Even though Eric DeCosta has officially taken over as the Ravens’ general manager, his mentor and predecessor, Ozzie Newsome, is still in the organization – working right down the hall, in fact.
Inevitably, their years of shared decision-making and current physical proximity have prompted speculation about how much the front office’s approach might change, if at all, regarding the draft, free agency, salary cap management, etc.
It’s certainly a situation to monitor, and my guess is there might be more change than you’re expecting.
Why? To begin with, as DeCosta, 47, made apparent in his introductory press conference last week, he is clearly his own person, with his own ideas. Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti promoted him for that reason, desiring Eric 1.0, not Ozzie 2.0.
Another factor that could potentially produce different front office decision-making is the change at quarterback from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson. Aside from what’ll be different on the field as a result, the expected subtraction of Flacco’s mega-contract is truly a game-changer from a salary cap perspective.
“I think it’s great,” DeCosta said last week about the possibility of the Ravens’ cap opening up.
That has me thinking that if there’s palpable change anywhere, it might be in how the Ravens allocate their cap dollars.
In recent years, they’ve invested a lot more in their defense than their offense. Wait, let me put that differently. They’ve invested a lot more in their defense when you subtract the huge chunk of the cap Flacco’s contract represented.
In 2018, they ranked No. 8 in the league in defensive investment and No. 15 in offensive investment, according to Spotrac. (That’s the percentage of their cap total invested in each unit, as compared to other teams.) But if you removed Flacco’s salary from the calculation, the Ravens ranked in the lower fourth of the league in offensive investment.
That’s been the case for several years, actually, and one could easily make the point that the Ravens got what they paid for, as their defense generally has performed better than their offense. Until Jackson came along, they certainly struggled at times from a lack of consistently electric playmaking, which can be expensive.
Newsome was in charge, so he certainly is responsible for both the investment decisions and the offense’s performance. But the truth is his hands were all but tied.
When your quarterback’s salary gobbles up a whopping 15 percent of your entire cap, as Flacco’s did in 2018, you can only spend so much on the rest of the offense.
Flacco had the fourth-highest cap hit in the league in 2018. The year before, he was No. 1.
DeCosta will encounter a radically different scenario if and when that contract departs. Even though it’ll leave a substantial “dead money” charge in the short term, there’ll be more dollars to spend, and certainly more to invest in the offense.
One could easily argue that it’s time. The Ravens have been defensive-minded, but the NFL becomes more offensive-minded every year. Even though Sunday’s Super Bowl was a defensive struggle, offenses should to continue to rule in 2019 and beyond.
I’m not suggesting the Ravens should stop paying for a top defense. I’m certainly in favor of them re-signing linebacker C.J. Mosley, a pending free agent who, at 26, could provide the backbone of the defense for years.
But I am suggesting the presence of a new (and much cheaper) starting quarterback comes with the opportunity to give the offense a better chance to shine.
In recent years, for example, the Ravens have consistently lost quality offensive linemen (Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen) for cap reasons. It was understandable, but the result was more of a blue-collar O-line, which struggled at times in 2018. Now a top veteran center, Denver’s Matt Paradis, is about to hit free agency, and the Ravens can at least talk about it.
We’ll see what happens. DeCosta is facing tough calls on whether to retain defensive stalwarts Mosley, Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs, but he’s also tasked with building an offense around Jackson, and my guess is he’ll invest more in that unit, not only because he should, but because, at last, he can.