Eisenberg: Same Head Coach, But Ravens Are Entering a New Era


It sounds like a sleight-of-hand trick, or an optical illusion. How can a team announce it is retaining a head coach who has been on the job for 11 years and simultaneously announce it is entering a new era?

Doesn't make sense. Or rather, shouldn't make sense.

But that's what the Ravens did Friday, and it made perfect sense.

John Harbaugh, the team's head coach since 2008, met with reporters to confirm he'd signed a new four-year contract. Taking questions, he ruminated on where the team is headed in 2019 and beyond. It was abundantly clear that while the head coach isn't changing, the Ravens you've known in recent years are being replaced by, well, a new iteration.

In some respects, that was no secret. We've known for a year that Eric DeCosta would replace Ozzie Newsome as the general manager in 2019, and we've known since December that Lamar Jackson was supplanting Joe Flacco as the team's starting quarterback – a pair of seismic changes that, by themselves, are certain to forge a new normal.

We've also known that the defense, ranked No. 1 in the league in 2018, was entering an uncertain offseason as DeCosta and the front office face difficult calls on whether to retain or part ways with numerous key contributors.

Although Harbaugh said he'd love for the defense to return intact, he admitted change is inevitable due to the salary cap, contracts, etc. And since the players with uncertain futures are mostly 30 and up, there's little doubt Defensive Coordinator Don (Wink) Martindale will orchestrate a relatively new cast of characters sooner rather than later.

With all that already known, you're right to ask whether anything truly new came out of Friday's press conference to further drive home that the Ravens are entering a new era. Well, the answer is yes.

It was the first time I realized the change at offensive coordinator from Marty Mornhinweg to Greg Roman means the Ravens are going with an entirely new offense.

"We'll build it from the ground up," Harbaugh said. "We built the defense from the ground up (with a new defensive coordinator) last year and we'll build the offense from the ground up this year."

This is far from insignificant. Mornhinweg's offense generally rested on West Coast passing principles, his area of expertise. Roman was promoted because Jackson is a dynamic runner and Roman is one of football's true run-game gurus.

Mornhinweg's offense was adaptable enough to produce a successful run-oriented attack once Jackson replaced Flacco, but the Ravens' playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers raised fair questions about whether the league had already figured it out. Well, you can table that discussion because the Ravens will introduce entirely new offensive architecture in 2019.

As Harbaugh said Friday, it will still be a run-based offense centered around the threat Jackson poses with his ability to make plays with his legs. But its play-action and drop-back features are liable to look different, along with some aspects of the running game.

Added to the new GM, new quarterback, new OC and inevitable defensive transition, the new offense further enhances the idea that the Ravens are entering … wait for it … a new era.

Yes, even with a head coach who has been on the job since his current starting quarterback was 11 years old.

Harbaugh seemed to grasp the situation's unusual irony Friday, calling his relationship with DeCosta "a new start even though we've been side by side for 11 years." The word "new" came up often during the media session, not least in reference to Harbaugh's own circumstances with a just-signed contract.

"There's always going to be renewal, and we'll be a different team than we were last year," he said. "We'll be a different team than we've ever been here before, because of a lot of the changes and because of the fact, I hope, I think we grow and get better every single year, anyway. But there are a lot of new pieces in place, and I'm excited about it."

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