John Harbaugh opening statement:
"[I] just want to welcome everybody here. [I] really appreciate everybody coming out. [Executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and I are looking forward to doing this and kind of start off the 2023 season in terms of what our hopes are, our vision, where we're planning on going. With that, I think every ending is a beginning. Where we leave off from the 2022 season, and where we begin the 2023 season is really right now. We've had an opportunity to talk a little bit, and there are a lot of things going on; things are moving fast, as you all know. The thing that I feel – and I know that Eric feels the same – I feel great excitement and great hope for what we're heading into, for the challenges in front of us and the opportunities in front of us because we have a really good football team. We're kind of on a curve of building this football team right now, and we have been on it for about three years, I'd say, putting this thing together. You can see the pieces coming together; you can see it coming together on the field in terms of scheme and process, personnel and coaching. A lot of hard work has gone into it, and I think it's starting to become apparent where we're going. So, I'm really excited about it, [and] I know Eric's excited about it, and we're excited for whatever questions you might have. So, with that, Eric?"
Eric DeCosta opening statement:
"I think it was certainly a disappointing ending to a season, a long season with a lot of different challenges, but we're also excited by the potential of the offseason [and] everything that goes along with that: the Draft, free agency. It's my favorite time of year. We're excited to start up negotiations again with Lamar Jackson; we're excited to attack this roster to make it the very best it can be in the hopes that we'll be a championship team at some point. I want to thank [head coach] John [Harbaugh] and the coaches and the players for all the work they did this offseason. We overcame a lot of different adversities along the way. [I'm] very proud of the team; it wasn't the ending that we wanted, but as John alluded to, I think we're on the right path."
You mentioned QB Lamar Jackson. What is your confidence level on getting a long-term contract done with him this year? _(Jamison Hensley) _
(DeCOSTA)"Well, it certainly takes two to tango, but I think Lamar [Jackson] and I have a great relationship. I think we communicate quite often. We spent some time together today, as a matter of fact. We've spoken throughout the season multiple times. These negotiations, they all happen differently. Ronnie Stanley's contract took about a year and a half; Mark Andrews' contract took probably three or four days; we did Roquan [Smith]'s contract over the span of six days over the course of one month, basically, is what we did. So, they happen in different ways. I wouldn't characterize the percentages of getting any deal done or how long it's going to take except to say that we'll communicate effectively, we'll be as fair as we can be, and we'll try to hammer out a deal. Hopefully, we can get to that point."
You have both said unequivocally that you want QB Lamar Jackson at the center of this team for years to come. Is that as much the case today as it was, say, this time last year? (Childs Walker)
(HARBAUGH)"100 percent; 200 percent. There's no question about it. Lamar Jackson is our quarterback; he's been our quarterback. Everything we've done in terms of building our offense and building our team, how we think in terms of [bringing in] people and putting people around him is based on this incredible young man, his talent, his ability and his competitiveness. He and I were talking today too, and the thing about Lamar that to me stands out – he's an incredible competitor. Lamar Jackson, all he wants to do is win at everything he does. Yes, he has a lot of talent, he's a very bright guy, he has a big heart, but he's just a massive competitor. That's the kind of guys we want to build this team around; guys that love football and guys that love to compete. So, that hasn't changed; it'll never change. I've loved Lamar, [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] loves Lamar, and it's not going to change in the future. I don't know anything about the details about the whole thing, but I know one thing: I'm like all the fans out there and everybody else; I'll have my fingers crossed, and my toes crossed, and I'll be saying prayers. I have every faith that it's going to get done, and we have the best people in the world doing it. Eric DeCosta, there's nobody better. Eric wants him here, I want him here, [Ravens owner] Steve [Bisciotti] wants him here, and Lamar wants to be here. So, it's going to work out."
Have you asked QB Lamar Jackson about offensive coordinator? _(Vinny Cerrato) _
(HARBAUGH)"Yes, I did already. Thanks for pointing that out. Of course. [Former offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] and I spent hours talking about this in the last couple days, let alone every day when you're together for four years [through] the challenges that [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta]'s talking about. You become really close as coaches and scouts. This is something that I think is good. It's an opportunity to him to move in some directions. The things he accomplished here were pretty historical; there were records set here in the National Football League that are going to stand for a long, long time. So, we're all really proud of those things. Greg's a great coach, and he did the best he could every single week, every single day. [He has] a great family; [He is] another great competitor. So, we leave that era, kind of, and we move into the next era now in terms of our offense. I did ask Lamar [Jackson] about it, and he will be involved in it. I'll keep him abreast to what's going on, and I'm sure he'll have some input along the way, but I know his focus – like he told me – is going to be on getting himself ready and getting his guys ready for next season."
