Eisenberg: Ozzie Newsome's Biggest Gift to Eric DeCosta

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We've known for almost a year that the day was coming when Eric DeCosta would officially take over for Ozzie Newsome as the Ravens' general manager. Thus, when that day came last week, it was a momentous occasion for the franchise, but hardly surprising.

A far greater uncertainty over the past year was what the state of the team and roster would be when the GM handoff occurred. What if it came after a fourth straight non-playoff season? That was a possibility, as was DeCosta taking over after a season in which the Ravens exceeded expectations.

Throughout the spring, summer and most of the fall, it was impossible to foresee how the situation would culminate. Finally, the Ravens' late-season surge to a division title brought clarity. And the news was good. Newsome is handing over a team that many believe is on the upswing.

Even though the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was disappointing, the Ravens are heading into 2019 with a young quarterback to build around, a clear offensive identity and a smothering defense that needs to be held together, not blown apart.

As he takes over, DeCosta has plenty of reasons to thank Newsome, his mentor, who trained him over two decades. But the current state of the team and the roster is one of Newsome's biggest gifts to his successor.

Things could have been a whole lot worse, and in fact, would have been if the transition had occurred, say, two or three years ago. The Ravens were struggling to find an offensive identity, prone to late-game defensive lapses and seemingly stuck in a state of mediocrity. They went 40-40 from 2013 through 2017.

A year ago, I wrote that while the story of Newsome's front office career was already certifiably legendary thanks to the Ravens' two Super Bowl triumphs, the final chapters were, to date, not so hot. But that's no longer the case after a transformative 2018 season. The Ravens' circumstances look and feel quite different.

That's not to say DeCosta has it easy as he settles into the GM chair. Anything but. The Ravens might be back in the ballgame, relevant again, but they still have plenty of ground to make up to draw even with the AFC's elite. If you watched the New England Patriots destroy the Chargers Sunday, you know that.

(Could the Ravens have fared better? Well, they couldn't have fared any worse. But no one was beating the near-perfect Patriots Sunday.)

There are plenty of items on DeCosta's to-do list. As usual, the offense could use a young, play-making wide receiver. The line on that side of the ball could stand an upgrade. Defensively, huge decisions loom on the futures of key veterans who led the way in 2018.

But the biggest move of all has already taken place with the transition from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The last of Newsome's 24 first-round draft picks, Jackson alone ushers the Ravens into a new era in several important respects, ensuring that Newsome's influence on the team will continue well into the tenure of his successor.

With Jackson, the Ravens are now firmly committed to the run-oriented offense that worked so well down the stretch in 2018. My guess is they'll find a trade partner for Flacco, who could start under center elsewhere.

Dealing Flacco would create a short-term salary cap issue in the form of a significant "dead" money charge, but long term, it would give DeCosta far more roster flexibility than Newsome in recent years.

That fact alone warrants a thank-you card.

Some cap experts say a team's window of opportunity is never more open than when its starting quarterback is on his rookie deal, as opposed to one of the mega-deals such quarterbacks receive as veterans.

Jackson, who just turned 22, is on his rookie deal for four more years.

It means the Ravens' window of opportunity is just opening, really, as opposed to closing. If I'm DeCosta, just days into his tenure, I'd feel like I walked into a pretty sweet situation.

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