EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & GENERAL MANAGER ERIC DeCOSTA PRESS CONFERENCE
Opening statement: "Well, guys, thanks for coming. I haven't seen a lot of you guys over the last couple of years. It's good to be back here in person. Obviously, it's been a very challenging year in a lot of different ways. [It was] not the year that we expected going into training camp last year – disappointing to say the least. That being said, I think as we go back and we look at the past season, there's a lot to be proud of. I think our players overcame a lot of adversity in different ways. I think our coaches had a lot to deal with week to week, and I'm very proud of the way that they handled the roster churn, all of the adversity that they dealt with and the amount of injuries that we had and some of the other challenges along the way. I want to thank [owner] Steve Bisciotti for his support, [president] Dick Cass for his guidance, the scouting staff, [executive vice president] Ozzie Newsome, [vice president of football administration] Nick Matteo, [senior vice president of football operations] Pat [Moriarty], [director of player personnel] George [Kokinis], [director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz] and the trainers and doctors – they were quite busy this year. They did a great job in many respects and had to overcome a lot of challenges on their own. [Director of football information] Megan McLaughlin, who is kind of one of the unsung heroes for what we do here with COVID-19 over the last couple of years. All the various protocols and adjustments day-to-day, Megan is really the point person, and she does a great job. I'd like to thank [executive assistant to the executive & general manager] Jenn [Hoffman], my assistant, and also my wife, Lacie, for dealing with me this season, which was probably a challenge for her as well. I also want to thank the fans. One of the things I'd say about this season is we heard you. To our fanbase, I thought the atmosphere and the environment at our games was great. Some of those night games were magical and very exciting – [they're] some experiences that I'll never forget. And I want to thank you guys [the media], as well, for covering the team [and] providing a resource for our fans. Your opinions [and] your insight is valuable to our fanbase and to the community at large. So, with that, I can take questions."
Obviously, one of the biggest storylines, as you know, is QB Lamar Jackson and his contract extension. Where do talks stand with that? Do you expect something to be completed before the start of the regular season? (Jamison Hensley) "Oh, man. Well, the first thing I would say is this is an unusual negotiation, because I've been dealing with a player, and I would never divulge a conversation with a player. So, for me to talk about it in specifics would be prohibitive. What I can say is that Lamar [Jackson] and I have had, probably, I don't know, five or six conversations at different points over the last year in regard to his contract. We picked up his option, as you know. I think, at this point, I would say that we're working at Lamar's pace. He's comfortable where we are right now. I think he feels that we have a lot of unfinished business [and] he has a lot of unfinished business. He wants to win the division. He wants to win the Super Bowl. I think he and I both share that same vision. So, that's basically where we stand. There's a great line of communication. I know that Lamar knows he can come up to see me at any point. He can call me at any point; we actually talked this week. He can text me at any point. We will operate based on his urgency. So, that's basically where we stand. I think, right now, we want to see Lamar get healthy. We have a lot of different things we need to work on as a team. The offense is a big part of that, but there are a lot of other things we have to focus on as well."
You talked about the team. As you look and you're building your 2022 roster, what are your priority areas that you want to address first? (Gerry Sandusky) "We have some work to do in a lot of different areas. I think everything is fixable, and it can be improved and built and strengthened, for sure. The first thing we have to do is look at the salary cap. We spent some time down in the Caribbean last week, I guess it was, and we discussed the salary cap. We discussed contracts. We discussed potential deals, ways of freeing up more money. I think we'll have enough salary cap room to do everything we need to do, to do responsible, good deals that work for the club but also work for the player. We've never been a big, huge free agency team. We've dabbled in it a little bit. We'll continue to look for players that benefit the club in different ways, certainly. Right player, right price, as always. We'll continue to look at players that we have whose contracts are expiring to try to get some deals done. I'm comfortable with that process. We're excited. We have nine draft picks at this time in the first four rounds. We're not sure exactly how that's going to break down and where those picks will be in the first four rounds, but we know we have nine picks in the first four rounds. For me, as I look at it and as we project and we model and see where those picks will fall … If you think about our list, our master list, if we have 100 players ranked, we feel like all of those nine picks will probably come within our Top 80 players. So, if we do our job correctly, if we stack the board the right way [and] if we're able to play the combinations correctly – what I mean by that is drafting the players with an eye toward maximizing each pick positionally – I think we have a really good chance to build some serious and quality depth to help this team be the best it can be."
