NFL analyst's 'collegiate approach' doesn't make sense for the Ravens originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
NFL teams are constantly trying to tweak their approaches to gain an edge over the competition. It's a league built on parity, and with extensive footage of every game available with the click of a button, secrets have never been harder to keep from other franchises.
It's a copycat business, especially when teams see something that works. So when a prominent NFL analyst suggests a strategy out of line with the way things have always been done, it gets fans' attention.
That's what happened this week leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft when NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks threw out an interesting idea for the Baltimore Ravens.
“They [could] take a collegiate approach to the quarterback position,” Brooks said on NFL Network’s Path to the Draft. “They cash in on a Justin Fields. And then maybe they operate like a college team. One quarterback graduates, the other quarterback steps into the starter’s role."
It's a really intriguing idea. Since the CBA changed ahead of the 2011 draft limiting the rookie pay scale, successful quarterbacks on rookie deals have never been more valuable.
If you include Eli Manning as a Hall of Famer - a debate for a different day - then the only quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl since the CBA change in 2011 are Hall of Famers and rookie passers. Going back even further, the last quarterback to win a Super Bowl on his second contract who isn't headed for Canton was Brad Johnson in 2002.
Now, part of that is because Hall of Famers win a lot of Super Bowls. That's what makes them Hall of Famers. But the other part of it is how valuable it is to have a superstar quarterback being paid cheaply.
Teams who give quarterbacks mega extensions often find themselves strapped for cap space in the following seasons. It's a place most teams still want to be - the best position to be in is to have a superstar QB on a rookie deal, but the second-best position is to have a superstar QB who is getting paid. It's still better to have a franchise QB than not have one.
"You now have the opportunity to keep a starting quarterback potentially on a young deal, build up the rest of the assets, and then play smash-mouth football the way that they play, and continue to build a better team around the quarterback," Brooks said. "It’s something to think about.”
If a team decided to take Brooks' suggestion, they would have a lot more money to build up an unmatched talent base around their rookie quarterbacks. The situation a player is put into is critical to their development, and having an upper-tier support system around a young signal-caller is an ideal scenario.
The problem is that the Ravens aren't the type of team that should try something like this. Or rather, Lamar Jackson isn't the type of quarterback you simply let "graduate" without doing everything possible to keep him in town.
If Jackson was purely a product of the Ravens' unique play-calling system, then it would make sense. But Jackson has proven time and time again that the opposite is actually true. He elevates his teammates in a way that few other players in the NFL can.
Much has been made of Jackson's struggles to find a connection with a great wide receiver, but he makes the offensive lineman, running backs and tight ends all look way better. And his stats aren't just impressive - they are historic.
Jackson has shattered rushing records for his position, while still managing to lead the league passing touchdowns in 2019. Since becoming the full-time starter he ranks highly in several other more advanced passing categories as well, something he rarely gets credit for because the misses look so bad.
Jackson has always had to overcome doubters. It's hard to imagine any other quarterback in the league winning a unanimous MVP at 23-years old and then having analysts suggest a team would be better served moving on before he turns 25. At its core, it's an argument that doesn't make sense.
The Ravens play the type of style that suits college quarterbacks, and they are a forward-thinking franchise that is constantly looking for an edge. It's an interesting idea from Brooks in a vacuum.
But Baltimore is also lucky enough to have an MVP quarterback still under the age of 25 in town, and that's an enviable position to be in. Voluntarily moving on from Jackson in the hopes that an unproven talent can match one of the most dynamic players in recent memory is a step (or several steps) too far.