Cleveland Browns: Jimmy Haslam may impact Lamar Jackson’s future

Dec 30, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is congratulated by Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after the game at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is congratulated by Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after the game at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns defensive end Takkarist McKinley (55) brings down Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) during the first half of an NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal] /

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III has reset the NFL quarterback market, and also influenced the career of new Ravens president Sashi Brown.

The rest of the NFL is stunned at the massive reset of the quarterback market caused by the Cleveland Browns signing of Deshaun Watson. Nowhere is the effect felt more acutely than in Baltimore, where former Browns GM Sashi Brown, fired by Jimmy Haslam III in 2017, is in his first season as president of the Baltimore Ravens.

The number one issue facing the Ravens franchise is the long-term resolution of the quarterback situation, where Lamar Jackson remains unsigned to a multi-year deal. Now, two major changes have occurred that directly affect Baltimore and they both involve JH3.

It may be presumptuous to give Haslam too much credit (or blame) for signing Watson, but the sign-at-all-costs method sounds like something that JH3 would concoct, rather than the Ivy League salary cap manipulator, Andrew Berry. Yes, Berry wanted a new quarterback for the team, but this writer believes that JH3 is the one who handed Watson’s agent a blank check and told him to fill it out.

And definitely, Dee Haslam has veto power as CEO of Haslam Sports Group but she did not exercise it. Nevertheless, there is very little question that JH3 went for this deal hook, line, sinker, rod, reel, boat, and anchor.

Haslam is definitely the guy who fired Sashi Brown, after giving up on Brown’s rebuilding program two years into a five-year plan. Among his misdeeds were unnecessarily cutting Joe Haden, and botching (possibly deliberately) a deal for A.J. McCarron, which JH3 wanted to broker to make Hue Jackson stop whining.

Brown did trade away Josh McCown in order to force Hue to play youngsters Cody Kessler or DeShone Kizer, and perhaps Hue had a point there. However, no way should JH3 have been making trades of second-round draft picks for A.J. McCarron.

Anyway, after leaving Cleveland, Brown was an administrator for a few years for Monumental Basketball, which owns the Washington Wizards, and now he is back in the NFL with Baltimore, which is just down the road a piece from Washington. Hence if Haslam had not fired Sashi Brown, he would not have been available for Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti to hire.

Both moves may very well impact the long-term future of Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. They may well take the opposite tack of the Browns, who this season reversed their strategy of careful cap management and now have mortgaged their future to the most expensive contract in NFL history, in terms of average value over the next four years.

Would the frugal Brown allow his new team to sign what might be the largest deal in Ravens history on his watch? Maybe, but it had better be consistent with historical data to back it up, and right now NFL quarterback salaries are not there yet.

The upshot is that Brown, together with present Ravens GM Eric DeCosta, may not want to buy into a huge investment in a dual-threat quarterback, even one with the immense stature of Lamar Jackson, who many observers including this one are calling the greatest dual-threat signal-caller in NFL history. The Ravens may be one of the few teams willing to buck the recent trend of overpaying quarterbacks.

At some point, some NFL team is going to decide that their quarterback is not worth the money and they are better off investing in defense and other phases of the game. That team could be the Baltimore Ravens and Sashi Brown — the guy fired by Jimmy Haslam — could be the catalyst to help them make that decision.

But first, let’s review the process that brought Jackson to the Ravens. Recall that for years the Ravens drafted well thanks in no small measure to the genius of Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, who turned out to be a Hall of Fame general manager too.

The last draft he oversaw was the 2018 draft in which he selected Lamar Jackson as the last first-round pick in the same draft in which the Browns selected Baker Mayfield first overall. Who drafted better? Well, probably the Ravens. Oz killed us every year, as the rest of the NFL always screwed up and let him have just the player he needed, it seemed. 2018 was the year 31 teams forgot to draft Lamar Jackson.

So, Oz and coach John Harbaugh laid out a long-term plan for a run-first offense, similar in some respects to the current Stefanski offense used by the Browns. The Ravens were going to invest in offensive linemen, tight ends, and running backs galore, and not overspend on wide receivers.

With Jackson calling the shots, he became league MVP and the Ravens led the NFL in rushing, with everyone including the waterboy running the ball. The Ravens rolled up over 3,000 yards rushing in both 2019 and 2020, which is completely insane.

It wasn’t just Jackson either. They gave carries to running backs Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, and J.K. Dobbins, and they all ran behind 300-pound mastodon fullback Patrick Ricard. They had a plan.

Meanwhile, Sashi Brown oversaw the draconian Cleveland rebuilding process of 2016 and 2017 in which he accumulated a massive amount of salary cap and draft picks in a short amount of time. This kind of drastic operation is not going to be repeated in Baltimore.

However, if a major move like re-signing the star quarterback does not make financial sense — and many observers doubt whether the Watson deal and other recent NFL quarterback contracts make long-term financial sense — the Ravens’ brain trust may not pull the trigger.

DeCosta will be the person directly responsible for handling the negotiations with Jackson, but it will help to have Brown on his side. Brown has the reputation as a ruthless cap manager. Just as the Browns’ Andrew Berry faced criticism for not re-signing Baker Mayfield, there will be even greater pressure on DeCosta to re-sign a former League MVP. Sashi Brown’s presence and backing could strengthen DeCosta’s negotiating position significantly.

Moreover, there are definite signs that the Browns’ greatest rival is re-tooling their offense for a more conventional pass-oriented offense, rather than the run-first style that has characterized the Jackson era.

A classic case was swapping grumpy Pro Bowler Orlando Brown, Jr. for draft picks, while signing ancient free agent tackle Alejandro Villanueva from the Steelers to replace Brown. The Ravens drafted two wide receivers in the first round in Marquise Brown in 2019 and Rashod Bateman last season. They also drafted Devin Duvernay (2020) and Myles Boykin (2019) as third-round picks. James Proche was selected in the sixth round (2020); and Tylan Wallace was a fourth-rounder in 2021. So the Ravens seem to be gearing up for a long-ball passing offense, Lamar Jackson or not.

That doesn’t prove that the Ravens are getting ready to jettison Jackson, but it does tell us that the Ravens are moving towards a passing offense, rather than the offense that emphasized the tight ends and running backs of a few years ago. That’s probably not a bad thing for the Browns, because the Ravens of 2019-2020 seemed to be pretty much unstoppable. That offense was not broke, so if you purple birdies want to overhaul it, go right ahead.

The Ravens were among the most injured teams last season, with key injuries to all of its running backs as well as Pro Bowl tackle Ronnie Stanley. Jackson responded by throwing more passes than ever before, and increasing his passing yardage output, though his INTs also increased.

It’s debatable whether he can develop into a passer at the same level as, say, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, or Deshaun Watson, but he probably wants to get paid at that level. That pay level has escalated in the last few years and the trend is for NFL teams to promise much higher numbers in the near future, Watson being a case in point.