Super Bowl or Bust for a Lamar Jackson, the Franchise, and a Philosophy
The 2021 season will be a final, binding referendum on the whole Lamar Jackson option-heavy offensive experiment, and perhaps on Jackson himself.
Don't shoot the messenger! Football Outsiders Almanac didn't make the rules, and we don't have to like them. But we're obligated to acknowledge them. The NFL establishment is ready to pass judgment on the Ravens' radical offense, and the old guard is itching to render a guilty verdict.
Josh Allen stumbled around like a newborn fawn for two years before breaking out, and the Bills are now hailed as a model organization for patiently nurturing him. Baker Mayfield had half a really good season after riding the Drama Express for two-and-a-half years, and it has been interpreted as vindication of the entire Browns organizational paradigm. And of course, quarterbacks on the Derek Carr-Kirk Cousins spectrum can be flawed in traditional ways for years but get rewarded with opportunity after opportunity.
But Jackson? He can be a late-season sensation as a rookie and an MVP as a sophomore, then lead his team to a third-straight playoff appearance and a postseason victory in his third season, yet still face questions about his viability as a long-term franchise quarterback and the sustainability of the unique offense tailored to his talents.
Now, to paraphrase the great Darin Gantt's famous expression about Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson makes people stupid. Criticism of Jackson generally follows a lazy, perfunctory, crotchety father-in-law formula. Support for Jackson can also be partisan and shrill. Every Jackson wibble-wobbler or Ravens playoff loss is not proof that he would be better off playing wide receiver for a reliable pocket passer and decision-maker™ such as Joe Flacco. At the same time, pointing out Jackson's severe November slump, noting his deficiencies when throwing toward the sidelines, or worrying that a 212-pound quarterback who runs 11 times per game might not survive to see the back half of a nine-figure contract is not the equivalent of lobbying to preserve the Confederate statue in the town square.
There's no denying that Jackson's ultimate fate will be determined by folks who...