By: Clifton Brown
When the NFL Draft is near, Eric DeCosta sometimes talks in his sleep. The draft has long been an obsession for the Ravens’ general manager. Even when his eyes are closed, his mind won’t stop.
“He’s dreaming, and it will sound like he’s shouting in the draft room,” said DeCosta’s wife, Lacie. “He’ll say stuff like, “‘We’re not drafting that slow …’ It’s crazy stuff. I’ll wake him up and it’s like, ‘Yeah, you were talking in your sleep – again. If ESPN were here, you would’ve probably leaked some information.”
This is the week DeCosta anticipates like none other. The NFL Draft begins Thursday, and it will be historic for the Ravens – their first draft since DeCosta officially assumed the role of general manager from Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Famer who is still in the front office.
People keep asking DeCosta if he’ll feel extra pressure as the general manager on the clock this week, having the final say, being the person who gets the most credit or blame for the Ravens’ draft decisions.
More pressure? It would be hard to find someone who puts more pressure on himself.
DeCosta is a scout at heart, a workaholic by nature. He is totally dedicated to the Ravens and if he didn’t bleed red, he’d bleed purple. The 48-year-old first thought about becoming a GM when he was six years old. He has run the team’s draft board since 2004, and Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti first mentioned the possibility to DeCosta of succeeding Newsome in 2007.
DeCosta’s title has changed, but his DNA has not. Being general manager is an honor, the fulfillment of a long-time goal. But he couldn’t prepare or care more about the Ravens’ draft than he already has.
"People keep asking me does this feel any different. It really doesn’t, because this is what I’ve always done. I don’t feel any more pressure. I don’t feel any more urgency. I’ve always wanted to nail the draft." -- Eric DeCosta
“The only thing that has changed is, I haven’t been able to dedicate all my time to the draft. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at other things, talking to people about other things. I’ve had to be more of a macro manager than a micromanager of the draft. Fortunately we’ve got people like (Director of College Scouting) Joe Hortiz and (Senior Personnel Assistant) George Kokinis and our scouts. Whatever I haven’t been able to do, they’ve been able to pick up the slack and then some.”
DeCosta is still adjusting to the longer to-do list that comes with being GM – the meetings, the interviews, the phone calls. Those things take him away from what he would rather do – watch tape and evaluate players. Newsome will sometimes poke his head into DeCosta’s office and tease him, saying, “So how much tape did you watch today?”
As usual, DeCosta has outworked the obstacles. On weekdays, his long working hours are a given. But on Saturday mornings, he will often arrive at the office by 4 a.m. That’s when DeCosta can watch tape in solitude for four or five hours, and still get home before his three children – Jane, Michael and Jackson – have begun their day.
For DeCosta, sleep can wait. The draft is almost here.
DeCosta won’t give away any pre-draft secrets. He won’t tell you how likely the Ravens are to trade back from No. 22, although it’s clear they are considering it. He won’t tell you which wide receiver he likes best – D.K. Metcalf, Marquise Brown, A.J. Brown, or somebody else. He won’t tell you which position he thinks is the Ravens’ biggest need – wide receiver, offensive line, pass rusher, or inside linebacker.
There is curiosity about how much DeCosta’s draft strategy will differ from Newsome’s. But DeCosta would rather call it “The Ravens” draft strategy, a collaborative effort that includes people he trusts and respects.
DeCosta believes in how the Ravens stack their draft board. Over the last 20 years, they have only had four losing seasons. They’ve won two Super Bowls. They’ve made the playoffs 11 times. Three of their draft picks have made the Hall of Fame – Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed.
Why would DeCosta not trust a draft process that has fostered success? However, the game is changing and DeCosta is an idea guy who believes in staying ahead of the curve. How much he differs from Newsome, whether the Ravens take more wide receivers early, or fewer players from Alabama, or rely more on analytics, remains to be seen. What’s important to DeCosta is that every Ravens draft improves their chances of making the playoffs and winning championships.
“This process that we use has built up over time,” DeCosta said. “It’s like the Coke recipe. It didn’t just happen. It evolved and we believed in it. I know we have the best scouts. We have people that speak the same language, we look at things the same way, we appreciate the same things, we understand the culture that Baltimore has."
“We have a singular goal – to be the best team we can be. The draft is a tool that allows us to get to that point. The only emotion I feel is if we win or lose. When we win, I’m happy. If we lose, I hate the world.” -- Eric DeCosta
DeCosta’s competitiveness is well-known. He hates losing at anything. Watching DeCosta at a Ravens game is like watching a volcano before it erupts. He tries not to yell, or bang the table, or pace the floor, but he’s not always successful.
Running the draft this week will be one of DeCosta’s greatest joys. But watching a Ravens game? That remains torture.
“I’ve been that way since I was five or six years old, playing little league baseball,” DeCosta said. “It’s always been a struggle for me, learning to manage my emotion in an appropriate way. Because I just can’t fathom losing. Games are so hard for me because I don’t feel in control. I’m a witness to something that’s taking place. I’m not calling plays. I’m not playing. I’m sitting there hostage, watching this whole thing take place in front of me. I’m hopeless and helpless. That’s a maddening feeling for me. At least the draft I feel like I can control the process along with the scouts.”
