiring Ravens QB

Would a Jackson pursuit make sense for New England?


Mar 28, 2023

Robert Kraft really knows how to fire up a news cycle.

After speaking with reporters for more than 15 minutes Monday at the NFL annual meeting, the Patriots owner dropped a bombshell: that rapper and friend Meek Mill had texted him to relay that Lamar Jackson told him that he wants to play for New England. Kraft’s response: “That’s Bill Belichick’s decision.”

Oh, baby.

It’s not clear whether the Patriots are even considering a play for Jackson, who is unhappy with his current situation in Baltimore. The Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the 2019 NFL MVP, but Jackson has yet to sign that tag and requested a trade, saying the Ravens haven’t been interested in paying him what he deserves.

Acquiring Jackson would be a franchise-shaking move for a Patriots team that’s wallowed in mediocrity since Tom Brady’s departure, going four straight years without a playoff victory and posting sub-.500 records in two of the last three seasons. It would also be a pricey one, in terms of both contract value and trade compensation.

In the wake of Kraft’s revelation, we broke down the pros and cons of a Patriots-Jackson pursuit:

Pro: When he’s healthy, Jackson is a top-five quarterback in the NFL and one of the league’s most uniquely talented players at any position. His rare dual-threat ability as a rusher and passer would completely reinvent the Patriots’ offense and reestablish New England as a legitimate threat in the AFC. He’s also just 26 years old.

Con: His durability is a real concern. He missed 10 regular-season games and one playoff game over the last two seasons, and he was knocked out of Baltimore’s divisional-round loss in 2020. Running quarterbacks inherently take more punishment than their pocket-bound counterparts, and Jackson already has the sixth-most career rushing attempts ever by a QB. He’ll likely be up to fourth on that list by the midway point of this season, trailing only Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Michael Vick. How much longer will his body hold up?

Con: He’ll be extremely expensive. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley earlier this month reported Jackson “wants a fully guaranteed deal like the one given to Deshaun Watson last year.” The contract Watson signed with the Cleveland Browns was for $230 million over five years. The “fully guaranteed” stipulation seems to be the biggest sticking point in the whole Jackson saga, as teams understandably are reluctant to tie up that kind of money in a player with a documented injury history.

Pro: It’s unclear if the Patriots would be willing to give Jackson that kind of contract. So far, neither Baltimore nor any other team has been, and New England’s history suggests it wouldn’t be either. But Kraft deferring to Belichick in his reply to Meek Mill suggests ownership in New England is at least open to the hefty investment it would take to acquire the superstar signal-caller. The Patriots also have close to $130 million in available salary cap space for the 2024 season and more than $250 million in 2025. If they can find a way to structure Jackson’s contract to include a lucrative signing bonus and low 2023 salary, they should be able to fit him under this season’s cap without decimating their current roster.

Con: The investment wouldn’t just be financial. If the Patriots signed Jackson to an offer sheet and the Ravens declined to match, they’d need to fork over two first-round draft picks as compensation. Depending on the timing of all this, that would either be the 14th overall pick and next year’s first, or first-rounders in 2024 and ’25. The Patriots and Ravens also theoretically could bypass the offer sheet process and work out a tag-and-trade, but it’s hard to imagine Baltimore moving Jackson for anything less than a first-round pick plus additional assets, even after he went public Monday with his desire to leave.

Pro: While the Patriots certainly have other needs, you make the argument that Jackson is worth two first-rounders and that New England’s current roster is good enough to compete if he comes aboard. Hiring new coordinator Bill O’Brien and O-line coach Adrian Klemm already raised the Patriots’ offensive ceiling considerably, and they’re set to return nearly the entire defense that ranked third in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and led the league in defensive touchdowns last season. Fill out those units with picks in Rounds 2-7, and a Jackson-led Patriots squad could immediately contend in 2023.

Con: The Patriots haven’t had a chance to properly evaluate Mac Jones, whose sophomore season was derailed by the ill-fated Matt Patricia/Joe Judge experiment. It’s not hard to envision Jones returning to or exceeding his rookie-year level with O’Brien now in charge of his development, and he still has two years left on his cheap rookie contract ($4.25 million cap hit this season; just under $5 million in 2024). Shortly before his Meek Mill/Jackson remark, Kraft said he’s a “big fan” of Jones and has high hopes for his pairing with O’Brien.

Pro: Based on everything we’ve seen so far, peak Jackson is considerably better than peak Jones. Especially in a modern NFL that’s trending more and more toward mobile quarterbacks.

Con: The Patriots would need to overhaul their offensive plan if they added Jackson since his skill set is drastically different than what they currently have with Jones and backup Bailey Zappe. Those two both are traditional pocket passers with limited mobility.

Pro: When you’re talking about a player of Jackson’s caliber, that’s a good problem to have. O’Brien also found success in Houston with Watson, who’s not the elite rusher like Jackson but is far more of a threat in that area than Jones or Zappe.

Con: Jackson has yet to prove he can win in the playoffs. He’s 1-3 in four career postseason starts, and the Ravens scored 20 points or fewer in all four. An injury knocked Jackson out of his most recent playoff appearance, but he played three full quarters in that game and scored just three points in seven possessions.

Pro: Jackson is 45-16 in the regular season. All Patriots QBs are 25-25 since Tom Brady’s departure.

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
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