Is there some concern with the business side of QB Lamar Jackson's contract – the different types of tags, etc. – is there some concern for attracting an outside person for the offensive coordinator position knowing that there is some uncertainty with his short-term and long-term status? (Luke Jones)
(HARBAUGH)"I think that's a great question. My answer would be, 'No way.' This is going to be a highly sought-after job; this is one of the top football coaching jobs in the world. Everybody's going to want this job. So, I'm looking forward to getting started, and it won't just be me; it'll be other coaches and scouts involved in it. We're going to cast a wide net, and we're going to look far and wide and close. We'll get the best fit for what we're trying to accomplish, and it's going to be a highly-qualified candidate."
In terms of the wide receiver position, the production wasn't what you guys wanted it to be. You didn't target a wide receiver in the last few offseasons. Do you plan to change your approach on how you go about filling that position? (Cordell Woodland)
(DeCOSTA)"Well, it's certainly something we're going to look at. Obviously, this season didn't end up the way we wanted it to. We had some injuries, obviously, with 'Bate' [Rashod Bateman] and with Devin [Duvernay]. We traded 'Hollywood' [Marquise Brown] last year, so we definitely took on some water this year at that position. We'll continue to look at that via free agency and the Draft. Our role is really to just find the best guys that fit our situation. We hear the fans; we hear you guys with the questions, certainly. Our goal is to build the very best team we can build. Last year, one of our key missions was to build the offensive line back, and we feel excited about that and the way we were able to do that in different ways. We think we're very, very close to building a championship team and everything that goes with that. So, we'll do that; we'll do that this offseason, and that'll be through the Draft, through free agency, potential trades and things like that, but we will build the best team we can to compete every single week."
If a contract extension with QB Lamar Jackson doesn't happen by the tag deadline, and you tag him, are you willing to entertain trade offers? _(Bo Smolka) _
(DeCOSTA)"That's something that we're not going to talk about at this point. I talked to Lamar [Jackson] today, as I said, and our focus right now is really to get a long-term deal done; that's our singular focus at this point. It's going to take some time, it's going to take some effort, it's going to take great communication – give and take – but I'm confident that we'll be on the right path to get that done."
You currently have just five picks in the upcoming Draft. Is that a challenge for you? Will you try to accumulate more picks, or are you comfortable going in with that many? _(Todd Karpovich) _
(DeCOSTA)"Every Draft is different. Ultimately, we'd love to have more picks; I think most years we do. Sometimes what we find is if you have too many picks over a three or four-year span, it's hard for all those guys to make the team and contribute. I go back to, there was a draft many years ago where I think [executive vice president and former general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] had four picks. [It was] one of our best Drafts. [In 1999], I think we took [Chris] McAlister, Brandon Stokley, Edwin Mulitalo and there was one other guy [Anthony Poindexter]. It was a hell of a Draft; it was a hell of a Draft; every single guy contributed right away. My goal, my mentality is to take every one of those picks this year and nail every single one of those picks."
There was some speculation towards the end of the year with QB Lamar Jackson getting hurt, not coming to games, etc. In your conversations with him, did you assess if there is any need to repair this relationship from a Ravens to player standpoint? (Jonas Shaffer)
(DeCOSTA)"It's interesting. Our relationship with Lamar [Jackson], I think is fantastic every single day. Now, you can say, 'What's it like negotiating?' That's a challenge because that's a business relationship. Anytime you negotiate with anybody, it's not always going to be an easy conversation had, but that doesn't affect our feelings for each other or John's feelings for Lamar or the organization's feelings for Lamar every single day, his teammates. We all understand this is a business transaction. That's the challenge really for a player representing himself, I think. We have to keep those two personalities separate: the Lamar Jackson, the agent, versus Lamar Jackson, the player. The player is somebody who I hold in extremely high regard. He's a fantastic competitor, one of the most infectious personalities you'll ever see, one of the most talented players in the league, a truly wonderful person in the community in everything else that he does. So, that hasn't changed; that won't change. We'll put our heads together; we'll negotiate a contract. I told Lamar that, 'Hey, this thing has been a burden for both of us,' I said, 'But when this thing is over, we are going to feel like a million bucks,' and that's truly how I feel."
How much has QB Lamar Jackson expressed his desire for a fully-guaranteed contract, and is the organization willing to put that on the table for him? (Shawn Stepner)
(DeCOSTA)"So, I told you guys last year that I was willing to talk about the negotiation, but I can't talk about the negotiation. So, that type of question really is not something I would talk about. I'm actually really sort of proud of the fact that for the last year, most details regarding the negotiation have not come out. There have been little pieces out there that the NFLPA put out at one point last year, but other than that, I think our conversations and our negotiations have been very, very private, and that's a very satisfying thing for Lamar [Jackson] and me as well. So, I'm not going to get into all the specifics of different things, and what we're looking to do, and what he's looking for and all those types [of things]. That would be counterproductive, and that would hurt our negotiation."
