At the "State of the Ravens" press conference on Feb. 3, Ozzie Newsome was asked if he might deviate from his usual strategy of taking the best player available in the first round of the April draft because the Ravens so clearly and desperately needed fresh blood in their receiving corps.
"I'll never put this organization in a position where need becomes more important than (taking) the best player," Newsome said with a smile, all but dismissing the question. "It is a philosophy I've had from the very beginning. I think the success we have had has been built on that. That's not going to change."
There surely were people who heard that response and thought, "You know, Ozzie needs to give in a little this time. We really need a receiver."
But six weeks later, the Ravens' needs have changed and the shrewdness and necessity of Newsome's bedrock philosophy have become vividly apparent. The run-up to the 2010 draft has turned into a teaching moment, illustrating precisely why Newsome never yields to what seems to be the Ravens' need of the moment.
Because that need constantly changes.
Last fall, when the pass defense was having a tough time early in the 2009 season, it seemed the Ravens would have to draft a stud cornerback to provide ballast in the coming years. But then their pass defense steadied down the stretch and that need suddenly didn't seem quite so desperate.
After the season ended with the Ravens getting outgunned in a playoff loss in Indianapolis, it seemed absolutely, positively clear that they needed to draft a new receiver. Newsome even conceded on Feb. 3 that the pass-catching corps should be upgraded. But he took care of that before the draft, signing Donte' Stallworth, trading for Anquan Boldin and re-signing Derrick Mason. Suddenly, that need wasn't so desperate, either.
Today, with Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan having departed via free agency, a new "desperate" need has arisen. The defensive line is thin on personnel. The Ravens could use a new pass rusher, a new run stuffer, or preferably, a guy adept at both tasks. It could be a good fit. This draft is deep in such players, according to Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel, who told baltimoreravens.com's Ryan Mink there were "probably five or six (defensive linemen) we like in the first round. If we have a chance to get one of them, we will."
Yet with all due respect, they won't if Newsome decides to fill the need via free agency, trades and players already on the roster, as he did at wide receiver. With the draft still more than a month away, who knows what might happen?
The point is that a team's "must-have" need is basically a living organism, forever changing and adapting to what happens around it. Crises regularly appear, but in many cases, disappear just as quickly, replaced by another. The Ravens are smart to just ignore those rising and falling concerns and, when their time comes, take the player they believe is the most talented. When backed by solid scouting, that pick is less likely to be a bust (as opposed to when a team reaches to fill a need), and creates a strength somewhere in your lineup. Do it year after year and you end up with a better team, period.
Yes, the Ravens clearly need to address the holes in their defensive line that have appeared. Their pass rush wasn't that strong to begin with last season, and stopping the run has been their first defensive commandment for a decade. Losing two solid performers in Edwards and Bannan sets them back. The draft would be a great place to start catching up.
But if a shutdown cornerback falls to them at No. 25 in the first round, well, they could still use the help there. And likewise, if the best wide receiver or tight end in the draft somehow falls to them, they should take him. Their remade receiving corps is stronger, but not young.
They didn't really need a safety when they took Ed Reed in 2002, and they didn't really need a tackle when they took Michael Oher last year, but looking back, no one regrets those picks. And let's see, what were the team's "desperate" needs when those picks were made? Sorry, I can't recall.
John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.