A follow-up on QB Lamar Jackson. When you say you're dealing with him, is his mom still representing him? Do you talk to her at all? Is that unusual to have to deal with a player? Also, he recently endorsed WR Antonio Brown. Do you have a stance on that? Did you know WR Antonio Brown has been all over social media clamoring to be a Raven? (Jerry Coleman) "Has he?" (Reporter: "Yes, he's posted several photos of himself in Ravens gear.") "Oh, I haven't seen that. But what I will say is, first of all, I've always spoken to Lamar [Jackson]. It was made clear to me early on in the process that Lamar and I would work together. So, that's been the case. He and I have a great relationship; I'm very proud of the relationship that we have. That was one thing … I think I told you guys when I first took over [as general manager] and replaced [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome], one of the things that always gave me anxiety was how would I relate to the players and how would the players relate to me, because we're a lot different in a lot of ways. Ozzie is a Hall of Famer – basically in every Hall of Fame known to mankind, he's in it. So, that was something that gave me anxiety, kind of dealing with the players day to day. I would have to say that's probably one of the most fulfilling aspects of the job now, for me. So, I'm very comfortable with the relationship that I have with Lamar. I think he would say the same thing, and I think the line of communication is great. Your second question with regards to other players, what I can say is that I'm very comfortable where we are at the receiver position. I think people saw last year a lot of growth at that position. We had a nice mix of younger players who continued to improve throughout the year. We'll look at ways of augmenting that position group, but I would not expect any significant additions at this time. That can always change, but at this time, I think we're very comfortable with where we are with that group."
Related to that, WR Marquise Brown's fifth-year option is due by May at $12 [or] $13 million, in that ballpark. Do you anticipate picking up that fifth-year option on him? (Bo Smolka) "I do."
The Bengals, they won the division and are in the Super Bowl. They have $56 million in cap room, I think, next year. Do you sort of build a roster to counter them? Or do you just do things the Ravens way as far as you're going to be the Ravens and not so much worry about the competition in the division? (Todd Karpovich) "I think that's a good question. It's kind of like [Chinese general] Sun Tzu – studying your enemies. I think we have to look at all the best teams, and how do we beat the best teams? Obviously, the Bengals are one of the best teams right now. They're a very tough team to defend. They have excellent skill position players. They've improved quite a bit, and they've got a quarterback that's fantastic. So, we'll have to find ways of adjusting what we do to play them most efficiently and effectively, and we'll do that. [It's] not unlike challenges that we've had in the past. In the early part of John's [Harbaugh] tenure as a head coach, the Steelers were a great team. They still are, but in a lot of ways, we had to find a way to compete and beat those guys. So, it's always evolving; it's always changing. You look at the very best teams whether it's, over the last 15 years, the Patriots, the Chiefs, the Steelers, now the Bengals, and find a way to beat those guys."
What updates are you hearing on T Ronnie Stanley's rehabilitation? How does that impact how you view offensive tackle? It seems like … I mean, you guys have a lot of inventory and a lot of guys with potential, but a lot of guys with very serious questions whether in performance or health, in the case of T Ronnie Stanley. How does that impact not being in the position you were this year with him if he doesn't get back to 100%? (Luke Jones) "That's a good question. It's something that I've thought about quite a bit, and it's probably my mistake – I don't want to use 'assuming,' but expecting that Ronnie [Stanley] would come back this year full-strength. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. There's probably a lot of blame to go around; ultimately, I'm the guy that has to talk to the various doctors and trainers and make a decision and determination at that position. My understanding and belief was that Ronnie would come back this year and play really good football for us, be healthy, be strong and be ready to go, and he wasn't. That was a big setback, and I'm proud of the way the guys fought through. I'm proud of the fact that we could battle through that, losing one of your very, very best players, losing a significant amount of salary cap to an injury like that. I can't really comment on his rehab at this point, but I'm optimistic. I truly believe that Ronnie is going to be back this year and play good football, play winning football and become, again, the Ronnie Stanley that was an All-Pro left tackle. If he can do that, that will be a huge, huge advantage for us moving forward. That being said, one of, probably, the points of emphasis this year is the offensive line. How do we improve and how can we get better? Certainly, the Draft will be one resource; there will be other ways as well. Some of that is going to be guys we have on campus and them getting better with an offseason – some of these young guys maturing and developing into the players we expected them to be when we drafted them. So, the burden is on them. We have a couple other guys that we brought in this past year that we're excited about. We haven't really seen them play yet, tackles, but we're excited about what these guys might have a chance to do. I think just in general, what we do know is for us to be the very best offense we can be, we have to have a strong, commanding offensive line that can control people at the point of attack."
