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Ravens' Pick of Jackson Raises Big Question: Why?


Budding journalists are taught that at the heart of every news story are six questions to be answered: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

The Ravens’ drafting of quarterback Lamar Jackson last Thursday answers four of those six, the who, the what, the when and the where pretty easily.

The how of Jackson’s selection is fairly interesting. The Ravens came into the draft possessing the 16th overall pick in the first round.

While there were rumors that the team would use that pick to take Jackson, general manager Ozzie Newsome and his crew kept their intentionsclose to the vest.

On draft night, Newsome traded that 16th pick to Buffalo along with a fifth-round selection for a first-round choice six slots lower and a third-round pick.

But that wheeling and dealing wasn’t enough for Newsome, who dealt that 22nd overall choice and a sixth-round draft pick to Tennessee for their choice, the 25th overall and a fourth-round pick.

The Ravens actually used the 25th pick they obtained from the Titans, not to get Jackson, but instead to tap a tight end, Hayden Hurst, from the University of South Carolina.

Newsome, who has announced that he will retire after the season following 22 years at the helm, apparently wanted to get the most of his last draft night.

He made a deal with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles for the final pick of the first round, No. 32 overall, in exchange for second round picks this year and next.

Newsome turned that deal into Jackson, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, who left college after his junior season at Louisville.

Jackson was believed to be the most physically gifted of the five quarterbacks who were taken in the first-round last week, but he was the last of the five to go.

That’s due, in part, presumably because his great speed makes him a better candidate for wide receiver, in the eyes of some, but not Jackson, who is adamant that he will be a successful NFL quarterback.

And that leads to the why? Why would the Ravens, who have Joe Flacco seemingly ensconced as the starting quarterback, go for such an unproven commodity?

The theory in some corners is that Jackson is being groomed to succeed Flacco, who has four years to go on a mammoth contract. The question is how soon.

While Flacco’s contract has a considerable period to run, his guaranteed money runs out after this season, meaning the Ravens could release him next year without sustaining a significant hit to their salary cap.

If the Ravens don’t make the playoffs this season, which would be a fourth failure in five years, Flacco and coach John Harbaugh would almost certainly draw the lion’s share of blame from fans, perhaps paving the way for a new coach and Jackson as quarterback.

There are some in the African-American community who wonder if the Ravens selected Jackson, who is black, as well as signing former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is also black, as a mea culpa of sorts for failing to sign Colin Kaepernick.

Frankly, the team and Newsome, who is also African-American, deserve better than that. But Lamar Jackson’s play will likely be the only thing that will thoroughly answer why.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.