NFL Winners and Losers: Lamar Jackson's contract year isn't going as well as hoped
There's not a realistic scenario in which Lamar Jackson doesn't make a lot of money playing football for the rest of his career. There might be 10-15 truly good NFL quarterbacks this season, and at his best Jackson is one of the best in the game.
The "Jackson's bet on himself is a loser" takes you'll hear over the next week will be overstated and premature. He'll get paid. The Washington Commanders made a trade this past offseason so they could pay Carson Wentz $22 million this season. So yes, Jackson will be just fine.
But it's not the contract year anyone was excited about, especially after a hot start.
Jackson has been struggling, was criticized this week for his language in criticizing a fan on Twitter, and then on Sunday he struggled again and got hurt. Jackson left Sunday's game with a knee injury suffered on a sack from Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper. The Ravens didn't do a whole lot without Jackson but managed one game-winning drive, with backup Tyler Huntley scoring with 28 seconds left for an ugly 10-9 win. The Ravens held on when Brandon McManus' 63-yard field goal attempt on the final play was short.
CBS' cameras showed Jackson laboring up the stairs to the locker room after the injury. He was first listed as questionable but then ruled out at halftime. After the game Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the media the prognosis was "days to weeks" for Jackson's injury, but it wasn't season-ending. That's good news.
Everything about this Ravens season has been framed around Jackson's contract situation. He reportedly turned down about $250 million from the Ravens before the season, and for the first part of the season it looked like he'd added some money onto that inevitable contract. Through three games Jackson had 10 passing touchdowns and was his normal dynamic self as a runner. Then it went bad. From Week 4 through last week Jackson had just seven touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games, for a passer rating of 80.8. On Sunday he had 11 passing yards through three Ravens possessions. Baltimore had 28 total yards on those three possessions and punted each time. Then Jackson got injured.
The Ravens can still use the franchise tag on Jackson this offseason if they wish, which will make Jackson a fortune. He's just 25 years old and has a lot of good football ahead of him. If he were available as a free agent or in a trade, desperate teams would line up to get him.
But this isn't the season anyone wanted, at least not yet. The Ravens did a poor job finding receivers for Jackson, and Rashod Bateman's injury really decimated Baltimore's passing game. Jackson has done well at times to make the most of what he has to work with, but it's still not pretty. Those who excitedly point out Jackson's flaws at every opportunity will dunk on him repeatedly for passing on a quarter million dollars and then not having a great season.
Since very few of us understand what it's like to turn down $250 million, it's hard to be rational about Jackson's situation. He knew the risks and the leverage he had, and it's not like he doesn't still have leverage. It's not like a former MVP in his mid-20s is going to have to accept playing for the league minimum because he hasn't played great this season with a very thin cast around him. Even a bad injury would have just changed the shape of his contract, not eliminated a long-term offer altogether. And there's also still plenty of time for Jackson and the Ravens to do something special this season, assuming Jackson is healthy.
It just isn't the storybook season that Jackson wanted or was proclaimed for him after his hot start. And it doesn't make things less complicated going forward.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 13 of the NFL season:
The Eagles' passing game: Over the past few weeks, the explosive passing game the Philadelphia Eagles had early in the season was missing. It seemed the loss of tight end Dallas Goedert to injury was a big problem.
The Eagles are fine. They just needed to face the Tennessee Titans' secondary.
The Titans got torched by Eagles receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown, who got his revenge for the Titans not paying him in the offseason and then trading him to Philadelphia. Smith and Brown both had more than 100 yards with about five minutes left in the third quarter of the 35-10 win. Brown had two touchdowns, breaking out of a mini-slump. Smith scored once. Jalen Hurts had more than 300 yards passing before the end of the third quarter.
The Eagles can do it all. They ran for 363 yards last week against the Packers. The passing game clicked Sunday. The defense looked a lot better with rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis back in the middle. Philadelphia is 11-1 and looked as good as ever on Sunday.