You referenced the injuries, just the volume of them. You never really had the team you thought you were going to have on the field. How much harder does that make it to assess where you are as you look to next season? (Childs Walker) "We've always had injuries, so there is a process in place. We have to listen to our doctors and trust our doctors and trainers. You normally get good feedback from them, and then part of my job is to communicate daily with the injured players to see where they are. It can be challenging. For instance, at the running back position, two of our best players, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, [had] season-ending injuries within a week of each other, and then Justice Hill [suffered a season-ending injury]. So, we're a little bit right now in a situation of, 'When do these guys come back?' We have a lot of confidence that they will come back, but the timing is such that we're just not sure when they will come back. So, then the question begs, well, how do they address that position? You have to have some running backs. You have to have some guys who can carry the ball for you – especially us, we're a running team. So, it's definitely a hard thing. It does complicate things. I think that you rely on your medical people. I think we're blessed to have [chief medical officer] Dr. Andy Tucker here on staff who can counsel me and give me an approximation as to how these guys are doing. That's certainly a big part of it, and then I think I have to be flexible enough, whether it's the Draft, or free agency, or after the Draft, whatever it might be, to look for players who can help the team at any position, and not really necessarily be in a situation where we feel like we're content, that we're always looking at value and looking at the talent that's out there and having the flexibility to go after those types of players. One of my regrets this year is that when the salary cap went down to whatever it was, $182 million or something in that range, that hurt our ability to be flexible during the season. Then when we got hit with all these injuries that we did, as you all know, we then took on a lot more money on the cap. We had to sign more players. We had to activate a lot more players. We had to elevate more guys on gameday. That's not ideal in terms of building what I would call a nest egg of money that you have in season to make a move. Hypothetically, you want to make a trade. We had opportunities this year to potentially pull the trigger on some trades, but we didn't have the money to actually do it. So, one of the decisions you have to make as a GM is do you mortgage the future to make a short-term trade. Could we have done that? Probably, we could have. Other teams have done it with some success, but our philosophy and my philosophy is that the idea of taking on dead money each year is probably not a great philosophy. You can see … If you look at other teams' situations, you'll see teams this year that are in very, very tough financial straits. I don't want that to be us. [Owner] Steve [Bisciotti] doesn't want that to be us. [Head coach] John [Harbaugh] doesn't want that to be us. [President] Dick Cass doesn't want that to be us. So, we try and do responsible deals where both sides can win, meaning players and organization. There are some mechanisms that we just won't do [and] we just won't include in contracts because we feel that they're irresponsible for the club. They may look good in the short term, but they won't look good in the long term."
You said this last year, "We're a running team." QB Lamar Jackson talked about wanting to pass more. Head coach John Harbaugh, on Monday, said that you guys probably won't make that 2019 run-pass balance as prominent next year. So, to you, what does "We're a running team" mean in the big picture sense? (Jonas Shaffer) "We're a physical team. I think one of the more satisfying things is when you have the lead in the fourth quarter, and you can control the ball for seven minutes and end the game running the football down the field. You've seen us do that. I like the idea of it being balanced. I like the idea of always keeping the other team guessing, avoiding the second-and-15's and having to throw. Being second-and-4, that's a good thing. Being able to push people off the ball, that's a good thing. Being a strong, physical offensive line that can run the ball effectively and also protect the quarterback, that's a good thing. Keeping the other team off-balance is what you aspire to do on every play in every game and being a running team is part of that. Having the flexibility to run the football or pass the football effectively, in any situation, based on the skills that you have on the field, that's a heck of a thing."
With the offensive line, you said how that is so important for an offense going forward. How much change do you think there will be on the offensive line throughout the whole offseason? (Jamison Hensley) "I think we'll probably add two guys, possibly. Potentially. It's hard to say. There's always going to be a lot of moving parts. If the right player becomes available, we'll probably make a move. We were very happy last year when Kevin Zeitler became available, and we pounced. I think that's kind of what our mindset is; if we're in the Draft and there's a guy there at [Pick] 14 and we like him, we'll take him. If we're comfortable trading back to [Pick] 20 thinking a guy might be there and he's an offensive lineman, then we'll take him. If there happens to be a [salary] cap casualty on March 18th and that guy looks like he can make our team better, then we'll probably try to swoop in. That's basically our mindset. If a team calls us and offers a guy and we have the draft capital to make it happen, potentially that's something that we might look at. There are a lot of different ways to build a team. For me, it always is based on the fit of the player, how does he fit what you do, does he fit your culture, do you have a need and can you afford him?"
