The ink wasn’t even dry yet on the post mortems being written about the Baltimore Ravens when the perennial AFC contenders started making big changes that spell out their expectations for quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In the process, they made the unusual move of bidding farewell to a pair of Heisman Trophy winners just hours apart.
The Baltimore Ravens make a salary-cap move at running back
A team with a dual-threat QB scarcely needs two alpha-type running backs over the course of a 16-game season, but the Baltimore Ravens went through the season with three of them.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson logged a team-best 1,005 yards on the ground in 15 games. Behind him were running backs J.K. Dobbins (805), the promising rookie from Ohio State, and Gus Edwards (723), under-utilized in three seasons while establishing himself as a reliable 700-yards-a-year guy.
Bringing up the rear was Mark Ingram Jr. A first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2011 after winning the Heisman at Alabama in 2009, Ingram chalked up 1,000-yard years in three of the past four seasons. However, this season saw Ingram carry just 72 times for a career-low 299 yards.
With Ingram weighing $5 million against the salary cap next season, the Ravens notified the veteran back of his impending release on Monday, two days after the 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills n the AFC playoffs. Ingram was a healthy scratch in four of the past five games as Baltimore did not want to risk an injury that could have carried a financial obligation into the 2021 league calendar year.
Lamar Jackson’s trusted back-up is gone, too
Before the dynamic Lamar Jackson arrived in the NFL three years ago, Robert Griffin III was a prototype of the new-era NFL quarterback. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor threw for 3,200 yards in each of his first two seasons for the Washington Redskins and ran for more than 1,300 over his first 28 games.
A torn-up knee derailed his career, and Griffin missed all of the 2015 and 2017 seasons. He spent the past three years with the Ravens as backup equipment for Jackson, starting a pair of games but otherwise playing sparingly.
The Ravens announced Monday that they waived RG3 and signed Tyler Huntley to a futures contract. Huntley, an undrafted rookie out of Utah, played the fourth quarter of the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills after Jackson left with a concussion. He went 6-for-13 for 60 yards but also carried three times for 32 yards.
The Baltimore Ravens are Lamar Jackson’s team now
Robert Griffin III was the NFL veteran quarterback that the Baltimore Ravens needed to show Lamar Jackson the ropes in his first two seasons. Very much respected by his peers, he made a modest $2.5 million this year and scheduled to become a free agent in the spring. It’s money the Ravens will spend elsewhere in 2021.
Mark Ingram was more than just a running back. He was a big personality in the locker room, a mentor to young players, and a high-energy guy who could pump up the sideline. He’s considered a “young” 31 years old because he only once totaled more than 255 rushes and receptions in a season, so someone will want him for the 2021 season.
As for the Ravens, releasing Griffin and Ingram holds deeper meaning than just clearing salary from the books. Lamar Jackson had already become a leader by example by ringing up almost 10,000 yards of total offense in his three seasons. Now, he leads – period.
Critics point to Jackson possessing just a 1-3 record as a playoff starter, but his dual-threat talent a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. The Ravens are delivering a message that he is their guy for 2021 and beyond. He no longer needs a veteran with him in the quarterback room, and he has earned the right to be the strongest voice in the locker room.
The Ravens are telling Jackson they want him out front in all aspects in bringing the franchise back to its first Super Bowl since the 2012 season.