Jackson’s future looms large as Ravens head into offseason

Jackson’s Future Looms Large As Ravens Head Into Offseason
Nick Wass, Associated Press

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson looks on during the second half of a Jan. 1 game against the  Steelers in Baltimore.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens were a yard away from taking the lead in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati.

For a moment, all the drama surrounding Lamar Jackson’s injury and his future seemed secondary.

Then the ball came loose, the Bengals returned it for a touchdown — and the Ravens headed into an offseason that will put this proud franchise to the test.

Tyler Huntley’s fumble at the goal line derailed Baltimore’s upset bid, and the Ravens lost to the Bengals 24-17 in their playoff opener Sunday night.

Huntley was playing because of the knee injury from early December that ultimately ended Jackson’s season.

Jackson’s rookie contract now expires, and the big question in Baltimore — and around the league — is whether he and the Ravens can finally reach a long-term deal.

“You can’t let a guy like him go,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said Monday.

So much of what has made Baltimore a stable, successful organization was on display against the Bengals. The Ravens were sizable underdogs, playing without their star quarterback, and yet their defense helped them stay in the game and Huntley moved the ball well at times.

In the end, however, it was one calamitous play by Huntley — his risky attempt to reach the ball over the goal line on third down — that swung the game.

Huntley lost the ball and Sam Hubbard returned the fumble 98 yards to put Cincinnati up 24-17 with 11:39 remaining.

Although Huntley performed gamely, it’s easy to wonder what the Ravens would have been capable of with a healthy Jackson. His contract situation didn’t seem like too much of a distraction early in the season, but once he was hurt, there was no shortage of speculation around the football world about why he wasn’t returning and whether he should.

“Anybody who has played this game, they should know how hard it is to go out there and compete,” Campbell said. “If you can’t protect yourself, then it’s pointless to be out there. If you can’t go out there and go full speed, it’s pointless to be out there. I’ve played through plenty of injuries, but the first thing I do when I’m going through an injury is making sure that I can’t hurt myself more.”

Coach John Harbaugh initially said it wasn’t a season-ending type of injury. He later said injuries are hard to predict — and that’s why he doesn’t comment much on timetables. Harbaugh said last week that Jackson was working hard to come back but avoided elaborating.

Jackson eventually tweeted that the injury was a PCL sprain and said the knee was unstable. He said he’d like to be on the field with his teammates but couldn’t give 100%.

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley had a unique perspective on Jackson’s injury. Stanley has been battling ankle problems since 2020, but he managed to start 11 games this season.

“I never once questioned Lamar’s tactics when it came to his body,” Stanley said. “He knows what’s going on in his body more than we all know. I felt the same about my situation.”

Now the Ravens are at a fork in the road. Eventually, they’ll have to figure out a way to keep Jackson long term, or they’ll have to figure out a way to win without him. Either path has its share of challenges, from the looks of it.

Baltimore could choose to bring Jackson back for next season on the franchise tag, but then both team and player would be spending another year under this cloud of uncertainty about his future.

<p>Saints head coach Sean Payton walks on the field before a Jan. 2, 2022, game against the  Panthers in New Orleans.</p>

AP File Photo

Saints head coach Sean Payton walks on the field before a Jan. 2, 2022, game against the  Panthers in New Orleans.

Panthers to interview Payton for HC

According to a person familiar with the situation, the Carolina Panthers have received permission from the New Orleans Saints to interview Sean Payton for their vacant head coaching position.

The Panthers have also requested permission to speak to Philadelphia Eagles defensive consultant Vic Fangio, New York Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel and New Orleans Saints defensive backs coach Kris Richard for their defensive coordinator position.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team does not release details of its coaching searches.

Payton is expected to be a hot commodity among the NFL teams and could be particularly pricey for the Panthers to land given they are in the same division as the Saints.

Browns interview Seahawks’ Desai for DC

The Cleveland Browns began the second week of their search for a new defensive coordinator by interviewing their fourth candidate, Seattle associate head coach Sean Desai.

The 39-year-old Desai visited the Browns’ training facility two days after the Seahawks were eliminated from the playoffs.

Desai has been with Seattle for one season after serving as Chicago’s defensive coordinator in 2021. He spent nine seasons with the Bears after pursuing a career in academic administration.

The Browns have already met with former Lions coach and Titans senior adviser Jim Schwartz, Steelers defensive assistant Brian Flores and Eagles passing game coordinator Dennard Wilson.

Cardinals hire Ossenfort as GM

The Arizona Cardinals have hired Monti Ossenfort as the team’s new general manager. The franchise announced the hiring of Ossenfort on Monday, one week after owner Michael Bidwill announced that head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim would not return following a dreadful 4-13 season.

The 44-year-old Ossenfort has spent the past three seasons as director of player personnel for the Tennessee Titans. Before that, he spent 15 seasons with the New England Patriots, helping the franchise win four Super Bowls. In 21 seasons, his teams have made the playoffs 16 times.