Eisenberg: Ozzie Newsome Feeling Heat in His Last Stand


For the most part, the narrative of Ozzie Newsome's front-office career is already written. It's quite an impressive tale.

In 22 years as the Ravens general manager, Newsome has built 10 playoff teams and two Super Bowl winners, drafted two Hall of Famers (with more likely coming) and more than 20 Pro Bowlers.

Already a Hall of Fame player, Newsome merits serious consideration for the same, ultimate honor as an executive, especially since he also made history, becoming the NFL's first African-American GM when Art Modell gave him the job in 1996.

Any way you slice it, it's an epic tale. The only thing it's lacking is a good ending.

As things stand now, the ending doesn't live up to the rest of the story.

Since winning their second Super Bowl, the Ravens have fallen back to the pack, making the playoffs just once in five years while going 40-40 in the regular season. It's hardly a catastrophic fail, but the Ravens have known better, much better, and now, for that and other reasons, they're dealing with empty seats at their home games.

Any doubt about whether Newsome takes the decline personally was quashed Friday when he spoke at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

"When I get the product better on the field, I think fans are going to show up," he told reporters.

I couldn't help noticing his use of the first person there – when I make the team better. No one is more of a team player than Newsome, who faithfully credits the Ravens scouts and other decision-makers for their part in any successes. But that one sentence reveals that he recognizes and fully accepts that every move by the team, good or bad, ultimately goes on his ledger.

All of which means he now has one season left to improve that ending to his career narrative.

As you surely know, Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti revealed last month that a succession plan was put in place four years ago with Newsome stepping aside after the 2018 season to allow his protégé, Eric DeCosta to become GM. Addressing the situation publicly for the first time Friday, Newsome praised DeCosta and said he was on board with the transition.

(He also sounded a bit wistful about the end being so near. "The five years are going really fast," he said.)

But just as Newsome's signature has gone on the bottom line until now, DeCosta's name will go there after this season, giving Newsome one more opportunity before he hands over the front office.

Team player that he is, Newsome knows better than to think the Ravens' 2018 season will be all about him. Nonetheless, it's foolish to suggest his situation isn't a major part of the story.

I would go as far as to suggest "Ozzie's Last Stand" as an appropriate subtitle for the season. Asked Friday to comment on the organization "feeling the heat" after three straight non-playoff seasons, Newsome said, "I'm feeling, it, too." Competitor that he is, he wants to prevail.

The ultimate ending for him, of course, would be for his Last Stand to become a Last Ride along the lines of what Ray Lewis experienced; you can't top ending your career with a Super Bowl victory.

But even if the fairy tale doesn't happen, you know Newsome, at the very least, wants to end his tenure with the Ravens' arrow pointed up, with them back in the playoffs, their future seemingly bright.

One way or another, he wants a better ending than what the muddle of the past five years suggests.

"I don't like not playing in January. That's something we talk about all the time. We've got to find a way to get to 11 wins," Newsome said Friday. "We've proved that once we get in, we can do some damage while we're there."

The Ravens don't need any more pressure to make 2018 better; their empty seats alone illustrate the need for better results.

But it would be nice for them to give Newsome the right kind of swan-song season, successful, encouraging, more in keeping with the results from his first 17 years on the job.

Frankly, a story that good deserves that kind of ending.

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