With former offensive coordinator Greg Roman, did he come to you to say it was time for a change, or was it mutual? Can you take us through a little bit of how that came to be? (Pete Gilbert)
(HARBAUGH)"Sure. I'm not going to be able to take you through every step of the way because it's an ongoing process. We're talking every day throughout the season; these conversations are going on consistently and constantly. So, I think just after the season, Monday we talked, Tuesday we talked, [and] Wednesday we talked. There were just hours of conversation that delved in all kinds of different things [and] directions. We're talking families, we're talking our kids, we're talking the team, we're talking the plays in the game – we're talking about everything. Just through all that, we're partners, but we're also friends. It just worked its way into that place where I think he felt like that was the best, and we felt like that was the best, too. We just understood where we were at."
A two-part question about your offensive coordinator position: One, will you interview internal and external candidates? And the second part, has the philosophy of the offense in your mind – given that QB Lamar Jackson now has several years under his belt – has that changed at all, and will that impact what kind of offensive coordinator you hire? _(Jeff Zrebiec) _
(HARBAUGH)"Yes, we will interview internally and externally. In terms of the vision for the offense, the identity of the offense is what is important in that vision. We've established an identity for our offense; I think everybody knows that who plays against us and watches us play. That's important; that's a good identity. That's an identity that we're going to carry forward. It speaks well of the organization, the city, kind of, what we're all about. Within that, the schemes that you run, the formations, the type of players you put out there, that's all kind of methodology. You kind of work through that as you go. So, I'll be looking to explore into that some more too – What kind of ideas come up in these interviews? What kind of ideas do guys have? How can they merge their thoughts and their vision for this offense with what's been done here in the past, too? How does it all fit together with the players? Those are all the questions you ask. So, nothing's set in stone; nothing ever stays the same. Everything changes, [and] everything evolves. You have to keep it moving. So, we'll definitely keep it moving in ways that fit the players that we have, but it'll definitely be within the identity that we have for our offense."
Worst case, if a deal does not get done with QB Lamar Jackson, and you tag him while bringing in a new coordinator with a new system, a lot of times players under the franchise tag don't come to anything during the offseason. How difficult will that be for you and for the offense because he wouldn't be there? (Vinny Cerrato)
(HARBAUGH)"There's no guarantee it'll go that way, so I think you cross those bridges when you get there, for sure. It's a great question. It's definitely – there's a history of that with guys that are given the tag, but Lamar [Jackson]'s a unique guy, too. Lamar doesn't always ... He's not beating to everybody's drum. He does his own thing the way he wants to do it. So, those things will all come down the road as they come, and we'll adjust and adapt as we face them."
If you do put the exclusive franchise tag on QB Lamar Jackson at $45 million, how much will that impact what you're able to do free agency wise? _(Todd Karpovich) _
(DeCOSTA)"Any deal with Lamar [Jackson] is going to affect the salary cap, whether we get a long-term deal done, or we do an exclusive franchise [tag] or the traditional franchise [tag], it's going to affect the cap. Those are big, big numbers. We're fortunate I think that we have a better salary cap [situation] than most. We have a lot more room than most teams do, which was by design three or four years ago. I think one of the things that we saw years ago with Joe [Flacco] when we had to do Joe's deal, we didn't have enough room to franchise [tag] Joe back then. So, we kind of planned accordingly. We have a lot of salary cap room that we can use, so that creates some aspect of flexibility with us contract-wise and also franchise-wise, as well. It gives us a couple different options. Regardless, it's not going to be a situation where the market's open, and we're just going and signing guys left and right. That's not going to happen in any way – there's really no scenario [where] that's probably going to be the case. We'll be selective, we'll be targeted, and we'll find guys like we always do that we think can build this team and help us be the best we can be."
I know that OLB Roquan Smith and QB Lamar Jackson's situations are different, but considering that neither of them have an agent, do you feel like getting the deal done with Roquan will help you in your own tactics and strategies with Lamar? (Cordell Woodland)
(DeCOSTA)"Everybody has their own style, and everybody has their own strategy that they're looking for. So, the only potential advantage maybe that we got from getting Roquan [Smith]'s deal [done] – as you guys have all written about – is we have a franchise tag that we can use, and we can keep both players if we want to. That's basically how it factors in. Lamar [Jackson] has his own style of negotiation, and what he's looking for and his own personality, and Roquan had his own personality and style and what he was looking for. [These situations are] totally different animals. I was very happy to get Roquan done, and I'll be even more happy when we get Lamar done."
