Ozzie Newsome Sheds Light on His Future
On Feb. 2 during his annual season-ending news conference, Owner Steve Bisciotti made headlines by revealing that General Manager Ozzie Newsome would relinquish his position after the 2018 season.
It's hard to argue that anyone has been as influential on the Ravens organization as Newsome, who is the only general manager the franchise has ever had in Baltimore.
"Newsome has provided the franchise with a steady foundation from its earliest days in Baltimore on through the changes of coach and quarterback in 2008," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "Under his leadership, the Ravens represented a model of NFL sanity, replenishing their roster through the draft and rarely overreaching in free agency."
With his longtime assistant, Eric DeCosta, set to take the reins as the Ravens' general manager after the 2018 season, Newsome will have a new advisory role with the Ravens.
During a Q&A with The Baltimore Sun, Newsome was candid about a variety of topics, including being a trailblazer for African-American general managers, what it was like working with New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick during their time together in Cleveland, and who his best late-round draft pick was (he went with linebacker Adalius Thomas, a sixth-round selection in 2000).
Newsome didn't go into as much detail about his new job, though. When asked if the role has been given a title, he gave a very simple, "No." Newsome also didn't give a timetable for how long he expects to hold the position.
"Steve and I haven't talked about how long and I don't know," Newsome said. "I still enjoy getting up every day and coming to this office. I still enjoy walking to the locker room, like I did today, and then seeing the players after practice and going into to John's office and communicating with all the assistant coaches. Everything that's a part of the job I still enjoy."
That he enjoys so many aspects of the job may lead those in Baltimore to worry that Newsome would be interested if another organization asked him to lead their front office.
Cleveland, where Newsome played the entirety of his Hall of Fame career as a tight end and got his start as an NFL executive, has always been a spot pundits have speculated would be a good place for him to work. Newsome touched on that too.
"That's not something that I would want to pursue right now," Newsome said. "I think I'm in a very good situation here and the thing that I've always reminded myself of about going to another place is I don't know if I could recreate what I created here."
Remember, Newsome isn't a guy who has sought much change. Born in Muscle Shoals, Ala., he attended the University of Alabama and played there all four years. He was drafted by the Browns in the first round and played all of his 13 NFL seasons there. When the Browns moved to Baltimore, he followed and has stayed ever since.
Newsome was also asked about another job he'd been linked to in the past – becoming the athletic director at his Alabama alma mater.
"No, that ship has sailed," Newsome said. "They have Greg Byrne, who I really like. When I go back to Alabama, it is only to watch a football game."
It can be gleaned from those responses that Newsome's plan is to remain extremely involved in the Ravens' front office. If he still has a passion for the job, then why not remain in a workplace he's used to and continue to work?
For years, DeCosta had the title of assistant general manager, but he was given more responsibilities than the average person in that role. He became a crucial figure in Baltimore's draft process, with Walker noting "Bisciotti paid the assistant general manager handsomely with the understanding he would remain in Baltimore."
Why can't the roles just simply be reversed now? With DeCosta as the leader, and Newsome as the highly-valued No. 2?
Though Newsome stepping down will signal the passing of time, a complete overhaul of thought and process is not anticipated with DeCosta taking over. Because of the close bond the two share, the Ravens are expecting the same approach from their general manager after this season ends.
Newsome gave DeCosta his vote of confidence to continue the Ravens' tradition of front office excellence. Given how well Newsome has done at evaluating talent over the years, it should be a reassuring endorsement for the Ravens.
"Even though he's been around it for a number of years, you don't understand and appreciate it until you get in this position," Newsome said. "He'll adapt well because I think he understands that the people working with him are so important and their voices need to be heard."
To hear more from Newsome, check out his interview with "The Lounge" podcast in mid-June.
Pundits Buying Into a Joe Flacco Resurgence
The week leading up to Week 1 is always rife with predictions for the upcoming year (make sure to read LFW tomorrow to see what pundits have been saying about the Ravens' chances).
Analysts aren't just predicting how teams will fare, but also which players are set to have standout seasons. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been mentioned in plenty of these previews, including ESPN's. The website made a variety of predictions about how Baltimore's season will play out, which included a big individual campaign from Flacco.
"Flacco will surpass his single-season passing mark of 4,317 yards and reach 30 touchdowns for the first time in his career," ESPN wrote. "Teammates say the drafting of Jackson has lit a fire under Flacco, who's also healthier than he has been since 2014. All signs point to Flacco delivering a career year."
Let's hope ESPN is correct about that one.
ESPN isn't the only one predicting a big season from the 33-year-old. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King named Flacco as the No. 2 candidate to be the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, behind Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
This isn't the first time King has praised Flacco this offseason. Back in mid-August, King named the Ravens as his most overlooked team for the 2018 season, and his reasoning for that was Flacco.