At the risk of beating a dead horse here, two-part question on QB Lamar Jackson's contract. You said last year you guys were comfortable with what this is going to cost and all that. So, the first part of my question is has anything that's happened over the last four months, whether it's some of the health questions or some of the struggles on offense, has that impacted where you guys stand in terms of believing he will be here going forward? The second part would be are you comfortable going into the last year of the fifth-year option with the challenges that would create in the salary cap? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Nothing has changed, OK? Lamar [Jackson] is a Pro Bowl quarterback. He played some brilliant football this year, and we had some struggles. Certainly, as a group, when you consider the turmoil that we had in the offensive line [and] at the running back position, that's a factor. Lamar's health this year, he had some issues; he was sick, he hurt his foot and all of those different things. We had a lot of different injuries [and] a lot of different things that we dealt with. So, I think there's a lot of upside with our offense; Lamar is a big part of that. He's the right person to do it. He's a leader. He's beloved. He's a phenomenally talented player, and he makes us better. So, that's what I would say on that. As far as the fifth-year option amount, $23 million, I think it is, maybe … Listen, we have the [salary] cap room. We'll have more [salary] cap room at the beginning of the new League year. We'll be flexible. We'll have an ability to make some moves. We can certainly take on that amount. Based on who Lamar is and what he has to offer, that's not a huge ticket for a quarterback of that ability and of that personality and what he brings to the table for the team."
At this point in his career as your hopeful long-term franchise QB, how much influence does he have on you when it comes to recommendations [and] suggesting players whether it be in free agency or through the Draft? (Bobby Trosset) "I'm all ears. It's all veteran players. I'm fortunate enough that guys will come in and say, 'Hey, can I come upstairs and talk to you?' They have opinions. They have situations. They have ideas. I even had a parent of a player reach out to me last week about a college player that they saw, who they like. (laughter) So, I've learned over the last 26 years that it's good to listen to people and consider other ways of doing things. I think when you're in a static position for a long time, that's kind of when you start to falter. So, I appreciate the opinions of our players. I appreciate the opinions of our coaches [and] other people, and I think that's what helps me look at all the various things to plot strategy and find out what's best for the club."
You watched the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games last week, and all four teams could get after the quarterback. Are you comfortable with the pass rush you currently have in the building? How big of a priority is it to improve that pass rush? (Ken Weinman) "It's always a priority to improve the pass rush. I think this year, what we saw was some good play from Tyus [Bowser] before the injury, unfortunately. Odafe [Oweh], we're very excited about him. He had a good rookie season, and we expect a lot more this year. I think we'll be in position where we're picking, in that range between [Picks] 14 and 20, if we stick and stay in that range, to get a really good pass rusher if the situation presents itself as well. So, right here today, the fourth [of February] I think it is, I could probably tell you the three guys we would probably get if we stayed at [Pick] 14, that we would take. There probably would be three or four players that will be there when we pick in various positions, but I think we'll be in an excellent position to get a guy who can come in and impact the club very quickly. So, pass rush, believe me; there is nobody that appreciates pass rushers more than me, and I've seen some great ones here. I'm optimistic and excited. Fortunately, we got the chance to take Odafe last year; we think his future is very bright. I'm excited that we also got Tyus Bowser under a long-term contract last year and that he'll be back, in my opinion, full-strength, ready to go at the start of training camp."
As far as offensive linemen, going back to T Ronnie Stanley, were you able, at the time you did this contract, to get disability insurance on him, just in case? Was that purchased at that time or anything of that like? (Jerry Coleman) "We wouldn't talk about a specific contract, just out of deference to the player and privacy laws and various things like that, but we always try to do what's best for the club in those situations. So, we do whatever we can to protect the club, and also, if we can protect the player, we'll do that as well."
Going back to the defensive front for a second, would you … Have you talked to DT Calais Campbell since the season ended? Would you at least talk to him about maybe wanting him back on a short-term deal? Just looking at that defensive front in general, are you expecting a lot of turnover there? Are you expecting it to get younger? (Childs Walker) "We need to get younger, for sure. This year, we had a lot of grizzly warhorses up there, up front. Calais [Campbell] and I did talk after the season. He came up, and we spent some time talking. There will be more discussions that we have. I really admire Calais as a leader [and] as a player. He still plays at a high level and has a great attitude. He's great for the younger guys. I'm excited about some of the other guys we have, as well, that we think will make the next step. But I would say that the defensive line is definitely something that as we looked out two years ago and last year, we felt like 2022 would probably be the year that we would have to find some more young guys. We did bring in Justin [Madubuike] a couple years ago. We brought in Broderick Washington, who made a nice jump this year, but we did feel that this would be the year that we would probably be looking at defensive linemen as well."