J.K. Dobbins was pretty open with his frustration following the last game. Did you hear that, have you spoken with him, and what are your thoughts on him coming out with that as he did? (Mark Viviano)
(HARBAUGH)"We talked Monday morning. He happened to be at breakfast; I happened to walk in and saw him, and so I sat down with him. We had a good talk. He made it very clear to me what he meant in terms of that versus kind of the way it came out, and where he was coming from in the heat of battle and all that. So, I was real good with that conversation and what he told me."
There are guys that might potentially retire, such as DE Calais Campbell and OLB Justin Houston. Have they talked to you about potentially wanting to come back? Would you welcome them back if so? _(Reeta Hubbard) _
(DeCOSTA)"Well, I did meet with both guys. I would probably keep those conversations private out of respect for those guys. Actually – for whatever reason – I met with over 20 players this year, so I had a long day. Normally, it's usually like five or six. I think [head coach] John [Harbaugh] was trying to create some time for himself, and he would send some guys over to me. They were really good conversations; I enjoyed my time with the team this week. I did speak with Calais [Campbell] and Justin [Houston]; [I have] a lot of respect for both those guys, the way they played this year and just their whole careers, really, and the respect that they command in the locker room and on the field. Those are the kind of guys you want to have on your team, those veteran presences who play well and really back it up by how they play. Those are the kind of guys who want to add."
Where do you feel like you are with CB Marcus Peters, who is scheduled to become a free agent, and the cornerback position in general? You clearly feel good about CB Marlon Humphrey, but after that it seems like there are some questions. _(Luke Jones) _
(DeCOSTA)"I have crazy respect for Marcus [Peters]; [he is] one of my favorite guys on the team. [He is a] tremendous competitor. At some point, Marcus and I will probably speak. His agent, Doug Henderickson, is one of the best in the business as well. Regarding the corner position, we're a team that always feels like you can never have enough good corners. So, I would expect that at some point in free agency and/or the Draft, we'll try to augment that position. I think we've got some good, young, promising players for sure. Jalyn Armour-Davis, we drafted 'Pepe' [Damarion Williams] this year as well; both of those guys we think have bright futures. Brandon Stephens was playing his best football late in the year, and we're excited about his progression and growth as well. We had some other guys this year that stepped up, too, as well – Daryl Worley is a guy that played well; he's a free agent. Kevon Seymour. Kyle Fuller – a free agent – played really well Week 1 before his knee injury unfortunately. There's always the potential that some of those guys could return as well."
Do you anticipate picking up OLB Patrick Queen's fifth-year option, and will keeping him long term be more difficult because of the Roquan [Smith] deal? _(Childs Walker) _
(DeCOSTA)"Yes, we were really excited by the way Patrick [Queen] played this year. We think he made a jump. He showed play-making ability, leadership. He just really, really over the course of the season became the player that we kind of envisioned him being. Specifically speaking to the fifth-year option, I'm probably not prepared to make that announcement at this point. Does it make it difficult to sign him long term? If he's a great player, we'll find a way to make it work. If he's playing at a high level, we want to keep as many good players as we can. So, I would never rule out right now signing a player two years from now, potentially. He's a good player. I think we have the best two young inside linebackers – the combo, the tandem, it's exciting – in football. They make our defense a problem for other teams, and it's something that is going to cause a lot of teams problems moving forward. So, I think we're in a great position there. I think our defense is exciting, and we can't wait to see him next year."
Have you made a decision on if you would use the non-exclusive or exclusive franchise tag on QB Lamar Jackson if it comes to that? (Jamison Hensley)
(DeCOSTA)"Have we made a decision? Have I made a decision? I've thought about it every day, but I'll be honest, we don't have to make that decision for whatever it is – six weeks maybe? We're going to be going down to Florida at some point with [Ravens owner] Steve [Bisciotti]. [We will] have our conversations like we always do; we talk about a lot of different things. That'll probably be something we talk about. The risk, reward [and] the strategies and all that. I'm hopeful … I would love to be able to go down there and not have to talk about Lamar Jackson because we got a deal done, but no matter what, we will have a plan in place like we always do. We've been down this road before in different ways with different players, and we'll do what we think is best for the club."
When you get a new offensive coordinator, sometimes he brings along guys, or he has his own staff. Do you anticipate any changes right now that you know on your offensive or defensive coaching staff? (Jeff Zrebiec)
(HARBAUGH)"No, this just happened with [former offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] in the last day, so no we haven't thought about that too much. Off the top of my head, no. It's not something that we're planning on doing, but guys get opportunities, [and] things happen. It's never predictable. We'll see where it goes."
