How James Harris paved the way for Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson

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During pro football’s 100th season, I’ll re-visit important games, plays, players and events from NFL history.

1969: James Harris becomes the first African-American to open a pro season as starting quarterback

Fifty years ago, Harris, an eighth-round rookie from Grambling who played under legendary coach Eddie Robinson, entered Bills training camp seventh on the quarterback depth chart in Buffalo. The previous year, Denver’s Marlon Briscoe became the first black starting quarterback in a pro game, but not at the start of a season. Harris, after the AFL-NFL merger a year later, became the first black quarterback to start an NFL season, in Buffalo in 1971.

We spoke not only about winning the Bills job a half-century ago, but also about how he feels now, seeing African-Americans Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson at the front of the class for the league MVP 50 years later.

“When I got drafted in the eighth round by the Bills, I figured I wasn’t going to play. I figured if I was a first or second-rounder, I’d have a real chance … but eighth? I didn’t really see the chance. But I decided to go and take my chance. Coach Robinson said, ‘If you go, don’t expect it to be fair. You’ll have to be better.’ So I figured, the only way to make it would be out-throw everybody, and come in totally prepared. I threw so many that summer. Maybe 50 deep outs a day. I was ready when I got to camp, because I didn’t feel I could have a bad day.

“The hardest thing for me, being from Monroe, La., and going to Grambling, was I never really talked to white people. And here I was, in a huddle with them. If I could just get to the passing part of it, I knew I’d be fine. But I get in the huddle and call the play, and all my linemen were white. That adjustment was tough. My first call, I call the play to both sides of the huddle, and I’m not looking at anyone, just saying the play. They said, “WHAT?” And I had to repeat it. That wasn’t easy for me. You’re fighting a lot of things people said about black quarterbacks at the time—we couldn’t lead, weren’t smart enough, worried about our character.

“The competition was rough. Jack Kemp, Tom Flores, Dan Darragh, Kay Stephenson—all established guys. I felt like I was fighting for a job every day. Every day, at 6 the next morning, they were knocking on the doors [in the players’ dorm]. Every day it could have been me. Training camp was long in those days—it started right after the Fourth of July. So every day, you wake up, lay in bed, and you hear the knocks. My room was in the middle of the hall. So you hear the knocks starting on one end and going down the hall. You’re just hoping, Skip my door. And they did—every day. Actually, one day they did knock, and I thought that was it. Turned out it was for my roommate. I got named the starter.

“First game was against Joe Namath, coming off the Super Bowl. It was in Buffalo. I’d been through quite a bit of fanfare already—people coming to the hotels, wanting to meet me, coming to the stadium early to see me. That day, I’ll always remember Joe walking across the field to find me and shake my hand, wish me luck. I appreciated that.”

Harris became the first black quarterback to start in the NFL for three franchises: the Bills (1971), Rams (1974) and Chargers (1977). In ‘74, playing for the Rams, he won a playoff game and made the Pro Bowl. He became a long-time scout and personnel official for several teams. Now 72 and living in Florida, Williams is thoughtful about the state of quarterbacking. I thought when I called him to talk about what happened 50 years ago, he might talk about how his career helped pave the way for black quarterbacks. But instead he said: “I can’t help but think about all the guys who didn’t get the chance. I mean, there were black quarterbacks who were really good back then—not just marginal guys who could make a roster, but good quarterbacks who could have started in the NFL for a long time if they got a fair shot.

“Marlon Briscoe was like Russell Wilson is today—he could have been every bit the player Russell is. Eldridge Dickey of Tennessee State [first-round pick by the Raiders in 1968 who got moved to wide receiver in his first training camp] was one of the best quarterbacks I ever saw. Could have been a lot like Steve McNair, only faster. David Mays of Texas Southern, Matthew Reed who followed me at Grambling—best high school quarterback I have ever seen, Parnell Dickinson from Mississippi Valley State, Roy Curry of Jackson State, Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam … all could have been NFL quarterbacks. All of them.

“When Doug Williams had the great Super Bowl he did [Williams threw for four touchdowns and was the Super Bowl 22 MVP], that impacted the next group of black quarterbacks. It was huge—he did it on the biggest stage. Then Warren Moon, playing well enough to make the Hall of Fame.”

I asked: “What does it mean to you that Wilson, Jackson and Watson might be 1-2-3 for MVP right now, and Mahomes might be in the running before the end of the year?”

“It proves only one thing,” said one of the singular figures in black quarterback history. “That it’s always been about opportunity.

“The black quarterback didn’t just come of age recently. We didn’t have the opportunity. As I’ve traveled around playing, scouting, meeting players, it’s always touched me: These guys, so many guys, didn’t get a chance to play because they were black. And I think, That could have been me. We all grew up, we dreamed of playing football, playing quarterback, and in the end, the dream became a nightmare for so many. Today, the dream is realistic. The dream can be fulfilled.”

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here

Lamar Jackson continues to exceed expectations while betting on himself this season

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson took the ultimate chance and is betting on himself this NFL season. After failing to reach an agreement with the Ravens on a long-term extension, the Pompano Beach, Florida native, who went 32nd overall in the 2018 draft, is currently playing on the $23 million 5th-year option of his rookie contract.