A tie for the Commanders and Giants: Everyone feels unsatisfied after a tie, but the New York Giants and Washington Commanders won't pass up a half-win.
The Giants are 7-4-1 and the Commanders are 7-5-1 after the 20-20 tie. Washington came back to tie the game late in regulation. The Giants missed a 58-yard field goal as time expired in overtime.
It goes against the just-win nature of the NFL to be OK with a tie, but both teams are in playoff contention. A loss would have been bad for either one. That's a reason the Giants punted from midfield late in overtime instead of going for it on fourth-and-3. Getting a tie brings each team a little closer to a playoff berth. It's unlikely anyone from either side will frame it that way, but Sunday's result worked for both teams.
Mike Tomlin: Tomlin's streak of never having a losing season will likely come to an end. The 5-7 Pittsburgh Steelers could technically win four of their last five games and finish 9-8, but probably not.
That doesn't take away from the job Tomlin is doing this season.
Breaking in rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, with a team that has a middling roster, Pittsburgh has won three of four and is improving every week. They beat the Atlanta Falcons 19-16 on Sunday. The Falcons aren't very good but a second straight road win is a good step for Pittsburgh.
Tomlin has had seasons with many more wins. But he's proving again that he's one of the NFL's best coaches.
Jets' goal-line play calling: The New York Jets are going to regret not running the ball from the 1-yard line.
They had a chance to pull off an enormous road win at the Minnesota Vikings but probably trusted quarterback Mike White too much. The Jets had third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, trailing 27-22 inside of the two-minute warning. On third down they threw an awful fade pass that had no chance. On fourth down they threw again and White threw a pass that was a bit behind Braxton Berrios and could have been caught, but fell incomplete. The Jets got the ball back but their final desperation try for the win ended when White threw an interception on fourth-and-10.
It's not as egregious as, say, not giving Marshawn Lynch the ball at the goal line in a Super Bowl, but it was still a big mistake. The Jets likely would have scored with two runs, or even two quarterback sneaks. Instead, they lost and that might end up being what keeps them out of the playoffs.
Those who believed in the Jaguars: Next time, let's make the Jacksonville Jaguars do it a couple times in a row before we buy in.
The Jaguars beat the Ravens last week in a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback, and they were a buzzy team heading into their game against the Detroit Lions. That didn't last long. The Lions were up 23-6 at halftime on their way to an easy 40-14 win. It was an awful performance by Jacksonville to follow up a great win. The only good news was that a scary looking sack on Trevor Lawrence at the end of the first half didn't result in a serious injury. Lawrence was fine to play the second half.
The Jaguars have fooled us before, when they beat the Los Angeles Chargers to improve to 2-1. It was exciting to think that they had arrived. But, like then, the Jaguars still aren't ready to take that step yet.
Texans' offense: The Houston Texans wouldn't necessarily want Deshaun Watson back, even if that was an option. A lot more than football goes into that.
But when you have Kyle Allen starting at quarterback, there really isn't much reason for Texans fans to show up.
The Texans didn't give up much to Watson in his return from suspension, but the offense gave the game away in a miserable 27-14 loss to the Browns. The Browns defense scored on a fumble return and an interception return. Meanwhile the Texans couldn't move the ball. They didn't score a touchdown until 1:57 remained, long after the game had been decided.
It has been a long season in Houston. The only good news is they're very likely to get the first pick of the draft. Then they can start to work on that quarterback situation.
Justin Fields, again: The Chicago Bears should have won on Sunday. They led 16-3. Fields was off to a good start.
But Fields couldn't put it away and couldn't bring the Bears back either. The Packers had a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter when Fields threw a killer interception. The Packers scored on a 46-yard end around run by receiver Christian Watson and got the two-point conversion to take a 28-19 lead. It was all but over after that, but Fields threw an interception to seal it.
Fields is a dynamic player, but he has failed in multiple chances to lead the Bears on a game-winning drive in the final minutes. It's a skill and he'll learn as he develops. It would just be nice to see it happen once in a while this season.