- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2023

PHOENIX — The timing couldn’t have been better for reporters — and worse for John Harbaugh. Just as the Ravens coach sat down for a press conference at the NFL owners meetings Monday, quarterback Lamar Jackson published a series of tweets that revealed he requested a trade from Baltimore amid stalled contract talks. 

Harbaugh was put on the spot as he suddenly faced question after question about Jackson’s status. 

“You’ve got to plan for all the contingencies, for sure, but I’m pretty fired up about Lamar Jackson,” Harbaugh said, adding he’s planning for the passer to remain in Baltimore. 

Jackson’s demand, however, still caused a stir across the NFL. Would the request finally create a market for the former MVP? So far this offseason, Jackson has appeared to have little interest from other teams — who can technically offer the 26-year-old a contract after the Ravens exercised the non-exclusive franchise tag on him earlier this month.

From a local lens, not much has changed. 

Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said later in the afternoon that Washington — a team that has frequently been mentioned as a possible option for the former first-rounder — has no interest in Jackson. 

“I’m not sure where that all comes from because, from the beginning, we’ve been pretty consistent with our message,” Mayhew said. “And it continues to come up. So nothing really surprises me as far as this kind of stuff in the league. 

“It’s coming from somewhere — but it’s not coming from us.”

The Jackson-to-Washington rumors started to circulate last month when prominent national analysts such as NBC Sports’ Mike Florio and CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson wondered if the Commanders’ uncertain ownership situation would carve a path for Jackson to the District. 

Florio suggested owner Dan Snyder giving Jackson a fully guaranteed contract would be “the ultimate middle finger” to the league’s power structure since the embattled billionaire could stick the cost on the next owner while irking his colleagues in the process. Anderson tweeted that new ownership “shouldn’t need a season to determine everything starts with having an elite franchise quarterback,” implying Washington should pursue Jackson.

The Commanders chose to go a dramatically different route by touting 2022 fifth-rounder Sam Howell as the likely starter and signing quarterback Jacoby Brissett (one-year, $8 million) to compete for the job. 

Mayhew wouldn’t disclose the reasons that the Commanders chose not to pursue Jackson. But it wasn’t hard to read between the lines. On Monday, the executive praised Howell’s development and said it was “very enticing” to build around a player on a rookie-scale contract. The combined cap hits for Howell and Brissett are significantly cheaper than what Jackson would be expected to command as he reportedly seeks to top Deshaun Watson’s five-year, $235 million deal that’s fully guaranteed. 

Beyond the cost of Jackson’s next potential contract, any acquiring team would also have to give up significant draft capital. Even outside a trade, any team that signs Jackson this year would be required to send the Ravens two first-round picks if Baltimore chose not to match the opposing offer sheet. 

Mayhew said the Commanders had internal discussions about Jackson, but chose not to speak to the quarterback when the negotiating window opened in mid-March. 

“There are literally hundreds of guys that are free (agents),” Mayhew said. “We probably end up making serious contract offers, or having serious discussions, with somewhere between 10 to 20 of those guys each year. So there are a ton of talented players that could help us, that we don’t end up talking to for various reasons.

“And Lamar falls into that category.” 

That approach also differs from the strategy that Washington took last year — when it swung big to acquire veteran Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts. Asked what changed, Mayhew said the Commanders have been “very impressed” by Howell. (It may also not help that Wentz failed to pan out.)

Though Howell only has one career start — leading Washington to a Week 18 upset over the Cowboys — Mayhew said his development behind the scenes has them “very, very confident” in the 22-year-old. 

“We don’t think he’s as far away as a developmental player,” Mayhew said. 

Mayhew wasn’t the only executive to publicly shoot down interest in Jackson. Jets general manager Joe Douglas also ruled his team out of the chase, telling reporters it would be “disingenuous” to pretend to be intended in Jackson after Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers said publicly that he wanted to play for New York in 2023.

But not every team is out, either: Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters he would explore the possibility of adding Jackson — though added he was unsure if it was feasible. 

“No matter how far I go or where my career takes me, I’ll continue to be close to my fans of Baltimore Flock nation and the entire State of Maryland,” Jackson tweeted. “You’ll See me again.”

That just likely won’t be in Landover. In a Commanders uniform, anyway. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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