ERIC DECOSTA INTRODUCTORY PRESS CONFERENCE
Opening statement: “First, I want to thank everybody for coming. It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to the organization to have all the visitors here today. This is a very, very – for me – very humbling experience standing up here today in the city that I love, Baltimore, working for this organization that I’ve worked for for 23 years, and that I love. This has been really a dream of mine since I was six years old, and I always tell this story: In 1978, the Cowboys were playing the Broncos. We didn’t have to worry about the Patriots playing in the Super Bowl back then. (laughter) Half the bus stop in Taunton, Mass., was pulling for the Broncos, and I picked the Cowboys to be the contrarian. And, they won that game, and I became just fascinated by the Cowboys and by Tom Landry, Gil Brandt, Tex Schramm, the whole notion of scouting and building a football team. Doing things differently than all the other teams did back then really, really appealed to me. So, this has really been something over the course of my life that I always just dreamed about being: a general manager for an NFL football team.
“There are some people I want to thank that have really helped me along the way that have been very, very influential in my life from the time I was a little boy. First, my parents, Joe and Donna DeCosta. My dad has been just an unbelievable supporter. He has encouraged me all along the way. I was really never good at many things as an athlete, a student, but my dad always made me feel like I could just do anything I wanted in my life. And my mom, she always challenged me to be better, and she was kind of the ‘heavy’ in my family, and she always put the pressure on me to just go after everything and to always feel like I just really wasn’t just doing quite enough. I lost my mom about five years ago before the draft. Actually, no, I think it was in the summertime, and she would have really enjoyed being here today, and I’m sorry that she couldn’t be here.
“My sister, Joey, a doctor up in Massachusetts, she’s probably the toughest person I know. I really admire her for what she’s done in her life, all the various things, the challenges she has faced and all the hurdles she’s kind of jumped over to get where she is today. My wife, Lacie, who is here today, is probably the most selfless person who I know. She just gives so much of herself for our family, for our friends, for me. She’s helped me in so many different ways over the last 20 years that we’ve been together, and she’s also my best friend. My children, my daughter Jane, she’s 15, my son Michael, he’s 11, and my son Jackson, he’s seven … They bring me just so much joy in my life. I try to get out of here every night, oftentimes to see them before they go to bed, and that’s probably one of the real joys that I have every single day, except for maybe coming in through the gates in the morning. I also want to thank Gilman [School] and Roland Park [Country School] for cancelling school today so that my kids could come to the press conference. (laughter)
“I’d really like to thank Steve and Renee Bisciotti for their trust in me and for allowing me to lead this great franchise. Probably a lot of people don’t know this, but the first time that Steve actually broached the idea of me being a general manager someday was actually back in 2007, so it’s been a long time. It’s been a long time coming. It has been a long wait. I’ve had a lot of time to sit and think about what this day would be like, and I promise that I will justify the Bisciottis’ faith in me moving forward.
“I’d like to thank [team president] Dick Cass for his advice over the years, his leadership, his integrity and his support. I’d like to recognize coach [John] Harbaugh and thank him for his friendship, his vision, his conviction, his humility and his passion. We’re neighbors in this building, and believe it or not, we’re actually neighbors in life. We live about 100 yards apart from each other, and I can tell you this, John is the only coach I want to work with.
“I’d like to thank all the coaches and especially all the scouts. We’re a great team. I’d like to especially mention Maggie [Domanowski], my assistant, and Jessie [Markison, director of football administration], for everything that you guys have done behind the scenes to make us a better team.