Special teams was ranked No. 1 in the NFL this year. How important has special teams coordinator Chris Horton become to this staff, as far as head coach John Harbaugh's staff? (Todd Karpovich) "He's great. He's great. He's an excellent coach. [He has] a great personality [and] is experienced as a player. I think players relate to him very well. He's detailed. He's passionate. The only thing he can't do is beat me on the Peloton, really. That's about the only thing he can't do, but other than that, he's great in my mind." (laughter)
You mentioned the Caribbean with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. What does Steve think right now about the season and about the injuries? What's on Steve's mind when you spend a few days with him? (Nestor Aparicio)"I wouldn't really want to talk about my conversations and personal conversations that I have with [owner] Steve [Bisciotti]. As a group, what we're consumed with going into this season is what can we do to get better? How can we stay healthy? [We're] looking at everything. And some of that's on me. How do we find healthy players or players that will be durable when they get here? How can we protect our players? Is there technology out there? Is it the way we practice? Is it the training room? Is it the doctors? Is it how our players rehab? Is it how our players train? Is it the way we treat the offseason? Is it the way we practice? I think we'll look at all that stuff, and we'll own it. I think that was a big point of emphasis that we had as we talked, as a group. And then, where do we see ourselves this year? Where do we see ourselves three, four, five years from now? That's my role as G.M. What's the salary cap? How's the salary cap going to affect us this year, understanding there was a jump this year? But the cap still hasn't recovered. You'll still see, this year, I believe, projecting out, a tremendous amount of volatility on rosters, with players getting cut and cap deals, restructures – it's going to be just like last year – and how do we adjust to that changing landscape? Those will be the types of things that we talk about when we're down there – and then specific contracts, obviously. You're always talking about players. You're always looking out. You're looking back at deals you've done, whether those are good deals, whether those are bad deals. You're looking back at the trades you've done or the drafting or the picks and different things. It's really just a way of looking at something through an organizational lens, trying to assess where you're succeeding, where you're failing and where you can always do better."
You mentioned WR Marquise Brown and picking up his fifth-year option. You answered that pretty quickly, saying yes [you will pick up his fifth-year option]. What are your thoughts on Marquise's development, and why do you seem very confident that you want him back under contract next year? (Jamison Hensley)"First of all, Marquise [Brown] was my first pick, and I think very highly of Marquise. I think he's a talent. I love his personality and his competitiveness and his passion. I think he had over 90 catches (91) this year and just over 1,000 yards (1,008). But I like his energy that he brings, and quite honestly, for his skill set, for what he brings to the table, the fifth-year option, in my mind, if you look at receivers and what they're making now, it looks like a bargain. He's just a nice piece, and honestly, if we didn't bring him back, we'd be trying to find another receiver. I really hoped that this year, maybe, I wouldn't get as many questions about receivers as I've been getting over the years (laughter), so he's a big part of me stopping you guys from asking me so many questions about receivers, although here we are again; I'm still getting questions about receivers. (laughter) So, that's what I would say on him. He's a great person, he plays the game the right way. I think he's got a high-care factor, and I still think, I still believe there's a lot of upside there, and I think he would say the same thing. He hasn't played his best football, and I would say that about most of our guys, and that's why I'm excited – because I think we're going to get that this year."
When you have a team that, when fully healthy, is one of the better teams in the league, how do you balance the importance between getting a guy that can benefit the team immediately, as opposed to the long-term picture? (Cordell Woodland)"Yes, that's a hard question. I think the challenge is always, are we being patient enough? When we look at our players, we see that all of our players develop at different stages. And so, some guys come out of the gates, right away, boom, like an Odafe [Oweh], and you can see right away this guy is going to be really good. Other guys might develop a little bit different. Tyus [Bowser] would be a great example – same position group: They develop at a slower pace, but when they do, you're like, 'Man, this guy is really good.' As an organization, we've always got to push the guys to develop as quickly as possible, but also be patient enough to know that we've got to give them the chance to get there. Everybody is different; all of our players are totally different. Personality, ability, motivation, drivers, off the field, family situations, where they grew up, how they grew up – all those different things factor into how guys play initially and how they play long term. And so, as we're building a team, one of the worst things that we can do is make a move, bring a guy in, and then the guy behind him emerges quickly, and then all of a sudden, we have two guys for one spot. That's a frustrating thing – when that happens – and it's happened over the years; it doesn't happen often, but it does happen. So, what we try to do, one of the biggest jobs we have is assessing our players – what do we have currently? – evaluating the players we have on campus. What are they going to be? Where are they going to go? How fast are they going to get there? In some cases, we make the determination [that] we don't have the right guy yet, and we have to find that guy to do that. Hopefully, if that's the case, the guy we bring in is good and can play right away and he's everything we think he's going to be – he's instant coffee – but sometimes, the guys have to percolate for a while and then they become really good. And so, the challenge is really, as we go through the season, for me to assess and to be around the guys enough to know their personalities, to talk to the coaches, to get a sense for their strengths and weaknesses, so that after the season, we can make a clear determination as to what their value is going to be moving forward."
