Opinion: Ravens’ Lamar Jackson avoids money talk. He’s all about mechanics and the deep ball.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of these days, Lamar Jackson will sign a new mega-contract — next week, next month, next year? — that I’m thinking will at least put him in the Patrick Mahomes neighborhood and given the NFL inflation rate, surely break another Ravens record. If not the bank.

Jackson, 24, knows it’s coming. But as Baltimore completed minicamp on Wednesday, the face of the franchise was in no mood to draw any line in the sand, issue any ultimatums or even float trial balloons. Jackson serves as his own agent, which can be tricky enough, but this is not a guy eager to put his business out on the street.

I mean, when I asked whether he’s been vaccinated for COVID-19, he hemmed and hawed, and left the item dangling.

Lamar Jackson has been working on his mechanics in the pocket this offseason. (Photo: Scott Taetsch, USA TODAY Sports)

“Well, just like everyone in society, it’s their decision — keeping that to themselves,” he said.

Surely, the same goes for his contract demands. The closest he came to talking money was when he giggled about the nickname attached to Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, whom they call “EDC.”

“I hope he’s not mad at it, because that’s a good name, I feel,” Jackson said during his post-practice Zoom conference. “ ‘Every Dollar Counts’ — that’s hard.”

You’d think that Jackson, heading into his fourth NFL season, would prefer to have the business of counting his new dollars on a new mega-deal wrapped up before training camp, and surely by the start of the regular season. Yet when asked point-blank about it, he didn’t blink about his bottom line. Instead, he juked a would-be tackler in the hole and bolted to the open field with his bottom line.

“You know, I’m not going to lie to you; I’m not really focused on that right now,” Jackson said. “I’m focused on getting a Super Bowl here.”

Jackson, with a 2019 NFL MVP award on his resume, finally won his first playoff game last season. But it ended in a mess at Buffalo. He threw a game-swinging interception in the red zone, then was knocked out of the AFC divisional playoff with a concussion.

No, as much as the Super Bowl vision begins and ends with the flashy, multi-threat quarterback, it is never all on the quarterback. EDC made significant offseason moves to that end, bolstering Jackson’s supporting cast. The Ravens upgraded the receiving corps with free agent signee Sammy Watkins and first-round pick Rashod Bateman. They swung hard with the O-line makeover in adding Alejandro Villanueva and Kevin Zeitler.

Yet Jackson is under pressure, too, which is probably a good thing. As brilliant as he’s been since blowing up the expectations of many (hello, Bill Polian) since coming on the NFL scene as the final first-round selection in 2018, Jackson must take his game higher as other AFC heavyweights lurk.

Mahomes will have the Chiefs in the Super Bowl race again. Josh Allen fuels Buffalo’s hopes. The Titans have provided Ryan Tannehill with another major weapon in Julio Jones. And in the A-North, Baker Mayfield and the Browns aim to build on the momentum of a playoff season … while aging Ben Roethlisberger and his Steelers can hardly be counted out.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh talked about “legacy” when someone asked about Jackson’s contract talks. Sure, Jackson is way too young to be consumed by how he will ultimately be remembered. But he’s old enough to know that such talk is defined by performance.

“Man, I don’t know how close I am to my legacy,” he said. “I don’t know how far I am. Like I said, I’m always going to stress this until I get one. I’m trying to win a Super Bowl. MVPs and stuff like that, having winning records and stuff, that’s cool, but I want to bring a Lombardi (Trophy) here myself. Everybody else got one.”

(Well, not everybody. But don’t stop him. He’s on a roll).

“The quarterback before me had one — Joe (Flacco), he did a great job with the team,” Jackson said. “He won one. So I want to come in and win one, so I can feel accomplished and be like, ‘OK, we did that! I won one. My teammates, we stepped it up. We did what we were supposed to do.’ Then I can sit back when I have grandkids and stuff and be like, ‘Yes, we did that,’ and talk my trash like ‘old heads’ do — talk my trash to the young generation (about) what we did.”

Take it from an “old head:” It was refreshing to hear Jackson flash-forward to the rocking chair.

It was also refreshing that he mentioned Flacco, who became stuck in the mud with the Ravens in contract talks and then famously “bet on himself” and wound up winning a Super Bowl. He forced the franchise to keep him with a then-record contract the following year. Maybe Jackson will up the ante, too, by winning big.

The deep ball

But first things first. An offseason priority, Jackson said, has been to improve mechanics in the pocket, from which the dots might be connected to more consistency in the deep passing game that has been so hit-or-miss during his first three seasons.

“That’s a big emphasis for me — just working on my footwork, making sure I stay open so the ball can drive,” he said. “So I can put a tight spiral on the ball.”

It sure looked on-point during one sequence on Wednesday, when Jackson dropped a beautiful dime on a deep sideline throw to Watkins, who beat Marlon Humphrey’s single coverage to haul in what would’ve been a 65-yard touchdown catch-and-run. On the next snap, Jackson hit tight end Mark Andrews with a bullet on a deep seam route. Yes, the chemistry with new and old targets alike flowed.

It left Harbaugh to marvel, “Today was fun for you guys (in the media) to see it, and today was a good day. There were a lot of really good, on-time throws against a lot of pressure. They were bringing a lot of heat and Lamar and the receivers, I thought, were handling it well.”

Harbaugh knows, just like Jackson. It’s about consistency. “We’ll know for sure when the games start getting played,” the coach said.

After all, on Tuesday, Jackson wasn’t as sharp in throwing four interceptions during team drills. On Wednesday, though, the deep ball sparkled.

“We had some chances last year,” Jackson said of the deep passing attack. “We hit some of them, but we’re just trying to be more consistent this year, and that’s where the strides happen."

The pandemic factor

Jackson’s numbers slipped last season, but stats — including a 26-9 TD-to-INT ratio in 2020, compared to a 36-6 ratio during the MVP year — don’t tell the whole story. The pandemic factor certainly stung the Ravens worse than most teams. Remember that thrice-postponed game against the Steelers, which included Jackson sitting out while on the COVID-19 list as the team was whipsawed by an outbreak? Jackson rebounded to lead a remarkable Monday night comeback win at Cleveland (there’s a legacy game for you) and led Baltimore to a playoff win after going 0 for 2 during the previous Januarys. 

As normalcy creeps back, Harbaugh hopes the full offseason has allowed Jackson to make up for the reps lost last year.

“Not having the last offseason really limited us,” Harbaugh said. “Having this time is really invaluable to him and us.”

And ultimately, it may all be reflected at the bank, too.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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