PHOENIX — It was a Hail Mary question at the end of an informal media gaggle with Robert Kraft at the NFL owners meetings, and it wasn’t expected to land. But what the heck, it was worth asking just to see what happens:
Lamar Jackson requested a trade today. A lot of fans back home are clamoring for him. What do you think, will the Patriots make a run?
Unbelievably, the Hail Mary connected.
“You know, Meek Mill is my friend,” Kraft responded, referencing the popular rap artist. “He texted me saying that Lamar Jackson wanted to come here. But that’s Bill [Belichick]’s decision.”
Jackson and the Ravens have made no progress on a long-term contract extension after they gave him the franchise tag this month. Jackson’s trade request was the biggest news of the day, and Kraft set the Internet ablaze with his revelation. That Kraft didn’t just dismiss the question created all kinds of buzz among Patriots fans.
After a disappointing 8-9 season in which Mac Jones took a big step back, could the Patriots really swap out Jones and sign or trade for Jackson, one of the most electric dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL?
It’s fascinating to envision Jackson, a 26-year-old former MVP, in a Patriots uniform for the next decade. In a vacuum, Jackson is a clear upgrade over Jones. Jackson and the Patriots would be the hottest ticket in town.
Just don’t count on it. Sorry.
First of all, let’s go to Belichick, as Kraft said it’s his decision.
“I’m not going to talk about players on any other team,” Belichick said tersely Monday morning.
OK, so Belichick won’t tip his hand. But Belichick already passed on Jackson twice — drafting Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel ahead of Jackson in 2018. And new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has never worked with a run-first quarterback such as Jackson. He has almost exclusively coached tall, strong-armed, pocket quarterbacks.
Now let’s consider it from Kraft’s angle — because no team is acquiring Jackson without the thumb’s up from the owner.
Jackson won’t come cheaply. The Patriots would have to give up two first-round picks to the Ravens to sign Jackson off his non-exclusive franchise tag. A tag-and-trade situation could end up costing even more picks. And Jackson has been driving a hard line with his contract, seeking a similar deal to the five-year, $230 million, fully guaranteed deal Deshaun Watson got from the Browns.
You know what does come cheaply? The Patriots’ entire quarterback room. Jones is on the books for $2.08 million this year. Bailey Zappe will make a league-minimum $870,000.
That’s less than $3 million combined for the Patriots’ QBs. And we expect Kraft and the Patriots to instead spend $200 million on a quarterback?
That’s not, as they say, good business.
There’s no question Jackson is a better quarterback than Jones. But he’s not $198-million-and-two-first-round-picks better. With Jones and Zappe coming so cheaply in 2023, it’s worth seeing if the Patriots can use those other funds to build up the team around Jones.
As fun as Kraft’s comments were about Jackson, his comments about Jones were also telling. Kraft didn’t blame Jones for his disappointing 2022 season, but blames Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia.
“I’m a big fan of Mac,” Kraft said. “I think that we experimented with some things last year that frankly didn’t work when it came to him, in my opinion. I think we’ve made changes that put him in a good position to excel.”
It’s not just the hefty price tag that is keeping teams away from Jackson. No team would bat an eye overpaying Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen $200 million. But Jackson has given teams reason to pause.
The Ravens, who have gone 45-16 with Jackson as their starter in five years and been to the playoffs three times, haven’t been willing to pay Jackson anywhere close to what he is seeking. That is telling.
There are durability concerns after Jackson has gotten hurt in each of the past two seasons. There are questions about his abilities as a pocket passer, and whether he can play from behind, or win in the playoffs (1-3 record). There are questions about his commitment level after he sat out of last year’s playoff loss with an injury that was expected to be healed by then.
Jackson hasn’t helped himself, either, by relying on business partners and acquaintances to negotiate for him, not a certified agent. The NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams last week directing them not to negotiate with Ken Francis, Jackson’s business partner. Apparently Meek Mill is working for Jackson, too. Clearly, Jackson’s friends haven’t gotten very far, since Jackson is available in free agency and no team seems willing to bite.
Kraft’s revelation felt like a Mad Lib come to life: Meek Mill says Lamar Jackson wants to be a Patriot. What a sentence. What a fun scenario to dream about.
Just don’t hold your breath.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.