Jackson reportedly turned down a 5-year offer worth roughly $250 million, with $133 million guaranteed — something many were not surprised by because Deshaun Jackson’s contract, signed this summer, changed the goalposts for QB contracts, especially for a dual-threat player like Lamar Jackson who runs the ball as well as he throws the ball. This week, Jackson will face a major early season test as the 2-2 Ravens host Joe Burrow and the 2-2 Bengals on Sunday Night Football.

RELATED: Lamar Jackson on his contract situation: Respectfully, I’m done talking about it

Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability

The 2019 NFL MVP already has 13 total touchdowns this season, including 11 pass touchdowns, and currently leads the Ravens with 316 rush yards — the most of any quarterback in the NFL this season. He also ranks in the league’s top 10 in rushing yards, for all players (ranked 9th entering Week 5). Additionally, Jackson was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in September for the second time in his career.

Powered in part by Jackson, the Ravens offense ranked first in rush yards per game in 2019 (206) and 2020 (191.9) and was third in 2021 (145.8). In 2022, the team ranks 8th entering Week 5 (142).

What will happen with Lamar Jackson’s contract at the end of the season?

Lamar Jackson is currently set to become a free agent after the season, however, he could be franchised tagged by the Ravens.

Does Lamar Jackson have an agent?

Lamar Jackson has represented himself during negotiations while leaning on the help of his mother, Felicia Jones, and the NFLPA (which reportedly advised him that he was justified to demand a fully guaranteed deal).

What other notable contracts were recently signed by NFL quarterbacks?

  • Russell Wilson: 5 years, $245 million ($124M fully guaranteed) – August 2022
  • Kyler Murray: 5 years, $230.5 million ($103.3M fully guaranteed) – July 2022
  • Deshaun Watson: 5 years, $230 million (fully guaranteed) – March 2022
  • Josh Allen: 6 years, $258 million ($100M fully guaranteed) – August 2021
  • Patrick Mahomes: 10 years, $450 million ($63.1M fully guaranteed) – July 2020

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals head to M&T Bank Stadium to take on Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens this week on Sunday Night Football. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America on NBC and Peacock. Kickoff time is at 8:20 p.m. See below for additional information on how to watch Sunday night’s Bengals vs Ravens matchup.

RELATED: How to watch Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens: TV, live stream info, game preview


How to watch the Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens:

  • Where: M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland
  • When: Sunday, October 9
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens game?

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your tailgating needs for the 2022 Fall season, click here!


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube

How to watch the NFL on Peacock: Full Sunday Night Football Schedule, live stream info for the 2022 season

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The 2022 NFL Season is in full gear. This week it’s Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals vs Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. with Football Night in America. Kickoff time is at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

RELATED: FMIA Week 4: Hurts At Home In Philly, Players And Parents On Football Safety, And The Case For Aaron Donald

Every Sunday Night Football game this season will be available on both NBC and Peacock. See below for the full 2022 Sunday Night Football schedule as well as additional information on how to watch every game on Peacock.

RELATED: How to watch Matthew Berry on NBC Sports

2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule:

*Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Thursday, Sept. 8 (Week 1) – Josh Allen’s four touchdowns power Bills to 31-10 victory over Rams

Sunday, Sept. 11 (Week 1) – Bucs take care of business against Cowboys, who lose Dak Prescott late

Sunday, Sept. 18 (Week 2) – Packers roll over Bears 27-10 as Aaron Jones, Preston Smith star

Sunday, Sept. 25 (Week 3) – Broncos do just enough to pull off 11-10 win over 49ers

Sunday, Oct. 2 (Week 4) – Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs dominate Bucs 41-31

Sunday, Oct. 9 (Week 5) – Bengals at Ravens

Sunday, Oct. 16 (Week 6) – Cowboys at Eagles

Sunday, Oct. 23 (Week 7) – Steelers at Dolphins

Sunday, Oct. 30 (Week 8) – Packers at Bills

Sunday, Nov. 6 (Week 9) – Titans at Chiefs

Sunday, Nov. 13 (Week 10) – Chargers at 49ers

Sunday, Nov. 20 (Week 11) – Bengals at Steelers

Thursday, Nov. 24 (Week 12) – Patriots at Vikings

Sunday, Nov. 27 (Week 12) – Packers at Eagles

Sunday, Dec. 4 (Week 13) – Colts at Cowboys

Sunday, Dec. 11 (Week 14) – Chiefs at Broncos

Sunday, Dec. 18 (Week 15) – Patriots at Raiders

Sunday, Dec. 25 (Week 16) – Buccaneers at Cardinals

Sunday, Jan. 1 (Week 17) – Rams at Chargers

Sunday, Jan. 8 (Week 18) – Matchup TBD

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: How to watch/live stream Bengals vs Ravens game 

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

RELATED: PFT’s Week 5 2022 NFL power rankings

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

What devices are compatible with Peacock?

Peacock is available on a variety of devices. See the full list here.

In addition to Sunday Night Football, what else can I watch with Peacock Premium?

Premium is your key to unlocking everything Peacock has to offer. You’ll get access to all the live sports and events we have, including Premier League and WWE Premium Live Events like WrestleMania. You’ll also get full seasons of exclusive Peacock Original series, next-day airings of current NBC and Telemundo hits, plus every movie and show available on Peacock. There is always something new to discover on Peacock Premium.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!