It was a little challenging for defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald at the beginning of the season with this being his first year as defensive coordinator. How confident are you for the years to come from the way the defense ended the season? _(David Andrade) _
(HARBAUGH)"I've known Mike [Macdonald] a long time because he was here for seven years. So, pretty much, we all had a pretty good feel for what Mike was going to do and how he was going to go about his business. So, I thought he's been great since the first day he got here. [He was] very clear in terms of what we were trying to accomplish with our defense, in terms of building a certain vision, a certain scheme set into our structure, and teaching the guys and training the guys how to do it. You saw it evolve throughout the course of the season as we were growing as a defense, and guys were beginning to understand better and better what we were trying to do. We're just beginning with that. There are a lot of things we can still build into the defense that'll we'll be able to do now we're going into our second year. Mike did a great job; all the coaches on defense did a great job of growing the defense, and I'm looking forward to what we're going to build it into going forward."
This is the second year in a row now where QB Lamar Jackson has missed time at the end of the year. Is there any concern that could become a trend? And I guess how do you guys go about putting yourself in a situation where you can mitigate and prevent that as much as possible, knowing that it's a contact sport? (Jonas Shaffer)
(HARBAUGH)"Yes, your last sentence is probably the point of the whole thing; you do the best you can. But I don't anticipate this being any kind of a trend. Lamar [Jackson], I don't believe is a guy who is going to have those issues going forward. You can't think that, and, really, it's just football. Both those plays the last two years are kind of freaky plays that happened – they can happen. So, Lamar is a very durable player. I know that people might take issue with that – I get it – but I don't believe that there's going to be a problem going forward, because I know how hard he's going to work. Lamar Jackson works hard. Whether it's in the weight room, on the field, running, in the classroom, Lamar is all football. He works really hard at it, and that's really what you do; you work hard, you get yourself in great shape, you go play the game the way you play it. And that's what he'll do next year."
A constant at the skill positions the last few years has been TE Mark Andrews. How difficult has it been integrating new players into a complex offense? And do you plan to have some continuity in the future, especially when you're looking for a new offensive coordinator? (Kyle Barber)
(HARBAUGH)"That's a good question. You're right about that, and that's a challenge, and I think those challenges came up during the course of the season. And if you look at the tape or you look at the plays themselves and some of the things that … We had a lot of great plays, but we also had mistakes. We had things that weren't executed the way they were drawn up in practice, and that has to do with just what you're taking about there, so that's real. Continuity does matter – you're able to work together on things. So, the offensive line, as [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] mentioned, is together. That offensive line is going to be wholly intact or almost wholly intact next year coming back – that's big. The tight end room is together. That tight end room should be wholly intact, completely intact [and] back again. The running back room – intact. Now, we can add a player to any of those spots, of course. The one area that needs to be built is the wide receiver room, so that will be a new room, basically. There will be pieces of it still there – you know the guys – and then we'll be adding a lot of pieces to that room, and there [will] be competition, too. So, that'll be the room that will start together in this new offense, and we'll build with those guys. So, I think you're talking about 75% of the offense is intact, and 25% – and it's all in the same room – will be new, and that's probably pretty normal. But that makes me happy, because I feel like we've got a lot of guys who know ball and have had a lot of experience here, and that room that you're talking about – the wide receiver room – can be built up, and those are pieces we can give Lamar [Jackson] and give him a chance to really thrive."
Given how long you've had these conversations with QB Lamar Jackson, where does the confidence come from that it [a contract] could potentially happen and get done in as soon as six weeks? (Morgan Adsit)
(DeCOSTA)"Just, I think, respect, our feelings about him, that we know him, we know the person, our confidence level that he is the right type of guy to lead the team and just optimism. I try to be positive. If you're going into a negotiation with a negative feeling, then your chances of getting that done probably aren't going to happen. We've done a lot of contracts. I think we've [done] the second-most extensions in the league over the last four years, so we know it can happen. We try to be creative and strategic, and I truly believe Lamar [Jackson] wants to finish his career in Baltimore. I just believe that in my conversations with him and just watching him and talking with him and communicating; I think [head coach] John [Harbaugh] feels that way, too. So, all of those things kind of work together for me that tell me that we still have a chance and that I should be as optimistic as possible."
We know that Greg Roman is one of the most respected designers of a run game in the world. Do you feel like you'll be able to hold onto some of those concepts that worked so well, even with a new coordinator in place? (Childs Walker)
(HARBAUGH)"Yes, I think that's a really great perceptive point to make, because yes, you want to do that; you want to be able to hold onto those things. And we've got coaches here, players here who have run those schemes, that have a feel for those schemes, so yes, that'll be part of the new process. I mean, I'd like to keep a lot of those schemes around, and that's passing schemes, too. Greg [Roman] is a great … The passing game that we put together [and] the schemes we have are excellent. So, whatever parts of the offense are able to kind of go forward, we'll see; we'll see how that goes. But the answer to your question is, yes."
