Skip to main content

Inside Ravens' Widespread Free-Agency Recruiting Efforts


There was an empty seat on a flight departing BWI airport at 2:30 p.m. Monday with Mike Wallace's name on it.

Wallace was literally walking out the Under Armour Performance Center when Head Coach John Harbaugh came scampering down the hallway after him.

Wallace's agent had him scheduled for his next free-agency visit, but Harbaugh knew the Ravens' best chance of signing him would be to get it done immediately.

It's like a car salesman. Once the prospective customer walks out, they're less likely to come back. Harbaugh wanted to get the keys in Wallace's hand.

When the day began, Wallace never expected to leave Baltimore with a contract. After all, he was dressed casual in jeans and a sweatshirt. He left with a two-year contract in hand.

After signing, Wallace wanted to go home and dress up nice before meeting the media and introducing himself to his new Ravens fans. Harbaugh, however, had already orchestrated a quick press conference. The Ravens gave Wallace a purple polo shirt to throw on.

"This one really happened fast," Harbaugh said. "So, I apologize that he didn't have a chance to really dress up and do it right, because I wanted to do it, man! That was me."

"I wanted to wear a three-piece, but this will do," Wallace responded.

"We'll have three-piece moments in the future," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh isn't the only salesperson in Baltimore.

A cluster of people – from those in the front office, players and even former players – got Wallace, Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle and tight end Benjamin Watson to sign on the dotted line so far this offseason. And it's an entire organizational culture that stressed the details and drove home the point.

Wallace, Weddle and Watson all had more teams interested in them other than the Ravens. Weddle even confirmed that he turned down more money elsewhere to come to Baltimore.

Here are some of the people involved in the latest three signings:

Head Coach John Harbaugh

Outside of chasing down Wallace, Harbaugh puts in a lot more legwork.

When the Minnesota Vikings released Wallace, Harbaugh was on the phone with him within two hours. Harbaugh let him immediately know that the Ravens were interested.

Once Wallace was in the building, he said Harbaugh did a good job of detailing the Ravens' program and painting a picture of how Wallace would fit into it. Wallace also liked Harbaugh's high-energy pitch.

"He just seems fired up and I'm with it," Wallace said.

At a coaching summit with his brother in Michigan last weekend, Harbaugh talked about the constant recruiting he does as an NFL coach. He'll put his arm around an opposing player and compliment them as they're walking off the field after a game.

"There are five or six really good players on that team who, at some point in time, are going to be up for free agency or they're going to get cut. I want to build a relationship with those guys," Harbaugh said. "Maybe one in 10 or one in 50 of those guys, two or three years down the road, I'm going to have a conversation with them and they're going to remember that."

Harbaugh's hard work seems to have no end, and he relishes the process of helping to build the team in the offseason. Just read his perspective on how a free-agency plan, devised not long after the season ends, has come to fruition.

"They say you make 50 sales calls to have a chance at one sale," Harbaugh said. "I read that in business school way back when."

Harbaugh's assistant coaches also get involved. Wallace arrived in Baltimore Monday night and went out to dinner with Wide Receivers Coach Bobby Engram, a former NFL player himself. The two hit it off as the Ravens wined and dined Wallace.

"It felt right from the moment I walked in the building, meeting Coach [Harbaugh]," Wallace said. "And coach Engram – he's just a really good guy. He sold me on it last night just talking about the program."

Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta

DeCosta isn't a name that often pops up when it comes to luring free agents. He is more widely known for managing the Ravens' draft board, not the free-agency process.

But there was DeCosta sitting in the press conference with a grin from ear to ear as Weddle spoke to the media for the first time.

"I have to give Eric DeCosta a lot of credit," Harbaugh said in his opening statement with Weddle sitting next to him. "Eric was a pit bull on this one."

Weddle said DeCosta "did all the work behind the scenes." According to Bleacher Report's Jason Cole, DeCosta spent an hour and a half on the phone with Weddle.

DeCosta reportedly shared his story of turning down eight interviews for other general manager jobs in order to stay with Baltimore. It spoke to the Ravens' culture and commitment to winning. People just don't want to leave.

