OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day the window opened for NFL teams to begin using the franchise tag, the Ravens introduced new offensive coordinator Todd Monken to the local media.
But Tuesday’s press conference revealed little about where the organization stands with Lamar Jackson more than a month since we last heard from general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh. After providing a lengthy introductory statement, Harbaugh didn’t stick around to answer any questions about the hiring process or whether the star quarterback who’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent was indeed involved in the offensive coordinator search as he indicated Jackson would be last month.
Monken said he hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to any Baltimore players when asked specifically whether he’d communicated with Jackson. For what it’s worth, the 2019 NFL MVP hasn’t appeared to make any acknowledgement of last week’s hiring on his social media platforms either.
Asked about the uncertainty of Jackson’s status and how that impacted his decision to take the job, Monken expressed confidence in DeCosta and Harbaugh handling roster decisions while speaking glowingly about the organization overall. However, it was at least interesting to note that the 57-year-old described the Ravens being an attractive destination “irrespective of who was or wasn’t going to be on the roster” when he was initially asked why he’d leave his gig with the University of Georgia after back-to-back national championships.
“They’re going to take care of anything that has to do with any player — not just Lamar,” said Monken about DeCosta and Harbaugh. “Sure, any player that’s part of a roster where you’re going into, you have an interest in what the roster’s going to look like. Ultimately, I wanted to be someplace [with] structure, organization, great on defense from top to bottom. Everybody I talked to said, ‘You want to be a Baltimore Raven. You want to be a part of that organization moving forward.’”
Though seemingly measured with all Jackson-related comments as a newcomer walking into a delicate situation between organization and star player, Monken left little doubt about his desire to work with the 26-year-old, who’s expected to receive the franchise tag if he and the Ravens don’t strike a long-term agreement by March 7.
Having coached the likes of NFL quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, and Ryan Fitzpatrick as well as Heisman Trophy finalist — and former walk-on — Stetson Bennett in recent years, Monken has certainly never worked with a talent like Jackson.
“Elite. He has an elite skill set,” Monken said. “It’s obvious when you watch him on film — the things he can do with the football and the plays that he makes. I think he’s underrated as a passer in terms of his ability to make plays and throw it down the field. You’ve all seen it. I’m like you; I’m no different than you. I watch what you guys watch, and it’s pretty amazing.”
What happens after Jackson presumably receives the tag is anyone’s guess after two-plus years of unsuccessful contract talks. Not only would a franchise tag — particularly the exclusive one projected to be around $45 million — hamper Baltimore’s ability to make roster improvements with a tight salary cap, but it could lead to a lengthy absence from Jackson, who would be under no contractual obligation to show up in Owings Mills for mandatory minicamp in June or even the entirety of training camp without signing the tag.
While acknowledging the obvious that Jackson would be “behind” learning a new offensive system if he didn’t arrive until just before the start of the regular season, Monken expressed confidence that the Ravens would still make it work.
“It’s just football. We’ll cater to what he knows and play,” Monken said. “It’s like any player. Any player is like that. The more time you spend with them, the more comfortable they get with any system or relationship. That’s a big part of it, and there’s a big part of that relationship from a quarterback, coordinator, play-caller, position coach where they’re comfortable and there’s a trust.
“That’s a big part of that, and that’s built over time even beyond individual plays in that comfort of like, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you the keys to this car. Let’s see what you can do.’ That happens a lot more in the offseason. In the offseason is where you experiment. That’s kind of where you kind of let the quarterback have some reins with it.”
When — perhaps even if — Monken will have the chance to begin building such a rapport with Jackson is the real question.