Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins suggested Friday Lamar Jackson's ongoing absence because of injury issues and his contract status are connected in some way.
Speaking to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Watkins implied Jackson would attempt to play in Sunday's AFC Wild Card Game against the Cincinnati Bengals if he had a long-term deal secured:
"I think the world is ready to see Lamar back on the field, doing what he do best, and get all the stipulations and contract stuff behind him. I pray somebody talks to him like, 'Man, just sign the deal.' You know what I mean? And he get out there and hopefully, if ... he's healthy, he can just come play this Sunday. We all know that's up to Lamar and whatever goes on. Hopefully, they get something done. The world wants to see Lamar be a Baltimore Raven for the rest of his life. ... [T]he world wants to watch Lamar Jackson. That's a phenom talent, a talent that you rarely come by. Things that he do on the field and things that you see, to be quite honest when he's out there, he makes everybody play better, just to have him in that huddle. I pray that somebody reach out to him or that he's really truly getting healthy and can play, that he wake up Thursday and be like, 'All right, forget it. I'm playing.' I think that would change the whole trajectory of our season."
Amid ongoing speculation about his injury status, Jackson wrote on Twitter his knee "remains unstable" with inflammation around it and he wouldn't be able to play this week.
It's worth noting that Watkins' comments were made Wednesday, before Jackson publicly addressed his injury status.
But it speaks to the bigger issue of the lack of transparency around the 2019 NFL MVP's availability. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Jackson suffered a PCL sprain in a Dec. 4 win over the Denver Broncos.
Following the Broncos game, head coach John Harbaugh told reporters that Jackson's injury would keep him out "days to weeks" but it wasn't season-ending.
With each passing week, Harbaugh has gotten vaguer when updating Jackson's status.
Asked on Dec. 12 about the possibility of Jackson playing in Week 15, Harbaugh defaulted to "I don't know." One week later he seemed almost annoyed at having to answer questions about his star quarterback's injury.
"I knew you were going to ask that, or somebody was," Harbaugh said. "There are probably a couple other injury questions coming up, and I think I'm going to climb behind the barricade of it's probably not the time to put a lot of information out there on our injuries, just for competitive purposes. So, we're just going to let that develop and see where we go with it and not try to walk the tight rope of what we say."
Jackson hasn't practiced in any capacity since the injury happened. He is playing out the final season of his rookie contract after being unable to agree to an extension before his self-imposed Week 1 deadline.
On Sept. 10, Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post reported the Ravens' "refusal" to offer Jackson a fully-guaranteed contract resulted in their failed extension talks.
Per ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Jackson rejected a six-year extension that included $133 million guaranteed and could have been worth more than $290 million total.
Jackson's reported desire for a fully-guaranteed contract came following the Cleveland Browns guaranteeing a $230 million deal over five years for Deshaun Watson to get him to accept a trade from the Houston Texans.
This is the second consecutive season that Jackson has suffered an injury that kept him out for an extended period of time. The two-time Pro Bowler missed the final five games of the 2021 season because of a bone bruise in his ankle.
The Ravens missed the playoffs last season after losing six consecutive games following an 8-3 start. They were able to make the postseason this year but limped to the finish line with three losses in their last four games.