When DeCosta feels stressed, one of his releases is to prank people in the office. Here’s a list of things he has done recently.
He put a crab cake in the office drawer of one his scouts, and you can imagine what it smelled like when it was discovered. He has super glued a computer mouse to someone’s desk. He often removes the batteries from someone’s computer mouse. He’ll pour sugar into coffee cups when people aren’t looking. He recently telephoned the wife of Pat Moriarty, Ravens Senior Vice President of Football Administration, and pretended to be the owner of a cat sanctuary in New York. Then DeCosta proceeded to interview Moriarty’s wife about her cat’s behavior.
Moriarty has been victimized so often by DeCosta’s pranks that nobody else in the Ravens’ front office wants to become the No. 1 target. Hortiz was asked if he had ever turned the tables and pranked DeCosta.
"Is this for the record? Oh no, I’d never prank Eric.” -- Joe Hortiz
That is the attitude DeCosta wants in the Ravens’ front office – work hard, play hard, be yourself. DeCosta will welcome input from everyone in the draft room this week, including his next-door neighbor, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. DeCosta and Harbaugh may be the NFL’s only GM and head coach who live side-by-side.
Being neighbors has allowed both DeCosta and Harbaugh to see different sides of each other. During the blizzard of 2016 that dumped more than two feet of snow on the Baltimore area, DeCosta’s home lost heat. Harbaugh offered DeCosta space heaters to borrow, but neither one of them could move their cars. So Harbaugh trudged through the waist-high snow, carrying the space heaters, determined to meet DeCosta halfway between houses to make the handoff.
“John looked like the Abominable Snowman,” DeCosta said, smiling at the memory. “I got back to the house and told my wife, ‘We risked our lives to save this family!’”
Lacie didn’t view the situation quite so dramatically, but she also thought it was funny.
“If I had a picture of that, it would go for a lot of money. Those two guys meeting halfway between the houses, covered in the snow,” Lacie said.
DeCosta wasn’t planning to move next to Harbaugh in December of 2014. In fact, he didn’t want to move anywhere at that point, but this time DeCosta was victimized.
“My wife tricked me,” DeCosta said. “She got me to look at this house during the season. I was prepared to say, ‘Absolutely not.’ I’ll humor her. I’ll go look at this home, but I have no interest. I’d have to be a fool to move during the season. No one would do this. But she got me to look at this house, it’s got this wonderful view, and I’m hooked. I’m thinking, ‘Damn it, we’re going to buy this damn house.’ We ended up settling right around Thanksgiving, which is ridiculous, and we ended up selling our old house around Christmas, which is ridiculous. We were in the playoff hunt, and I’m thinking about this house every day. I’m thinking, ‘This is lunacy. Why did you do this to me?’’’
In reality, DeCosta loves the house. Told that DeCosta said he was tricked into buying it, Lacie laughed. She knows how single-minded her husband is. He is patient, yet determined, and he even took that approach to their courtship. DeCosta first wanted to approach Lacie at a team Christmas party when she was working for the Ravens as a marketing assistant, but he never spoke to her that night.
“I was sitting across the room next to my sister [Maggie, a member of the Ravens player personnel department], and we were like, ‘Is that guy looking at us?’” Lacie said. “My sister said, ‘Why don’t you go get a drink at the bar, and I’ll tell you who he’s looking at.’ So I get up and I walk over to the bar, and when I come back she says, ‘Well, he’s not looking at me.”’
Lacie left town to finish her last semester of college, but months later she returned to work for the Ravens and DeCosta asked her out.
“He sort of made it a mission once I got back,” Lacie said. “Our first date was Nov. 8, 1998.”
She still remembers. DeCosta will also be remembered for this draft, his first as the Ravens’ GM and another milestone moment in his career. Had DeCosta wanted to be a general manager years ago, he could have been one somewhere else. Instead, he turned down numerous overtures from other teams and waited for this opportunity.
DeCosta didn’t start his career being highly sought-after. He sent resumes to all 32 NFL teams when he was in his 20’s and still keeps a stack of all the rejection letters he received in his office. Recently, DeCosta received a congratulatory note from former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf. DeCosta had that letter framed, right next to the rejection letter he received from Wolf in 1995.
DeCosta has remained loyal to the Ravens all these years, largely because the Ravens gave him an opportunity to pursue his dream. One of Newsome’s favorite sayings is “right player, right price.” DeCosta views this as the right job, right place.
“I come through these gates and there’s never been a day I don’t get excited about the opportunity in front of me to build a better team,” DeCosta said. “I’ve always loved working with these people in this organization. I grew up here as a 25-year-old kid. This is my first real job. I feel blessed to have seen the evolution of this organization. I have a tremendous appreciation for what everybody does here. This is a team. This is a family. It’s a rewarding experience.”
Lacie knows how important being the Ravens’ general manager is to her husband. She believes, as always, that DeCosta will be successful.
“Besides the five of us, our family, it’s the most important thing to him,” Lacie said. “He does not want to disappoint anybody – Steve, the Ravens, the city of Baltimore, the fans. He takes it more seriously than anything else besides raising our children. It’s a dream that’s he had since he was six years old and never wavered from. He just loves this job. He loves everything about it.”
Eric DeCosta's first job in the NFL was as an assistant with the Ravens in 1996. Now he's the GM.