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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Mike Preston: Ravens need to clean up the mess around the organization before it gets worse

The Ravens are a soap opera.

We’re not even a full month into the offseason, and they are providing several storylines per week. They can’t get a contract extension done with quarterback Lamar Jackson. They hired a new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken. They parted ways with their strength coach, Steve Saunders, who has since been criticized by several former players. General manager Eric DeCosta criticized himself for past failures in drafting wide receivers, and then current wideout Rashod Bateman took a shot at him.

Is Rome burning? Nah, but it smells bad.

After two years of contract negotiations, the national media has finally figured out that the Ravens are serious about possibly trading Jackson. The team has probably already engaged in backroom deals or conversation with other teams, which is a standard mode of operation in the NFL.

If the Ravens can get two first-round and two second-round picks for Jackson, then it’s bye-bye. If the Ravens designate him with either the exclusive or nonexclusive franchise tag before Tuesday’s deadline and he returns for another season, then coach John Harbaugh has a lot of repair work to do in the locker room with Jackson’s teammates — especially after the injured quarterback failed to join the team in the wild-card-round playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Under no circumstance should the Ravens offer Jackson a fully guaranteed five- or six-year contract, especially after he missed the final five and six games, respectively, the past two seasons with injuries. It’s been reported that the NFL Players Association has been involved with Jackson during the negotiations, which is no surprise. They’ve probably been whispering in his ear ever since quarterback Deshaun Watson signed his five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract with the Cleveland Browns last year.

But I would be shocked if Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti offered Jackson a similar guarantee. So, unless Jackson takes the money the team is willing to offer, he’ll probably move on. Either way, the Ravens need to come to some resolution soon because each day invites more media scrutiny and speculation.

Both Harbaugh and DeCosta took many questions about the Jackson situation this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, and both continued to project optimism that the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player will remain with the team. DeCosta was also asked about evaluating receivers, and his assessment was honest.

“It’s a challenging position to evaluate in different ways,” DeCosta said. “If I had an answer, that means I would probably have some better receivers, I guess. We keep trying. I think there are a lot of things that go along with that position. Sometimes it is tied to the quarterback, and I think it’s tied to things like durability; it’s tied to a lot of things.

“We’re going to keep swinging. There have been some guys that have been successful players for us that were draft picks. We’ve never really hit on that All-Pro type of guy, which is disappointing, I would say, but it’s not for lack of effort.”

An unhappy Bateman, though, took umbrage in a since-deleted tweet.

“How bout you play to your player’s strength and & stop pointing the finger at us and #8 [Jackson] …blame the one you let do this…. we take heat 24/7 . & keep us healthy … care about US & see what happen..ain’t no promises tho … tired of y’all lyin and capn on players for no reason”

Both are correct. There is no superstar like Stefon Diggs or Justin Jefferson on this roster. Jackson has been inaccurate and reluctant to throw to outside receivers in a poorly devised passing scheme created by former coordinator Greg Roman.

But last year, Ravens receivers didn’t seem to recognize whether they were playing against zone or man-to-man coverage. They didn’t attack the entire field, either.

As for Bateman, his comments are understandable, but he would have more credibility if he hadn’t missed 17 of 35 games over the past two years because of injuries.

The strangest comments came from Harbaugh, who was asked if he had watched Georgia’s tape to get a feel for Monken’s style of offense.

“We watched a little bit of it,” Harbaugh said. “It was more in the context of him expressing his vision for our offense going forward, so we watched some of their tape doing it. I didn’t sit down and break down Georgia tape; I didn’t have time. It would have been nice, probably, but I didn’t feel like we needed to.”

Huh? Excuse me, you didn’t have time? This franchise has been inept on offense from the time it arrived in Baltimore in 1996, and the head coach couldn’t find the time.

Wow, that’s a secret Harbaugh should have kept to himself.

No one can keep quiet over at The Castle these days. Former players have publicly blasted Saunders, who departed a week before a survey conducted by the NFLPA gave the Ravens’ strength staff the lowest possible grade, an F-. While 27 of the 32 NFL teams got at least an A- for their strength staff, the players’ assessment of Saunders was “markedly negative.”

Veterans have complained about Saunders ever since he took over in 2016. It was overlooked back then because Saunders came in with strong demands and players sometimes rebel against change. But the criticism was constant, and he should have been fired instead of suspended for a month in 2020 after sources said he did not routinely wear a proximity tracker or mask, as required by NFL rules, and did not report potential COVID-19 symptoms as he worked with players.

When you see and hear things like this about player discontent, you start to wonder about the state of the franchise. At least with Monken, you expected several changes on the offensive staff, not a partial house cleaning.

But the Ravens are starting to enter the world of the bizarre. Every day there is more negative news. It’s not just coming from the current players, but the former ones as well. The NFLPA hasn’t done the Ravens any favors this week either with their reported participation in the Jackson negotiations and the release of the team report cards.

Everywhere I go in town these days, I get asked if the Ravens will sign Jackson. It is as popular of a question in Baltimore as “Who Shot J.R.?” back in the days of the old TV show “Dallas” nearly 40 years ago.

I guess these are the days of our lives, at least for Ravens fans, until some order is restored.


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