Jackson’s future looms large as Ravens head into offseason

Associated Press

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens were within yards of taking the lead in Cincinnati in the fourth quarter.

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

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

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

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

Jackson’s rookie contract is now up and the big question in Baltimore — and across the league — is whether he and the Ravens can finally strike a long-term deal.

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

So much of what made Baltimore a stable, successful organization was shown 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 a disastrous play from Huntley – his risky attempt to get the ball over the goal line in third – that turned the game.

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

Though Huntley put on a brave display, it’s easy to wonder what the Ravens would have been capable of with a healthy Jackson. His contract situation didn’t seem too much of a distraction early in the season but when he was injured there was no shortage of speculation in the footballing world as to why he wouldn’t return and if he should.

“Anyone who’s played that game should know how hard it is to get out there and compete,” Campbell said. “If you can’t protect yourself, there’s no point in being out there. If you can’t go out there and go flat out, there’s no point in being out there. I’ve been through a lot of injuries, but the first thing I do when I go through an injury is make sure I can’t hurt myself more.”

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

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 struggled with ankle problems since 2020, but he managed to start 11 games this season.

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

Now the Ravens are at a fork in the road. At some point, they’ll have to find a way to keep Jackson long-term, or they’ll have to find a way without winning him. As it turns out, both paths have their share of challenges.

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

Saints head coach Sean Payton takes the field before a game January 2, 2022 against the Panthers in New Orleans.

AP file photo

Panthers interviews Payton for HC

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

The Panthers have also requested permission to speak with Philadelphia Eagles defensive adviser Vic Fangio, New York Jets safety coach Marquand Manuel, and New Orleans Saints defensive backs coach Kris Richard about their position as defensive coordinator.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team is not releasing details of his coaching quest.

Payton is expected to be a hot commodity among NFL teams and could be particularly expensive for the Panthers as they end up 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 with an interview with their fourth candidate, Seattle associate head coach Sean Desai.

Desai, 39, visited the Browns’ practice facility two days after the Seahawks were eliminated from the playoffs.

Desai was with Seattle for a 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 assistant defenseman Brian Flores and Eagles passing game coordinator Dennard Wilson.

Cardinals hire Ossenfort as GM

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

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

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