As you balance the cap situation, I think the outside perception is your three biggest free agents, in terms of younger guys are CB Anthony Averett, FB Patrick Ricard and C Bradley Bozeman. You've long said that you want to keep your own guys. Do you feel like you have the financial resources or the cap room, I should say, to make a good run at keeping your top unrestricted free agents? (Jeff Zrebiec)"Yes, I think we do. We'll be making some moves at some point, [and] we'll have some more cap room at some point. We could pretty much sign anybody we want to sign if we could get a deal done. It often takes … As you know, it takes two parties to get a deal done. What I would say is that I feel like we're in good hands with [vice president of football administration] Nick Matteo and [senior vice president of football operations] Pat Moriarty kind of leading the charge. I think – you can fact check me on this – we've done 22 extensions at over $2 million in the last three years, which I think might be second in the league. The Eagles might have just passed us, which frustrates me. (laughter) But no, 22, I think that's a pretty good number. I think the league average is like 12.8 or 13. So, I'm happy with our approach to signing players back. As you guys all know, three years ago, that was a point of emphasis for me, was trying to keep as much talent here. You can't sign everybody back – that's a fact of this game, that's the NFL game – you just can't do it, especially when you've got players that are making good amounts of money. This year, you saw us sign Mark Andrews during the season and also Patrick Mekari during the season. We try to be as active as possible. We've always got multiple deals out there, dangling, talking to agents. And we've done deals before the season, during the season, after the season, right before the league year starts, and we've done deals – like we did last year with Tyus Bowser – after free agency started. So, I think there's still a lot of potential for us to sign some more guys back, but I am confident that we'll have the resources to sign our own guys back, or, if we see very good value in [the] free agency market, to maybe target somebody, knowing, as you guys know, that we'll also factor in comp [compensatory] picks along the way."
Earlier in the week, head coach John Harbaugh expressed his optimism and confidence that CB Marcus Peters will be a part of the roster this season. Do you share that same sentiment? And what needs to happen over the course of this offseason for that to be realistic? (Bobby Trosset)"Oh, I love Marcus [Peters]. I talk to Marcus quite a bit. Marcus is one of these guys that, when he comes to your organization, he provides such an authentic perspective on what this game is all about, and he's a Raven. He's one of these rare guys that's played for other teams, and there's been other guys like him … I can go back over time and guys that would come to mind would be guys like Michael McCrary, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith [Sr.], Matt Birk – guys that play for other places, they come, and they really change the culture that you have. So, I would expect Marcus to be here. I think he's doing his rehab; I think he's doing extremely well, and I can't wait to see him."
* There was a big production made of DB/LB Anthony Levine Sr.'s retirement. I'm wondering if you've talked to CB Jimmy Smith, and what's P Sam Koch's status? He's one of your longest-tenured players, too. Have you talked to either of them about the end of the road for them? _(Bo Smolka)_*"I have not. I have not talked to those two guys [Jimmy Smith and Sam Koch]. I can say that Anthony [Levine Sr.] and I have had discussions … Really, Anthony is a very thoughtful player – probably one of the more thoughtful players I've ever been around – and even going as far as two years back, he had been thinking about what his career would look like after football and how he was going to get there, and he's prepared himself. There are a lot of players that think about retirement that want to work in football; Anthony is probably the guy that has actually done the research and really worked hard to put himself in that position. So, Anthony went down to the Senior Bowl with us this week – he was with us. He interviewed players, he's going to help me in scouting, [and] I think he's going to do some work in coaching. I think he's got a great perspective. I think he's respected, already, by the scouting staff, after having spent a week with them, and I'm very excited about what he brings to the table."
