The Baltimore Ravens and Washington Football Team are relying on young, Black quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson and Dwayne Haskins Jr. to carry their teams through a successful season. (Courtesy of AP News)
By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Black quarterbacks matter this season if the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Football Team are to take the next steps forward. The Ravens have a generational talent who needs a playoff game win to validate his 2019 Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Meanwhile, Washington takes the bubble wrap off their number two draft pick from 2019 in hopes he can resurrect the franchise.
Baltimore has built its franchise around Lamar Jackson, making the Ravens one of the most attractive teams throughout the league. Jackson and the Ravens are on national television five times in 16 weeks and his 94 Madden 21 video game status means he is as big to the NFL’s brand as he is to their championship hopes.
Jackson would be the face of the NFL right now if it were not for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win in 50 years last February. The virtuoso’s regular season only personified how his athleticism is a blessing and a curse. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes for 3,127 yards in 2019 with 36 touchdowns, but that was dwarfed by his 1,207 yards rushing, the most in NFL history for a quarterback.
His critics remain convinced that the Ravens will be a better team when he learns to play from the pocket. The convoluted argument that he runs too much to be a championship quarterback continues despite the league’s penchant for drafting field generals who are built to extend plays with their legs as defenses get faster all over the field.
But this is a “show me” season for Jackson. There is undeniable proof that he brings eyeballs to the TV, he can win regular season games and is the face of the Baltimore franchise. However, this was the case with Joe Flacco, delivering in January is what will define him moving forward. Another transcendent individual season without a playoff victory will create a chorus of doubts regarding his ability to win a championship ringing from local sports talk to national TV.
Washington’s fate is tied to Dwayne Haskins, who was named the starter at the most important position in the District. His development was stunted last year because the deposed former coach, Jay Gruden, never gave him a fair shot. Haskins is not the dynamic playmaker that Jackson is, but Baltimore’s quarterback is not the pure passer that he is either.
Haskins gets to play with house money this year. First year Head Coach Ron Rivera gave him the starter’s job and he’s tied to the new offensive coordinator Scott Turner. Without the benefit of a conventional offseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Haskins has built in reasons to justify wherever he falls short.
Few NFL analysts doubt Haskins ability to make every pass he needs to, but there are questions about his supporting cast. There is no clearly defined number one receiver and Washington is hoping for a receiving tight end to emerge as their security blanket in the passing game. Washington cut both starting running backs who opened the 2019 season and will rely on a rookie, Antonio Gibson, and second year prospect Bryce Love, who was a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2018 before a knee injury ended his career, to carry that load.
Then there’s the ongoing controversy surrounding the team’s owner Daniel M. Snyder, who has been the monarch of a franchise which has disintegrated from being one of the NFL’s elite organizations to one that has become a civic embarrassment. The team is under investigation for sexual harassment with a simmering debate whether Snyder should sell or whether the NFL should strip the franchise from him despite hiring the first Black president in league history.
As NFL kickoff 2020 begins, the long term fate of the Baltimore and Washington franchises are directly tied to the success of two young, gifted and Black quarterbacks. Jackson has proven he is a winner and a leader, while Haskins looks to prove he is ready to lead.