With second MVP award in tow, Lamar Jackson moves closer to football royalty

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Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson officially joined an exclusive club on Thursday night. 

After a tremendous 2023 that included career highs in passing yards, completion percentage, and yards per pass attempt to lead Baltimore to a league-best 13-4 regular season, the 27-year-old was voted the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player for the second time in five years. The distinction — which was one vote shy of being unanimous — makes Jackson the 11th player in league history to win the award multiple times since its introduction in 1957. 

The others? 

Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Peyton Manning. Seven Pro Football Hall of Famers, and all but Warner were first-ballot inductees. 

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes round out the list as three Hall of Fame slam dunks.

Jackson is all but a lock to join them, especially considering the way he’s rewriting the record book on the dual-threat quarterback front. We sometimes overlook the NFL being an entertainment business, and few have dazzled quite like Jackson with his impeccable playmaking ability. The 2018 first-round pick out of Louisville also ranks fifth among quarterbacks in all-time regular-season winning percentage after orchestrating the two best regular seasons in Ravens history. 

However, Jackson still seeks what the other 10 multi-time MVPs secured at least once over their respective careers. It’s the pinnacle for any player, but particularly quarterbacks. 

An NFL championship. 

Of course, a Super Bowl win isn’t a requirement to receive a bust in Canton. Few would question Dan Marino’s place among the best quarterbacks of all time despite him never winning a Super Bowl. Fran Tarkenton and Jim Kelly went winless in multiple Super Bowl tries while Dan Fouts and Warren Moon never even got to one.

That said, Brady isn’t regarded by many as the greatest of all time because of his three regular-season MVP awards, 15 Pro Bowl selections, and numerous individual records; he’s a seven-time Super Bowl champion. No quarterback’s perception changed more for the better than that of John Elway with back-to-back Super Bowl wins to conclude his career after being blown out in the first three in which he played. 

Championships — or the lack thereof — headline any quarterback’s legacy, which is why Jackson is the first to tell you his work isn’t complete. Unfortunately, what remains can’t be accomplished in the regular season, no matter how many more MVPs Jackson wins. 

Fair or not, the career of any great quarterback doesn’t feel complete without a Super Bowl title. It’s the gateway to football royalty. 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate and enjoy what Jackson has done and will continue doing on the field, regardless of when and if he raises a Lombardi Trophy. For all the franchise’s success over the last quarter-century, Ravens players had collected a total of eight MVP votes — Jamal Lewis with five in 2003 and Ray Lewis with three over his career — prior to Jackson winning the award twice. Only two teams — Kansas City and Buffalo — have won more regular-season games than Baltimore over the last five years, and that’s with Jackson sitting out 13 games over that time.

But that’s why his regular-season excellence not translating to January remains all the more mystifying. No one doubts Jackson from September through December at this point, but the postseason remains the story for another year. 

Many hoped his second-half performance against Houston in the divisional round was the long overdue breakthrough, especially after Jackson had played his best football of the season against a tough slate of opponents in December. But it wasn’t to be in the conference title game as Jackson and the Ravens offense wilted and Mahomes and the Chiefs continued their AFC dominance. 

In the same way Manning was always trailing Brady in the championship department despite winning two more MVPs in his career, Jackson accepted the award that had to feel too much like second place on Thursday night while Mahomes — also sporting two career MVPs — was preparing to play in his fourth Super Bowl in five years. You only hope he breaks through like Manning, who didn’t win his first Super Bowl until his ninth season after years of criticism about his January shortcomings. Jackson has been too good not to do it eventually.

His phenomenal 2023 should be remembered fondly, especially on the heels of a two-year contract saga that threatened his future with the Ravens. But the regular-season MVP trophy wasn’t the one Jackson was focused on accepting in Las Vegas this week. 

That will leave this season feeling incomplete — even as Jackson took another step toward football royalty. 

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