BALTIMORE — I’m a middle school teacher in Baltimore City. I like it. It’s hard, really hard, but I like it. A lot.

One of my favorite things about the job is hyping my kids up. 

This essay is great – you’re a really strong writer! 

Let’s start talking about college options now! 

You wanna be a chef? Me too!

I felt really bad on Friday when I accidentally did the exact opposite of that.

Two days before the Ravens’ Wild Card appearance in Cincinnati, they let the students dress out of uniform and wear some Ravens gear in support of their hometown team. Purple Friday. It’s an opportunity for some kids to show their love for their favorite team, while the kids who like the Chiefs (because Patrick Mahomes) get a chance to do a little extra smack talk.

One of my students came in with his Lamar Jackson jersey on. I’m not sure what Little Mahomes said to spark the response, “I don’t care what you have to say, I want to be just like Lamar Jackson.”

I could’ve said anything productive and optimistic. Any number of clichés middle school teachers have in their back pocket: You can do anything you want or Keep practicing and you will or student-athlete starts with “student.”

I didn’t say any of those things. Instead, the following spilled out of my mouth before I got a chance to stop it:

What – you want to miss the last six games of every season?

Harsh, and completely unnecessary. But not without an unfortunate tinge of truth. 

Perhaps I just spent the entire season on edge, as I selected Lamar with my first pick of our Bleacher Brawls Fantasy League. I was riding high for a while. I sat at Jimmy’s in my Action Jackson shirt during Week 3, my throat becoming a waterfall for unlimited draft beer, and watched Lamar make mincemeat of the Patriots, scoring over 48 fantasy points.

I knew it! He’s gonna give me this every week! Lamar has this kinda potential and this is the season! He’s got game that could only be rivaled by Michael Vick in Madden 04!

He was never a Top 5 Fantasy QB again. He was only a Top 10 QB three times. And he played his final game on December 4th, exiting after only 10 snaps.

In 2021, he played his final game on December 12th, exiting after only 10 snaps. 

We don’t need to talk about how he’s a running QB who’s been taken out by ankle and knee injuries in successive years – anyone who watched Donovan McNabb’s years in Philly understood the trapeze-act-without-a-net that this could become. I have no opinion on the “just put a brace on it” debate, as I’m neither a medical professional nor an NFL-caliber QB (I should’ve tried to be one of those two things, right?). However, I do have two eyes and a brain between my ears, so I knew that the Ravens didn’t stand a chance on Sunday night. Backup QB Tyler Huntley (who has played 13 games in the past two seasons compared to Lamar’s 24) tried his very damndest, even logging a career game, but it just wasn’t in the cards. It never was.

Where was Lamar? In the booth with a headset on? Ya know, leading his team? Nope. Didn’t travel with the team. Sick, reportedly. He’s starting to look like the guy on the Operation box. 

This is all of particular importance this year, of course, because of Lamar’s impending contract situation. He’s an unrestricted free agent who hasn’t played a football game in January since his only playoff win following his MVP season. A free agent who wants a lot of money … guaranteed money. A potential franchise face for a long time who won’t show his face in Cincinnati when he could be there supporting his team. 

So how do you solve a problem like Lamar Jackson?

There are, of course, only three ways to go.

1 – Cut bait and call it a day. This would anger an unbelievable amount of people. First, the team. JK Dobbins said Sunday evening after the game, “If we had Lamar, we would have won, too.” (If I were Tyler Huntley and I heard that…well, he’s a better man than me.) Mark Andrews said, “That’s my guy. I have nothing but love and respect for No. 8 as a person, as a player, and as a friend. I love the guy, so I hope he’s back.” 

Then, there are the fans that want him back. This is a Heisman winner who was a unanimous MVP in his sophomore effort, his first full season as a starter. This is the guy who goes to elementary schools and reads books to little kids before giving them away (he came to mine). This is a guy who people believe does things the right way. I’m always skeptical of the “athlete as community ambassador” trope, but I do see with my own two eyes every day that people love Lamar. They love him deeply and feel as though he represents them and their city. I drive by a Lamar mural on my way to work. Moving on to Derek Carr would not be an easy transition.

2 – Franchise tag him. This is basically inevitable, right? Lamar, representing himself in contract negotiations, (sidenote: that’s like…dumb…right? Just because it worked for Vin Diesel in that movie where he had hair doesn’t make it a good idea. In fact, reread that sentence and tell me it’s not an obviously bad idea,) turned down a contract extension at the beginning of the season that was reportedly worth close to 250 smacks because it wasn’t fully guaranteed. If the Browns were stupid enough to give a guaranteed contract to Deshaun Watson, then why not me? is a dumb question for countless reasons. But Watson did set the market, and that’s what Lamar wanted.

Taking after one Aaron Judge, he bet on himself and decided to play his ass off this year to earn that contract. Everyone thought it was inevitable after his Week 3 performance. I did too. But then I watched my fantasy team lose eight straight to end the season as Sam Darnold became my saving grace and I couldn’t help but wonder – If I don’t trust Lamar on my FAKE team, how do the Ravens risk that 250? Franchise tagging him would inevitably piss him off, but it would stall for time as they either try to get him to play one more season (unlikely, but perhaps he would like to try that betting on himself thing again), sign another deal during their exclusive period, or find a trade partner. 

3 – Give him the contract. Putting $250 mil on the line while asking the state taxpayers for $600 mil of stadium upgrades is a risk/reward that would rival the Russian Roulette scene in The Deer Hunter. I understand that those are two different types of money that work in totally different ways, but it shows that this is no small amount of money we’re talking about. And Lamar wants it. He feels as though his services cost that much. It’s hard to disagree when he sets multiple NFL records every week. Or eats up Mac Jones like he did in Week 3. 

But then again, Derek Carr can beat Mac Jones. Carr, who was benched in Week 16, yet still played more games this season than Lamar after 91 consecutive starts for the Raiders. It probably seems like I’m advocating for Carr. I’m most definitely not – but the QB in limbo with similar money on the line is low-hanging fruit for this columnist on a deadline.

Lamar can be better than Derek Carr could ever be.

If he can stay on the field.

If he can protect his legs.

If he can use some of that $250 mil on Mucinex.

If he can show up in Cincinnati even if he’s inactive, to serve as another offensive coordinator.

They’ll need one after they fire Greg Roman. That one’s not up for debate. 

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