You mentioned your disappointment of how the season ended. When you're building a football team, do you think about building for playoff success? And is there a difference in what a playoff team is versus a regular season successful team? Is that part of your equation moving forward? (Mark Viviano)
(DeCOSTA)"We try to build a team that, first of all, can win the division and that can play as long as possible – whatever that means. We look at the talent on the team, we're trying to build strategically, [address] positions that we have to address, but our goal is always first to play and to win as many games as we can, to win our division, to hopefully get a bye and to just play as long as we can and to get as far as we can. A lot goes into that, and so, some of my disappointment is things that outside our control – injuries and things like that, a play that we almost make that we don't make, things like that. This team was really close in a lot of ways. We could have won a lot more games and probably could have lost some games, too – no doubt about that. But when we look at the team, and when we look at the roster, we see the talent that we have, [and] I think [head coach] John [Harbaugh] and I are both encouraged that we have the potential to build something that's sustainable over a long period of time. We can win a lot of football games – we've seen it – and we can go very far in the playoffs [with] John as a head coach and with the right players on the field."
S Chuck Clark is entering the last year of his contract. Do you anticipate him being on the team next year? (Cordell Woodland)
(DeCOSTA)"You know what? Chuck [Clark] had a phenomenal season, and we haven't made any decisions about any players right now; the season just ended. Again, we'll make those decisions later on. Chuck has proven to be an outstanding safety in this league. He has been probably one of the most consistent guys we've had. He's probably started as many games as anybody over the last, what, three or four years? He's been a great [special] teams player in the past; he's an excellent safety. He's tough, he's a competitor, he's a leader, and he's a player that we're very proud of."
There was so much made about QB Lamar Jackson's knee. If you were still playing, would he have been a possibility to come back at all during the playoffs? (Morgan Adsit)
(HARBAUGH)"Yes, he [Lamar Jackson] would have, he would have. The details of all that are kind of hard to say, and I have some thoughts on that I'm probably not allowed to say, but I can tell you Lamar wanted to be back, [and] Lamar planned on being back. He was close – just ask him that – but he can speak for himself on that. But he was working so hard to get back and very determined to get back. To kind of go back to [reporter] Mark [Viviano's] point, if I can, because it kind of goes with your question, as well; [our goals are] kind of like [what executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] said – win the division, win the playoffs. That is exactly what we try to do – go as deep as we can in the playoffs, try to win the Super Bowl. We want to be at our best to win the division, and you have to put yourself in position to win the division – that's why you have to win games early – but be our best at the end, in December, in January. We talk about that a lot, and I really believe that we were [at our best]. We had the injury to Lamar; that was the biggest challenge that we had faced. And getting Lamar back was a priority, but it was [also] the biggest thing we had to overcome. [If] Lamar comes back – which I believe he would have, because he's working so hard – we would have rolled. We played well in that [Wild Card playoff] game. We played a really good game. The gameplan was working exceptionally well, and we were in position to win the game, and a play went the other way, so that's what happened. 'Ifs' or 'buts', but if we were playing this week, I'd feel really good about our chances to win this week, too. So, I feel like we were playing our best football down the stretch and, especially, we would have right there and we were in that game."
As you look to interviewing offensive coordinator candidates in the days and weeks ahead, having hired many coaches in your career, is there a key in the interview process that gives you an insight as to whether that coach will fit within this organization? Interviewing is a little bit like dating; everybody is going to show they're the best up front. (Gerry Sandusky)
(HARBAUGH)"You probably did a lot more dating than I did. (laughter)That's really important. The type of person that [owner] Steve Bisciotti would be looking for – I think that's what [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and I try to look for. Steve has got an incredible understanding of people, and that's his business [and] what he did so well with, so he's taught us a lot along those lines. And we're going to want somebody who fits in well and belongs, and then with that, can stand out, and then after that, can go far, and that's what we'll be looking for."
You have heard a lot of people outside of the organization say that because QB Lamar Jackson didn't have a guaranteed long-term deal, that played into his reasons for not playing. Do you feel that Lamar's absence was contract-related whatsoever? (Jamison Hensley)
(DeCOSTA)"Lamar [Jackson] can speak to that, but my feeling is no. I think Lamar was hurt. We see him every single day – he's hurt. And his unique style as a player, as a quarterback, but as a mobile quarterback, as, really, a freaky-type of athlete out there on the field, having a knee injury – a serious knee injury – makes it difficult. And so, it's just unfortunate that he got hurt [and] the timing of it. I know he was trying to come back. We'd see him daily. I've spent a lot of time over the last two years down in the training room. Lamar, along with a lot of other guys, were trying to get back and play, and it was just bad timing, and I think bad luck for us and bad luck for Lamar."