Can you speak to that, and Zach Orr and other young players – even Anthony Weaver – in your building? You remember scouting him at Notre Dame. (DeCosta: "Yes, yes.") To see those guys move in that way, it must be fulfilling to you to identify life-of-football people – people who when they come in the building, they love football. (Nestor Aparicio)"Yes, it's great. I love talking about these careers with these guys, and I love to see players that have a plan, that think about it, and have a plan to get there and accomplish what their dreams might be. It's funny too, because I think sometimes, they're shocked at what we do and how we do it and what it's like. Anthony [Levine Sr.] said this week he's never walked so much in his life. (laughter) But it's rewarding to me to be able to see these guys in a different light and to have them see us in a different light. We're not management, we're not their coaches; we're coworkers, and we can do things together, and we can build this great game, and they have a part in it. It's a very, very fulfilling part of this job for me. Even, you look at a Hall of Fame executive like [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome]; [I've] always really had an appreciation for Coach [Bill] Belichick for giving Ozzie a chance to work in a front office, [in] coaching and in scouting, to develop himself into the executive that he is now. And so, you do feel like you have a responsibility, if the player really has a strong desire, to take these guys and be mentors and help them really obtain what they think their goals are going to be."
When you talk about players that play in other organizations and then come here and they play like a Raven, I would assume S Eric Weddle probably is [one of those guys.] (DeCosta: "Oh, yes. I forgot Eric [Weddle], but he's still playing, so I don't want to mention him.) After sitting on the couch for two years, to see him play 100% of the snaps in the NFC Championship game and lead the team in tackles is crazy. (Ken Weinman)"Yes. Well, I'm not surprised. Eric [Weddle] is a pro's pro. [He's] really smart, does everything the right way, and I couldn't be happier for him and proud of him. At one point … Again, there's another guy that I would expect that he's going to scout, potentially for the Ravens, maybe, but I think he'll get back in football. And I think he coached his son's high school team this year, and I think they might have won the championship. So, he's a dual threat – he's a championship coach, and now he's in the Super Bowl – and I'm very excited. I love Eric. I can probably put him on one hand, as far as players that I've come to admire and appreciate."
For years, the philosophy – and I don't know if it's changed – was the team would draft and keep an eye on what the division rivals were doing, namely the Steelers. Has that changed with the emergence of the Bengals? (Jerry Coleman)"Yes, I think I answered that question, basically. But it has changed. They're talented. They've got a lot of good personnel. I would say this: Over the years, I have probably had as much admiration for the Bengals for how they build their team … They find talent, and [Bengals director of player personnel] Duke Tobin should really be … I don't want to get in trouble, but he should really be a G.M. He's great. That guy does a heck of a job scouting, and it would be great to get him out of the division, because they do a heck of a job. So, if you're looking for a G.M., look at Duke Tobin. (laughter) I mean, they draft … They've always drafted well – with [former Bengals head coach] Marvin [Lewis], with Coach [Zac] Taylor, with the Brown Family. The Bengals have always been a team that [when] I look at what they do personnel-wise, I really think they're one of the best."
Where do you feel like you are at the safety position right now, and I guess, specifically what did you see from DB Brandon Stephens? And I know this is easier said than done, but how much would you like to identify and find a safety that can be a little more dynamic as far as being a playmaker on the back end? (Luke Jones)"Yes, well, specific to Brandon [Stephens], I thought he had a nice year, and certainly as a young player, playing a very difficult and challenging position. There's a physical challenge to it, but also a mental challenge to that position. Brandon came in … A few years ago, he was a running back – if you think about that – at UCLA, and then, primarily, last year, [he] was a corner, with some safety. So, I think what he did this year was pretty impressive, and what I can tell you is he's a talented guy, he's got a lot of physical traits, [and] he's also got a lot of personality traits that should allow him to really succeed. We expect him to make a jump. That being said, I would say, just in general, especially on the back end, our inability this year to create turnovers was probably an issue for us, and I would love to see us make the play this year coming up – intercept more passes, cause more fumbles, be more disruptive. So, if the opportunity presents itself and we see a dynamic corner or a dynamic safety, of course, that would be something that would be attractive to us. When you play these teams – when you play the Steelers, when you play the Browns, when you play the Bengals – twice a year and you see their skill players, it becomes imperative that we always have a strong back end, with good players and depth, as well. As we saw this year, with the attrition that we faced in the secondary, it just overwhelmed us towards the end of the year, and it wasn't the players' fault; I guess it was my fault. We just didn't have enough good corners; we just didn't have enough guys. At some points, we had a lot of guys that had been on the street or on practice squads playing, and that's unfortunate. When you lose the quality of players of guys like Marlon [Humphrey] and Marcus [Peters] and Anthony [Averett] and DeShon [Elliott] and others, it does take a toll eventually. So, I would say, the secondary – you've heard us talk about it – going into the season, we did truly believe that we had a lot of depth, and you can see that, because we were able to trade players, we had actually cut players that other teams claimed. We had a lot of players this year that were playing for other teams that we had in training camp – a lot. I mean, [there were] maybe six or seven or eight players that were on active rosters this year for other teams, and so I do think that speaks to the quality of the depth that we had going into the season. Unfortunately … And I kick myself, because would I have liked to have had some of these guys at the end of the season? Yes. Unfortunately, you don't always have the mechanism to keep those guys, and so when a trade comes along or you cut a guy [who] you think you might get [back] on the practice squad, but another team claims him, towards the end of the year, we needed those guys."