“And finally, I’d just like to mention ‘Oz’ [former general manager Ozzie Newsome]. He and I have always had a special relationship going back to my first year. I’ll tell you, my first year at the Combine, so it was probably 23 years ago, I was kind of wandering around aimlessly at the Combine. We were much smaller then, so we had the area scouts and basically me, and all the area scouts had jobs, and I was just kind of roaming around the Combine, just walking through the stands, trying to find a place to sit. I felt kind of insecure, and I look up, and I see Ozzie sitting up there with a bunch of GMs and head coaches. And, he waved up and said, ‘Come on up here,’ and so I did. And, for the last 23 years, I’ve sat with him at the Combine. It means a lot to me that back then, he basically took a 25-year-old kid who had no experience in the NFL, who was so different from him, and gave me a chance and accepted me. He and I have always been very different in a lot of ways, but so aligned. It’s been a special relationship in my life. I’ve learned a lot of football, but honestly, just a lot more about being a good person. So, I am extremely happy that Ozzie is going to play such a significant role moving forward for this organization, and it just gives me immense joy that I can still mess around with him every day like I do. So, I’m excited about that.
“We’re currently now, I think, outlining and developing our plans for this football team moving forward. We had a really productive personnel meeting several weeks ago with the coaches and scouts, where we talked about all the various issues from the past season and what we want to accomplish moving forward. I think we had some great meetings in Jupiter, [Fla.] a week ago, where we had a chance – myself and Ozzie and Pat [Moriarty, senior vice president of football administration] and Dick and John and Steve – to talk about the team and our vision and our strategies moving forward. We’ve spent the last couple weeks down at the All-Star games – the Senior Bowl, and also at the East-West and at the NFLPA game out in LA. We’ve had the chance to look at about 200 different college players in the last few weeks and interview those guys and really study them as players. We start our draft meetings this week. We’ll have the chance to discuss about 1,000 players with our area scouts who come into town next week. And, we’ll also start getting ready for the Combine. And that’s our plan. That’s where we stand currently, and now I’ll open it up to questions.”
You mentioned about your vision – you talk about as a team, talking about the vision. What would be your vision of the Ravens as you’re building it going forward? (Jamison Hensley) “That’s a good question. I think we’ve done a lot of really good things in the past, and we would be foolish to just change things overnight. I think we always want to be a physical, big, fast, aggressive, disciplined football team. We always want to play with passion. We always want to have the ability to impose our will on our opponents. I think we want to be financially responsible when it comes to the salary cap. I think we want to be innovative in terms of whether we use analytics, technology, new teaching principles, new ways of looking at players, new ways of interviewing players and getting to know their personalities and their makeups and things like that, incorporating science with traditional scouting methods, which I think are critical, and creating an organization that is a fun, really rewarding place to work. I think that’s a big part of what I want to accomplish as well.”
Two quick questions. No. 1 is, did you get an “ED” parking spot? Have they painted your parking spot? (Stan Charles) “I didn’t want ‘ED,’ but I did get a ‘GM’ out there. (laughter)I have to tell you, of all the things that I could have gotten, that’s got to be the best, because I go back to last year when the building was being renovated, and what a pain in the butt [it was to park]. (laughter) So, to be able to pull up and park right next to [team president] Dick Cass, that’s a treat.”
You used the word – I was going to ask a question about “analytics.” Where do you think they fit in football, and what might, three-to-five years from now, an analytics department look like on the football side? (Stan Charles) “We have a staff of about four or five people that help in different ways. I think this: Analytics is a useful tool that we use, not any different from anything else we use. So, our interviewing techniques, our ability to scout players using traditional scouting methods, our ability to generate information and background … Analytics is a way that I see of organizing information. We have all these different pieces of information – bullet points and different things. How do we organize that information effectively? And, how do we use that information to help us make decisions? So, is it a growing field? Yeah, I think it is. Is it something that we’ll just rely on strictly, ever? No, I don’t think that’s the case. Is it something that will help us make decisions? I think it can be. There are some really, really smart people out there doing some amazingly innovative things, and we would be foolish as an organization to not look at that and consider that as a way of helping us be better.”
