We all knew it was coming for a year now, but yesterday's announcement that Eric DeCosta signed a contract to officially become the Ravens "new" general manager makes this a landmark day in franchise history.
It's DeCosta's first day on the job, but before we get into what's ahead for him, this seems like an appropriate time to look back on the era that has now just passed.
Ozzie Newsome is the only general manager the Ravens have ever known. As Head Coach John Harbaugh said following the Ravens' playoff loss to the Chargers, Newsome "made the Ravens who they are."
That, among other reasons, is why The Ringer declared Newsome "the most important GM of his generation."
"Newsome, the architect of two Ravens Super Bowl squads, is perhaps the most impactful NFL executive of the past two decades," wrote The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz.
As Heifetz pointed out, Newsome was hired by Art Modell as the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, as he followed his former Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. Modell then fired head coach Bill Belichick.
"Since then, Belichick is the only person who has had more success running an NFL franchise than Newsome," Heifetz wrote.
Since 1996, Baltimore and New England are the only two franchises with a playoff winning percentage above .600. The Ravens' playoff point differential since 1996 is also the second largest after New England, Heifetz wrote.
Of course, everybody knows Newsome's tenure at GM started as well as it possibly could with two Hall of Fame selections – Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis – with his first two picks. In 2002, Newsome got another soon-to-be Hall of Famer in Ed Reed. A year later, he got another Canton candidate in Terrell Suggs. In 2008, Newsome grabbed future Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco.
Last April, in Newsome's final draft as GM, he set the Ravens up for more long-term success by boldly trading back into the first round to select Lamar Jackson. Newsome's final rookie class, by all accounts so far, has been a smashing success.
"Newsome certainly had plenty of misses, including spending first-round picks on Kyle Boller in 2003 and Breshad Perriman in 2015," Heifetz wrote. "But he had far more home runs and consistently made solid contact."
"Beyond building successful teams, Newsome is also respected around the league to an uncommon degree for front-office executives."
Newsome has said his favorite part of the job is being around the players, which is part of why he'll continue to have a "significant role" in Baltimore. Most GM's "keep a distance from the players they must evaluate," Heifetz pointed out. Not Ozzie.
He makes some tough calls, but he shoots players straight, and they love him for it.
Newsome also has the respect of the agents he must negotiate with. Last offseason, he was voted the most respected NFL decision-maker in a USA Today poll of 25 NFL agents.
Newsome's level of success is even more remarkable when considering the barriers he's had to break at each level, Heifetz wrote.
Born in Muscle Shoals, Ala. in 1956, he was part of a class that integrated a white school at age 12. He was in just the third recruiting class to include African-American players under Alabama's Bear Bryant.
In 2002, when Newsome was officially given the GM title, he became the first African-American general manager in NFL history. Now, with Newsome stepping down, there's only one black GM (Miami's Chris Grier) left in the league.
The Undefeated also released a long-form piece about Newsome last week entitled "Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome’s GOAT era comes to an end." It has some excellent insight from current Ravens players.
Here are some quotes about Newsome from around the league and in Baltimore:
"Ozzie, in my view, is the most important person at the Ravens. He has created two Super Bowl–winning teams 12 years apart and only one player [Ray Lewis] was on both teams. He's a rare human being." – Ravens President Dick Cass
"I would make the argument that if he wasn't in the Hall of Fame as a player, he would be in as a general manager." – Colts GM Bill Polian
"In my opinion, he's the greatest GM in the history of football." – John Harbaugh
"Literally, he's been a part of my life since birth. He’s always looked out for me and my family. Whether it was as a player or an executive, he's a Hall of Famer in everything that he's done in his career." – Orlando Brown Jr.
Lamar Jackson Gets Kudos From Defenders Around the NFL
The best compliments come from your competition, and Jackson certainly got the attention of defenders around the league this season.
Over the past six weeks, The Athletic's beat writers polled defensive players to get their answers on some quarterback questions. They got responses from 85 players across 25 teams, and Jackson's name came up multiple times.
Jackson got multiple votes for the question: Who is the most underrated NFL quarterback? The Panthers' Cam Newton got 14 percent of the vote.
Jackson got 7 percent of the vote for the question: Who is the most impressive rookie quarterback? The Browns' Baker Mayfield got 60 percent of the vote. It should be noted, however, that many of the players surveyed gave their responses in November, before Jackson became the Ravens' starter.
Jackson also received multiple votes for the question: Which backup quarterback should be a starter. Once again, the answers came early. The Eagles' Nick Foles won with 53 percent of the vote.
John Harbaugh Named AFC North Coach of the Year
Speaking of kudos, Harbaugh was named the AFC North's Coach of the Year for 2018, as awarded by ESPN.com staff writers.
"An argument can be made that Harbaugh should be the NFL Coach of the Year, not just of the division," ESPN wrote. "He put together his best coaching job in his 11th season in Baltimore, leading the Ravens to the playoffs by overcoming distractions and pressure-filled situations."
The Ravens sat at 4-5 after a three-game losing streak that brought up questions about Harbaugh's job security. Flacco had a hip injury, and things looked bleak, but Harbaugh "rallied the team around rookie QB Lamar Jackson and a new offensive scheme."
"In 2018, Harbaugh left no doubt that he remains among the upper echelon of coaches in how he steered a struggling team to the division title," ESPN wrote.
Ravens Could Explore Contract Extensions With Two Non-Free Agents
Much of the attention this offseason will be put on what the Ravens should do with their unrestricted free agents and some aging (and more expensive) members of the secondary.
The names we'll spend a lot of time talking about are linebackers C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith, quarterback Robert Griffin III, wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree, safety Eric Weddle and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.
But some pundits are already looking a step beyond that, and believe Baltimore would be well-served looking to get a head start on 2020 (or 2021) by offering a pair of 2016 rookies contract extensions.
After a player's third year in the league, they can first begin to negotiate contract extensions. The Ravens had eight players from their 2016 class that made significant contributions this season, but two stand out from the pack: left tackle Ronnie Stanley and outside linebacker Matthew Judon.
Stanley is in a different situation because the Ravens are likely to pick up his fifth-year rookie option, meaning he wouldn't be set to hit the market until 2021.
"If the Ravens decide Stanley will be a cornerstone of the offensive line for years to come, they could renegotiate his contract this offseason and keep him tied to the team well behind his fifth season in the league," wrote Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz.
The more likely candidate would be Judon, who will enter his fourth and final contract year this season. Judon had 19 sacks in his three seasons and turned it on in the second half of 2018.
"Judon might command hefty offers in free agency after the 2019 season or might remain in Baltimore as the new face of the team's pass rush in the post-Terrell Suggs era," Kasinitz wrote.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec is thinking along the same lines.
"The Ravens haven't always had this luxury with their cap situation, but with so many veterans potentially coming off the books in the next year or two, it will be interesting to see if DeCosta tries to get a jump on signing some of the organization's younger players to extensions before they reach their 'walk' years," Zrebiec wrote. "Judon, the best Raven on the field Sunday, is a good candidate."
- We'll dive into this more later this morning, but there was some big news around the AFC North yesterday …
- Check out this op-ed about how Baltimore, as a city, could learn a lot from the Ravens. [The Baltimore Sun]