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Eisenberg: Keeping John Harbaugh Might Be the Easiest Call of the Offseason


The Ravens have some tough decisions to make in the coming months, but it wasn't tough in the least for them to decide whether to go forward with Head Coach John Harbaugh.

That might be their easiest call of the offseason.

Numerous media outlets reported late last week that a deal in principle has been struck on a contract extension, and while the team hasn't confirmed it, Harbaugh certainly appears to be locked in for 2019 and well beyond.

Why is this the right move? You can start with the fact that Harbaugh's teams are consistently prepared to play, compete hard and seemingly heed his all-in-together message. There are other places in the NFL where, cough, those boxes don't always get checked.

Only once in Harbaugh's 11 years have the Ravens been out of playoff contention late in the season. They've gone 104-72 in the regular season, earned seven playoff bids, won 10 of 16 postseason games, played for the conference championship three times, and of course, won a Super Bowl. That's a stellar record.

Yes, they recently endured a dry spell that included three straight non-playoff seasons, prompting some analysts to presume Harbaugh was on the hot seat in 2018.

I had my doubts all along whether his job actually was on the line, given his close relationship with Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti. But regardless, Harbaugh has gone 19-13 and won a division title over the past two seasons, quelling any reasonable doubts about whether a change is what the team needs.

My two cents, the conventional analysis of the Ravens' dry spell focused a little too much on what you could see, i.e., the coaches patrolling the sidelines, and not on what you couldn't see, i.e., several major draft misses, a shortage of genuine star power on the roster and players absent due to a killer run of injuries.

In any case, the stretch run of the 2018 season effectively became the final point in any debate about Harbaugh's future. The Ravens changed quarterbacks and adopted a different playing style, no easy task in the middle of a season, but they went 6-1 and captured a division title.

As they enter a new era with Lamar Jackson under center, the events of 2018 emphasized that the right move for them was to continue what they have already started.

The alternative was to start over with a new coach, and even if Bisciotti seriously contemplated that, which I doubt, the list of potential replacements argued on Harbaugh's behalf.

The NFL's new head coaches in 2019 include the play-caller for the No. 25-ranked offense in 2018, a guy who had a losing record as a college head coach, a 66-year-old coming out of retirement, and a guy who had never been a unit coordinator until two months ago.

They all have their bona fides and very well may thrive, but it's risky, and meanwhile, the Ravens already have a top coach with a track record the others can only hope to emulate.

See what I mean? Easy call.

Big picture, it's just the latest example of the stability that has marked the Ravens' 23 years in Baltimore. They've had two owners, three head coaches and just one general manager until a few weeks ago. That steadiness ranks high among the reasons why they've won two Super Bowls and earned 11 playoff bids. They believe in what they do and stick with it.

Does it always work? Please. That's an unrealistic expectation. The NFL is insanely competitive. All you can do is set up a framework that gives you the best chance to win as often as possible.

It doesn't mean change should always be avoided. Sometimes it's needed, and it can push you in the right direction. The Los Angeles Rams are in a Super Bowl two years after giving a 30-year-old head coach a shot.

The Ravens are in the midst of a run of major changes, actually. They have a new GM, a new starting quarterback and a new offensive coordinator. They changed defensive coordinators a year ago.

But they're sticking with their head coach, as well they should.

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