With the injuries, a year ago, you guys made some significant changes to your training programs and staff. A year later, again, there were injuries, though some of them freaky and just caused by football, by nature. Are you satisfied with where you stand in terms of preventing those? (Mark Viviano)
(HARBAUGH)"I'll take that one. We did really well this year with injuries. Lamar [Jackson] had his injury, but if you look at the number of soft tissue injuries and other injuries, this has been our best year in quite a long time. So, the changes that [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] made, the changes that we made, the protocols we put in were incredibly successful. A lot of the early season injuries that we had were guys coming off the injuries from the previous year. We had Ronnie [Stanley] coming off the previous year, Tyus [Bowser] coming off the previous year, Marcus [Peters] coming off the ACL, both running backs [J.K. Dobbins & Gus Edwards] coming off the injuries from the previous year. Those were the early season issues that we had. As those guys got back out there, we didn't add a lot of injuries towards the end of the year. As a matter of fact, we were the healthiest we were all year at the end of the season. So, I thought we did a great job through training camp, did a great job through the season with injury prevention, maintenance. We did some things that were even a little different than some of the normal protocols, that were tested and tried and true, that our people – [football performance coach] Sam Rosengarten and our trainer, [head certified athletic trainer] Adrian Dixon and [head strength & conditioning coach] Steve Saunders and [director of sports nutrition] Sarah Snyder – all put in place that were just incredibly effective. So, we're definitely on the right track with that, and we had a good year in that sense, in terms of improving from the previous two years."
To follow up on that, are there any kind of clean-up or end-of-season surgeries that you expect from guys on the roster, just to nip things in the bud? (Jonas Shaffer)
(DeCOSTA)"I actually think there's only … This is crazy, but we only have one player right now that's going to have an offseason surgery, which is a record for us. I can't talk [about] who the player is, but that's unusual, to say the least. [Reporter & former front office executive] Vinny [Cerrato] knows with his experience that at the end of the year, you always have a bunch of guys who are having surgeries and clean-ups and various things. We only have one guy, so if you're going to look for a real positive this year and moving forward into the offseason program, that's a huge positive."
What kind of impact do you think OLB David Ojabo can give your defense in Year Two? (Stan Charles)
(DeCOSTA)"Yes, we are extremely excited about Dave [David Ojabo]. He came off the Achilles; obviously, he worked very, very hard to come back. He probably could have played a little bit earlier, but quite honestly, we stayed very healthy at that position, [and] we loved our depth at the outside linebacker position. We didn't want to rush him in there. But he's a long, tall guy, explosive. [He has a] great attitude [and] tremendous, tremendous potential, and we just can't wait to see what he's going to do this year. I think having a great offseason for him, considering what he went through last year, is really critical. His attitude is awesome, he's got an infectious personality and a lot of ability."
Do you expect WR Rashod Bateman to have to play through next year with those screws in his foot, or is that a touch-and-go situation? (Jonas Shaffer)
(HARBAUGH)"My understanding – and [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] can weigh in on this too – is that the screws can come out if it's the best thing for them to come out. I think they will come out, but they don't have to come out, right? I'm not exactly sure how that works. But the point about [Rashod] Bateman is he's going to be ready really soon to run full speed. So, to Eric's point, he's going to have a great offseason. He's going to be up and running. Just like Marlon [Humphrey] was in the office today talking about his offseason plans. All these guys are healthy going into the offseason, which gives them a chance to train from now until then to get ready to go, and that helps your injury outlook going forward, too."
You mentioned earlier the identity of the offense. With all those guys healthy, what are you hoping the identity of this offense looks like going forward? (Melissa Kim)
(HARBAUGH)"First of all, you want it to be a winning offense – that's where it starts. And what entails a winning offense? You've got to be able to do everything well in situation football. You've got to be balanced; you've got to be able to run the ball. We're going to always believe in running the ball, and we've done that really well over the last number of years. With that, you've got to have a complementary passing game. You've got to have a standalone passing game – with dropback passing – situational passing, third downs, especially long and in the red zone, and then you've got to have a play-action passing game that goes with whatever runs you run, whether it's quarterback-driven runs or power runs or whatever, and they've got to fit your run game. So, those are the things that kind of play off of each other; it's just a well-rounded, balanced offense. And to do that, you need a strong offensive line. [Executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] did an amazing job of building this offensive line up last year. You need tights ends that can block the edge. You also need tight ends that can block the edge and can be a factor in the passing game. [You need] running backs that can run, pass protect and catch passes. We were unique; we have a quarterback that can do everything – that's pretty unusual. And we have to get that wide receiver room where we want it. That'll be the last part of the personnel part."
