No one ever wants to give away too much in the sports world. But this year’s N.F.L. off-season is carrying the misdirection to a new level.
Lamar Jackson is staying in Baltimore, or he is leaving. Aaron Rodgers hadn’t heard from the Packers, or maybe they haven’t heard from him. And the rapper Meek Mill is in the ear of his friend, the Patriots owner Robert Kraft, suggesting to whom he should turn for his next quarterback.
What will happen next? Don’t count on the messaging to bring any clarity.
Is Lamar Jackson Moving On?
Let’s start with Jackson, the Ravens star who on Monday said he wanted out of Baltimore, where he has been the starting quarterback for nearly five seasons. Jackson said in a tweet that the Ravens had “not been interested in meeting my value” on a new contract, a point some of his friends, allies and even rival players have been making for months.
According to Jackson, he requested a trade on March 2, news that somehow stayed under wraps for nearly a month, raising the question of how aggressively Baltimore was shopping his services, or if it was looking to move on — or looking at offering him a longer, richer deal — at all.
While a trade is a possibility, Baltimore has already placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, meaning it can match any offer he might receive. If no trade or long-term deal is worked out before July — the tag grants most of the leverage to the team — the Ravens would retain his services and Jackson would make roughly $30 million playing this season.
Coincidentally or not, Jackson’s message was posted just as Coach John Harbaugh was meeting reporters at the annual league meetings in Phoenix. Jackson was Topic A, as well as Topics B and C; the first 20-plus questions put to Harbaugh were all about the team’s quarterback, but he brushed them aside one after another.
“I haven’t seen the tweet; it’s an ongoing process,” Harbaugh maintained throughout the grilling.
“I don’t know what direction it’s going to go,” he added. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”
But Harbaugh and Ravens president Sashi Brown made it clear that ideally they wanted Jackson to stay.
“We love Lamar,” Brown said. “We’re committed to getting something done.”
Who’s Calling the Shots?
Adding to the confusion, Jackson does not officially have an agent. The N.F.L. on Thursday sent a memo warning teams not to negotiate with Ken Francis, who is not a certified agent, and had been contacting teams on Jackson’s behalf. Responding to a news report of Francis’s involvement, Jackson soon tweeted, “Stop lying, that man never tried to negotiate for me.”
Later that day, the quarterback teased a portable fitness product coming from “my partner Ken and I.”
So where will Jackson end up? Indianapolis Colts General Manager Chris Ballard, for one, said his team was interested, calling Jackson a “special player.”
But another possibility could be the Patriots, according to the Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who told reporters Monday that his friend, the rapper Meek Mill, had let him know that Jackson wanted to come to New England. Kraft said he responded that the decision was up to Coach Bill Belichick.
Whither Aaron Rodgers?
In the meantime, Rodgers, who has gone public with his desire to join the Jets, has gotten restless. It is unclear if he and the Packers are communicating as well as one might expect for a team and the star quarterback who has led them for 18 years.
Rodgers said the team had not been straightforward with him about the future.
“I love direct communication,” Rodgers said in a March 15 interview on the “The Pat McAfee Show.”
“If they had just said: ‘Listen, we think it’s time to move in a different direction. We love you. You’re going to be a Packer Hall of Famer. You’re going to go into the Hall as a Packer. We’re going to retire your number; whatever it might be, but it’s time to move on,’ I would have said, ‘Thank you so much.’”
But the Packers on Monday suggested that the lack of communication was Rodgers’s fault. In an interview with reporters, Green Bay General Manager Brian Gutekunst said the team had tried and failed multiple times to reach Rodgers to have a conversation about their collective, or separate, future. Gutekunst said his motivation for reaching out to other teams in search of a possible deal for Rodgers was rooted in “our inability to reach him or for him to respond in any way.”
Rodgers has said he wants to move on to the Jets, but no trade has been finalized. The Jets executives continue to drop optimistic hints that a deal will be done, and say they are in no rush.
“There’s not a ton of urgency from our standpoint right now,” their general manager, Joe Douglas told reporters in Phoenix, a statement with which a large number of Jets fans might take issue.
Douglas said he did not expect a deal for Rodgers to be completed in Phoenix. But given the befuddlement of the rest of this off-season, there may still be a twist in that tale.