I ask you this every time you're available: Have you guys gotten any guidance from the league about when the S Earl Thomas III situation is going to happen? Has anything been settled with that? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I'll say what I said last year: That's ongoing. We'll continue to discuss that in a timely fashion, and at some point, maybe this year, we'll have something to say on that."
Being that director of player personnel Joe Hortiz interviewed for the New York Giants' G.M. opening earlier this offseason, do you have a consistent succession plan always in place for your staff members? And also, do you find him to be a coveted potential candidate out there in years to come around the league? (Bobby Trosset)"Yes, great question. I've been on both sides of it: I've been here a long time; I had opportunities to talk to other teams, and I would have a chance to always look at things, maybe, through [executive vice president] Ozzie's [Newsome] perspective on it, and so, what I would say is we have a great staff. We're always trying to augment the staff, add guys, assess their abilities, their strengths, their weaknesses, [and director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz] has always been a huge part of that. Joe is smart, he's a great evaluator, he's got a strong voice. He's always been, kind of, my sidekick. For probably the last, I don't know, maybe, 11 years, Joe has sat next to me in the Draft Room and has kind of watched what we do and how we do it. I was blessed that at an early age in my career here, I had the chance to run the Draft, and really, that's been a huge help for me. So, I think Joe has a great career [ahead of him]. He'll be a G.M. some day. A smart team is going to hire him. He's got a great skill set, he's a great collaborator, he's got a great eye for talent. That being said, we've got a lot of really good people upstairs. We're always trying to develop these guys and make them the very best that they can be. I've got a lot of faith in guys like [director of player personnel] George Kokinis, who I've worked with for, man, 25 out of 26 years, I think, and there's nobody better at what George does, in terms of pro personnel and college scouting, than George. We've got other guys upstairs, as well – David Blackburn, who's our national scout, who lives out in Phoenix [AZ] is an excellent evaluator. A lot of these guys you don't know, because it's not really what they do – they don't really deal with you guys – but they're very valuable. We've also got a great analytics staff that we've relied on the last couple years, especially with COVID, that have really, really helped us in the decision-making process, because we haven't been able to go out and see as many guys, [and] we haven't had a chance to test as many players, so we've had to find new, innovative ways of getting information. We've got a great staff upstairs of people that really help me, day to day, make decisions."
Are you planning on doing the Draft from the facility this season, or will you guys be doing it remotely once again? (Kevin Richardson)"Yes, the Draft will be here – I think, I hope, I pray. I've had it at my house one time, and that's going to be the end of that (laughter). The kicker for that was when the Wi-Fi went down during the Draft, and I found that was because my sons were playing Fortnite. (laughter) So, that's the end, this is the end. We won't be doing that again, so we're either going to have it here or they'll be a new general manager, because I'm not dealing with it at my house again." (laughter)
As far as your conversations with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, has anything been discussed regarding a contract extension for head coach John Harbaugh? (David Andrade)"No, that's not something that I would be involved with necessarily, and that's not something I'm going to talk about. Of course … I would say that … What I will say to you is sitting in the chair that I've [sat] in over the last three years, being across the hall from Coach [John] Harbaugh and having the chance to talk to him every single day, I don't think there's a better head coach in the National Football League. I appreciate so many different things that he brings to the table, and I couldn't imagine, at this point, standing here today, any situation where I would not want to be with John Harbaugh for years to come."
At running back, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, as you know, got injured just before the season. What are your expectations for them being back with the team at some point, and how much does that impact how you address that position in free agency and the draft? (Jamison Hensley)"There's always uncertainty with those guys, due to the nature of their injuries. That being said, I know both guys, I know their work ethic, determination. We're optimistic, of course, but there's always … As we learned this year, there's always going to be an unknown with injuries and how guys respond and how fast they get back. So, we'll be conservative, I think, with those guys, for sure. We'll assess the market, we'll assess free agency, we'll assess the Draft, and we'll make the best decision we can regarding that position. [I] certainly expect that those guys will be back at some point. I don't know exactly when, but we're confident. Both guys are young, so that bodes well in their favor. But we're confident that, at some point this year, those guys will be playing football for us."