According to Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei, the Ravens were the first team to make Weddle an official offer, although there were many others showing interest. On Saturday, DeCosta told Weddle's agent, David Canter, "We really want him."

Hearing that conviction, after it was made clear by San Diego that he wasn't wanted, meant a lot to Weddle.

As one would expect, General Manager Ozzie Newsome also made a lot of calls. Wallace said Newsome was one of the people who phoned to express the Ravens' deep interest.

Newsome was also instrumental in getting Watson, a fellow tight end. The Ravens often don't swoop in during the first day of free agency, but Newsome was on the phone with Watson and his agent as soon as the negotiating window opened.

Newsome not only carries the credentials and respect as one of the NFL's premier front-office executives, but as a Hall of Fame player.

"He has got the gold jacket, so I just want to be like him – a little bit like him," Watson said.

Current And Former Ravens Players

Who would have thought that Steve Smith Sr.'s decision not to retire would not only have an impact on the field, but also in the construction of the team in the offseason?

Everyone knows Smith is a wordsmith, but he can use his mouth for a whole lot more than trash talking.

Smith already had an inside track with Weddle. The two Utah alums have been very close friends for a long time, even though they didn't play together in college. As Pompei revealed, Smith even offered to fly up from North Carolina to give Weddle and his wife, Chanel, a tour of Baltimore if they so desired.

But Smith was also involved in recruiting Wallace. Wallace said Smith started calling him last week and continued to keep tabs on him throughout the process.

"I knew when he called that he was going to shoot it straight and tell me exactly what it was," Wallace said. "He wasn't going to tell me what I wanted to hear; he was going to tell me exactly what I asked him."

Wallace referred to Smith as a future Hall of Famer and somebody he respects because he knows he's going to have his back.

"If we go in and fight 80 people. I know me and him by ourselves, we'll fight all 80 together," Wallace said. "His work speaks for itself, but just to have him call me and know that he wanted me to be a part of the team was great. It just adds to it."

The Ravens also had outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who played in the AFC West division and went to several Pro Bowls with Weddle, place a call.

Even former Ravens player Jarret Johnson, who is probably off fishing somewhere enjoying another year of retirement, called Weddle "on behalf of the Ravens," per Pompei. Johnson played nine years in Baltimore before suiting up for three seasons with Weddle in San Diego.

Players listen to players, especially players they greatly respect.

"It wasn't so much them pitching to me or recruiting me, in a sense. It was just them being honest and upfront with me. They believe in this organization, and as a guy who strives to be like those guys," Weddle said, trailing off.

"Just them being close friends and guys I can trust and letting me know how much they love this place and how they work and the drive that they all have, it was honestly an easy sell to me on what I was looking for."

The Facts

It's very hard to sell a product when the product isn't any good.

Beyond the people, the Ravens have the benefit of their reputation, history and attention-to-detail program on their side when it comes to recruiting free agents.

It starts with two Lombardi trophies sitting in the lobby, including a very recent 2012 championship victory. The Ravens have gone to the playoffs six of the past eight seasons since Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco came on board.

Even the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl march still helps. That dominant defense left an impression, and Baltimore has become synonymous with defense ever since. On the offensive side of the ball, Flacco is a recruiting tool and one Wallace cited as a main reason he chose the Ravens.

It says something when even the Ravens' rivals have respect.

"Being in Pittsburgh, it was something about this organization, even from the outside looking in. I know it's nice," Wallace said.

Often times, it's the little things about how an organization operates that make a difference to players. Pompei reported that Weddle had a list of 30 questions that his agent would ask teams who were interested in his client.

Among the questions were:

  • What are the parking facilities like for families at the stadium?
  • Are older players given "veteran days" in which they don't have to practice?
  • Is there music at practice?
  • What is the traffic like around the team facility?

The players' families have premium game parking. Harbaugh does give older players veteran days during training camp and the season. Harbaugh also has music on during much of practice, keeping practice a little more fun while challenging. The team's sprawling Under Armour Performance Center is in the Baltimore suburbs, sitting on a back road.

"I can't tell you guys how excited I am to be a part of something special and to be a part of a culture, to be a part of winning, to be a part of defense, toughness," Weddle said.

"Everything that I want as a football team and an organization."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content