Speaking of the wide receivers ... Buffalo and Philadelphia went and got the veteran guy, and they had to pay him. If you get a deal done with QB Lamar Jackson, and you already paid ILB Roquan Smith big money ... Will you be able to afford that type of receiver? Instead of getting another rookie, will you get the No. 1 guy? (Vinny Cerrato)
(DeCOSTA)"I know what the fans would like. (laughter) As we look at it, honestly, when you have a big-ticket item at quarterback, it makes it more challenging – not impossible. We'll have to get creative, and there are things we can do. There are a lot of different ways to go about constructing the team and finding players and affording players and various things like that. But we've got to be really creative. We'll have to make some tough calls on players that we have on the team, of course, and we'll consider everything. There are different ways to do it. But what we don't want, I think, is to mortgage two years from now, three years from now by paying a whole bunch of guys this year. Our goal is to be a really competitive, strong team every single year. And [head coach] John [Harbaugh] jokes with me all the time; he doesn't really have any interest, at this stage of his coaching career, being in a total rebuild and what that entails, and I really don't either. Our goal is to always have that window open, when we can compete to win the whole thing. So, I think we've made a lot of good decisions with the cap over the last four years. I'm excited to see where we are this year. But it goes without saying, you can't pay everyone. You can't have eight or nine players at the top all making 'X' amount, because what happens is you have nothing below, and we've seen teams like that. This year, we've seen teams like that. Depth is a critical thing in this sport, because players get hurt, and I believe, personally, that depth is probably one of the most important things when building a roster, across the board, because guys do [get hurt], every single week. Whether it's a Friday and a guy gets hurt; 'OK, this guy is going to play.' A guy is out for eight weeks; 'This guy is going to play.' And that's … We saw it during COVID – depth really does matter. It's great to have all those stars players, but you've got to have some young, ascending players beneath them, who can pick up when those guys aren't there. And it's hard when you have all these enormous salaries at the top of your ledger."
What were your impressions of this year's rookie class? (Ryan Mink)
(DeCOSTA)"I think they did well. We're excited about what these guys are going to do. It was a huge draft for us last year, and we had a lot of picks. We spent a lot of energy on that draft. There was a lot of anxiety, I know for me, just looking at players. There were so many players last year. I think those guys did well across the board, but we think they have a lot more to give, too. These guys are young players, and so, what we see often times is guys get a lot better, they come in here their second year, they're in the offseason program, they learn, they understand what it means to be a pro, and they play a lot better. That's what we expect, and that's what we demand. And so, the fact that some of these guys played as well as they did this year, that is a good indication that they're futures are very bright, and I think a lot of these guys have a chance to be good players. When we look at the 2018 Draft, I think eight or nine of those guys are starters now in the league. Looking at this draft, I'm not going to say that, but when we look at it, we think a lot of these guys have a lot of potential to play and be significant players for us at some point."
Talking about the offensive line and keeping that a strength, G Ben Powers is also set to become a free agent. What's the status of his deal at this point? (Valerie Preactor)
(DeCOSTA)"Ben [Powers] is a player that, as we look at it … I would say this – and Coach [Harbaugh] would probably say it too – Ben has probably improved as much as anybody on our team. He had a phenomenal season this year – started every game. I don't even know if he missed a snap. And Ben is a guy who we'd love to keep. My feeling is Ben is probably going to be sought after in free agency, based on the way he played this year. We would never close the door on a player like Ben. We would always want to keep as many good players as we can. We'll have discussions at some point with Ben. I'm just really happy and proud of Ben for the way that he played and the way that he's really come on and matured over his time with us. I'm very happy for him and his family. They put themselves in a great position, and he's a player that I think is going to do really well."
In eight months, when you start the 2023 season, will QB Lamar Jackson be your starting quarterback? (Jamison Hensley)
(DeCOSTA)"I don't see any reason why he [Lamar Jackson] won't be."
There was a lot of outside noise about QB Lamar Jackson this season. How difficult has it been to be dealing with that noise and comments from the media and social media? (David Andrade)
(DeCOSTA)"Well, fortunately I'm not on social media … Well, I shouldn't say that. I do have Instagram so I can track my daughter and my sons really, but I'm not on social media, so I kind of hear about things or [senior vice president of communications] Chad [Steele] might share something with me. Quite honestly, it's almost like a cocoon in this building. We are the team – that's what it is; it's a team. We try to drown all that stuff out. We focus on the day-to-day, coming in, getting our work done, competing as a team. I'm out at practice every day; I love being out at practice with [head coach] John [Harbaugh]. I love the energy, and the enthusiasm and all that. I love this building; when I'm in this building, I'm at peace. I don't pay too much attention to all that stuff. Is it a distraction? Not for me. It might be for my kids, it might be for my family and for all of you, but it's really not a distraction for me. I can't speak to John, but I know I come in here and just try to build the best team that we can build and win as many games as we can win. [We] hang out; John and I hang out together every day. We laugh and talk about stuff. We're neighbors. To me, that's what this thing's all about."