"He's supremely motivated to say, 'You draft a quarterback No. 1? I'm going to make him sit for the next five years,'" King said.
The presence of rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson may be factoring into Flacco's motivation for this upcoming season, but only he knows that. However, a lot of pundits who expect big things from Flacco, ESPN and King included, are citing Jackson being a Raven as a big reason for him to put forth his best effort to raise his game.
"The story of Joe Flacco is you test him and he turns into an all-time great. It's incredible," NFL Network's Good Morning Football's Kyle Brandt said.
Mystery Surrounds Offense After Playmakers Get Few Touches in Preseason
A lot has been made of the Ravens much improved offense during this offseason, but WNST’s Luke Jones and The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec are still a little unsure about how the offense will look. Their uncertainty doesn't stem from being unsure about the talent level of the group as a whole, but rather how little key playmakers played during the preseason.
"Is it more surprising that Alex Collins, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead combined to touch the ball only eight times in the preseason or that no one is talking about that?" Jones wrote. "To be clear, that's not a criticism, but it speaks to the unknown still at work here."
The trio of wide receivers – Crabtree, Brown and Snead – add a particularly mysterious element to the 2018 season simply because for all of them, this is their first season in Baltimore.
Crabtree looked good in the preseason, hauling in two long receptions during games that showed why the Ravens believe he can be the No. 1 receiver. His veteran leadership has also been commended by many within the Ravens organization.
Brown has been one of the standouts of the preseason, and proven during practices that he can be a viable deep threat. He also showed that he can be more than just a deep threat when he hauled in a bullet from Flacco against the Indianapolis Colts for a touchdown after a superbly run route.
Snead didn't make as much of a splash in the preseason, but looked good during practices, and as Baltimore's depth chart showed, he may even have a chance to return some punts this season.
As for Collins, the Ravens know what he's capable of after a season in which he rushed for 973 yards and six touchdowns. There still isn't much of an idea of how Collins looks heading into this season, though there hasn't been any indication his production will dip.
"It's surprising that the Ravens didn't give Alex Collins a little more work this preseason," Zrebiec wrote. "The team's starting running back had just three total carries. Collins, who was on the Ravens' practice squad heading into Week One last year, got the Todd Gurley treatment."
For Jones, the lack of touches by Baltimore's playmakers hasn't deterred his belief in the team.
"I'm more optimistic about the Ravens than I've been in a few years, but it has very little to do with the 5-0 preseason," Jones wrote.
Peter King Predicts the Bengals Will Win the AFC North
Most pundits have predicted the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North, while a handful have also picked the Ravens to claim the title.
Not many have tabbed the Cleveland Browns for a strong season, but a lot of articles (and HBO's "Hard Knocks") have been dedicated to the team improving after an 0-16 campaign.
The Cincinnati Bengals must feel a bit like the forgotten team in the AFC North, especially after a strong preseason in which the team finished 3-1, and quarterback Andy Dalton posted a league-high 130.9 passer rating.
King hasn’t forgotten the Bengals though, and actually predicted they'll win their first division title since 2015. The Bengals finished 7-9 last season and in third place in the AFC North for the second straight year.
King's reasoning is a superb season from defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who he has winning the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
"It's not impossible to fathom Cincinnati or Baltimore winning this division; both are better on defense than the Steelers," King wrote.
"Atkins will get a huge hand from Carlos Dunlap and Andrew Billings on the defensive front. The Bengals will win the division with this front, and Atkins will lead the way."
- Jones doesn't think the return specialist battle is over, despite wide receiver Janarion Grant getting named to Baltimore's 53-man roster. "The practice-squad signings of Cyrus Jones and Tim White should signal to Janarion Grant not to get too comfortable as the return specialist. I'm not convinced the Ravens have found their answer in this department or if that individual is currently in the organization."
- Zrebiec believes a reunion between the Ravens and linebacker Albert McClellan, who had been with the Ravens since 2010 before getting cut on Saturday, could happen sooner rather than later. "It wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens bring him back before their Week Two game against the Cincinnati Bengals or shortly thereafter. McClellan is 32 years old and coming off a significant knee injury, and there was always going to be a concern about guaranteeing his $1.25 million salary for 2018. By signing him after Week One, the Ravens avoid doing that."
- Baltimore's Week 1 opponent may have some familiar faces on their sidelines. According to Pro Football Talk’s Curtis Crabtree, wide receivers Breshad Perriman and DeVier Posey, as well as quarterback Josh Woodrum, all of whom spent the summer with the Ravens, are currently trying out for the Buffalo Bills.