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Byrne Identity: Roller Coaster Stories Behind Deals And Near Deals

Posted Mar 21, 2014

Ozzie was worried he lost his fastball after a Jacoby exchange. Breaking Harrison ‘s heart. Losing Starks.


The Free Agency Roller Coaster

The “Wizard” sat at his desk yesterday afternoon and smiled: “With Jacoby [Jones], I thought I was losing my fastball. I thought we had lost him, and we really wanted him back,” said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens’ general manager and executive vice president.

“I think we do a pretty good job of finding what a player is worth to us and what his open market value is,” Newsome continued. “I thought we were there with Jacoby, and, when that happens, I usually ask the agent to talk to the player. I called Jacoby last Tuesday and threw my best heat. I told him that ‘You shop, we shop, but we’re close, and let’s get this deal done. You’re a Raven. You’ve grown here. We know you. You need to stay a Raven. Help us win another championship.’”

Twenty minutes after that call, Newsome received a text from Jacoby: “I’m making a visit to another team.”

“That was disappointing, but we’ve learned to be patient in free agency. You can’t get emotional. You can’t let your relationship with the player interfere with what you consider the good business of football,” Newsome said. “In my business head, I moved on. But, I was hurt.”

Ozzie was delighted a day later when Jacoby’s agent texted the “Wizard” these words: “Just talked with Jacoby. He said, ‘Tell Ozzie I’m coming home to the Ravens.’”

Whew!

My Favorite Free Agency Story

It was a cold night in March of 2006, and my wife and I were standing in line to watch the movie “Failure to Launch” with Matthew McConaughey. My cell rang. It was Ozzie Newsome.

“Just want to give you a heads up,” Newsome said. “Anthony Weaver is in the Texans’ offices right now, and we’re trying to talk him out of signing there. But, there’s a limit on what we’ll pay. If they go over what we think he’s worth, he’s gone.”

Weaver, now the defensive line coach of the Browns, was one of my favorite players, and Ozzie knew that. Anthony was a good player, outstanding teammate and one of our best “community” guys.

We were watching the movie previews when Oz called again. “We lost him. They took it to a salary we won’t go, and the lack of a state tax in Texas really hurt our number.”

Damn! There goes our starting defensive end.

Right about the time we got to see the full backside of Terry Bradshaw – a scene in the movie – my phone buzzed again.

I whispered: “Oz, let me walk out of the theater.”

“We just reached an agreement with Trevor Pryce,” Newsome said.

“You mean Pro Bowl, Denver Broncos defensive end Trevor Pryce?” I asked.

“Yup, you can announce. We’ll bring him in Monday to sign. We took the money we were going to give Weaver and gave it to Pryce.”

Such is the wild ride of NFL free agency.

Ravens Break Hearts

When you lose players like Arthur Jones, Paul Kruger and Michael Oher, guys we helped develop and players who can help us win, it’s disappointing. But, we break players’ hearts, too.

A year ago, we were wining and dining then-Steelers free agent James Harrison, who had terrorized us for years. Ozzie was throwing his best fastball, and John Harbaugh was going to try and close at a dinner that night. Harrison was in Baltimore. He was flattered, and we were optimistic.

Then Elvis Dumervil became available.

Newsome and cap guru Pat Moriarty quickly put a blockbuster offer together, and Dumervil accepted.

Great news! But, Harbs was already dressed for dinner. He and Oz then had to make that cruel call to Harrison. “No need to go to dinner. Sorry. We just made an agreement with Elvis Dumervil.”

Newsome Excited, But Work To Be Done

“We still have a lot of work to do, but we don’t play games in March and April. We play for real in September,” Newsome added. “I do enjoy this time of year. For those of us in the personnel end, these are our football games. We’ve kicked off, and we’re competing.”

Newsome noted that, “There are still a lot of good players out there. And there will be more. Players will be released, especially after the draft. And, the draft will give us good players.”

Think about players we’ve added as late as late August and September recently. Left tackles Willie Anderson and Bryant McKinnie, Vonta Leach and Bernard Pollard – all significant players to Ravens playoff teams – were added on the eve of regular seasons.

“I hurt when we lost [cornerback] Duane Starks in 2002, but we had drafted Gary Baxter, and he was ready to start. Then in 2005, the Browns grabbed Baxter – and that hurt a lot – but we were able to add Samari Rolle, who had been released by the Titans,” Newsome added.

(Newsome told the loss of Baxter story: “We thought we had a deal with Gary, and his agent called and said he was going to Cleveland, where our Phil Savage had become the general manager. I put the pressure on Gary and met him at the McDonald’s in [the Owings Mills neighborhood of] New Town. Took the contract with me, but the nuggets didn’t work. He went to Cleveland, and they signed him. Samari ended up playing really well for us and, unfortunately, Gary ended up injuring both knees and never could do much for the Browns.”)

Good Grades Are Nice, But Don’t Mean Much

On Tuesday, USA Today listed the Ravens as one of three NFL teams to receive an “A” for free agency this year. CBSSports.com (Pete Prisco) gave us its third-highest grade, a B , adding: “This team gets it. They made keeping their own a priority and pretty much did that.” (Hooray for Eugene Monroe, Dennis Pitta and Daryl Smith, who joined Jacoby Jones in re-signing with us.)

And I loved what ESPN.com’s Jamsion Hensley wrote about Steve Smith, Sr.: “In the end, the Ravens chose Smith over everyone else for one reason: He doesn’t just help them win, he has the mental toughness to will them to win.”

And, mental toughness is what we all need as we go through this free agency period. There’s more to come – all the way up to late August. It can be nerve-wracking. But, Ozzie and Co. are pretty good at this, and that’s comforting to many of us.

Talk with you soon,

Kevin

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