What do you see as the time table with QB Joe Flacco, his status, and when do you think anything will happen on that front? (Bo Smolka) “I think that’s an ongoing process. The new league year starts in March, and we’ll have a lot of different ideas, strategies, things that we’ll look at once March rolls around. Right now, we’re really focused on the draft and our free-agency meetings, which will start to take place over the next couple of weeks. We have discussed Joe; we’ve discussed a lot of players on the team, and I think that when the time comes for us to make a decision one way or the other, we’ll have a plan in place.”
Does your draft strategy change at all as the GM? Do you plan on putting any different takeaway, putting your own stamp on it? (Todd Karpovich) “I think it will be a work in progress. I’ve been so involved in the draft, hands-on, day-to-day. I was thinking about that yesterday. I’ve been running the draft meetings since 2004, I think. There will be some changes. There will be some changes in the way that we do things. I want to make sure I give our people a chance to really do their jobs and to be as effective as they can be in their roles. We have some amazing scouts, and we have some really good people who can organize and manage and help us make the best decisions. We have some really good coaches that are good evaluators. I think we have a really, really good structure in place. I want to make sure – and I’ve learned from Ozzie [Newsome] – I want to make sure I’m a good listener, and I don’t want to be the person that has to speak the loudest or speak at the last moment. I want to make sure we trust our people, and they have a chance to speak and influence the board. I think what we’ve found is that when we do that effectively, and everybody has a chance to contribute to the discussion, we’ll make good decisions.”
How is the dynamic going to work with former general manager Ozzie Newsome in terms of ... He has a significant role. He was just the GM, so how does that work going forward? And, you mentioned that owner Steve Bisciotti had approached you back in 2007. How close were you to possibly leaving because Ozzie was such a fixture? (Jerry Coleman) “As far as Ozzie is concerned, people that really know me really well know that I’ve probably seen ‘The Godfather’ 250 times, and I kind of go back to Michael and him having his father as his consigliere, and what an advantage he had to have the best in the business advising him day to day. And, that’s what I think Ozzie can do with me. Who better to help me make decisions and to navigate than Ozzie Newsome?
“As far as the 2007 thing goes, I was flattered back then, and I’m flattered now, and I’m the kind of person who appreciates people who stick with things. And, even when I think about athletes that I’ve admired, people that I’ve admired, they’ve had long tenures in different places. I love this community. My family is from this community. I love the people that I work with day to day. I think anyone who knows me knows that. And so for me, did I have chances? Yeah. Did I have a lot? Yeah. Did I ever really consider it? Not really, because every time I’d go to bed thinking that maybe I would consider something, I’d wake up and say, ‘What are you, crazy? You know you’re going to have the job someday that you’ve dreamed about, so just wait and make it perfect.”
In your time, you’ve pretty much seen everything done, or at least taken part in it. As you take over as general manager, what are the things that you’re yet to do that might be out of your comfort zone as you move forward? (Mark Viviano) “When I started in 1996, we were small as an organization, and honestly, I worked for everybody. I helped Kevin [Byrne, executive vice president of public and community relations] in PR. I worked in the equipment room doing things with those guys. I helped the trainers do what we had to do. I worked for the coaches. I got coach [Ted] Marchibroda … I used to take his car to get oil changes. This is a true story. He used to give me $100 to get an oil change, and I could keep the change, so I found a special up on Reisterstown Road that was $9.99, and I could just keep all the rest of the money. (laughter) I think sometimes people would think maybe that I would be embarrassed that I started off as an intern now that I’m a GM, that I want to forget that. But to be honest with you, I cherish that, the fact that I could start out as a young person and really do a lot of different things, and I’m proud of that, that I understand what a lot of people do in this organization. I have an appreciation for what they do, because in some instances, I did those jobs, and I think that’s one of the great things that Ozzie [Newsome] instituted in scouting. When we would bring people on back then, we had such a small staff, and he would say, ‘You’re going to learn this organization from soup to nuts,’ and that’s what we did. I think looking back, that was probably the best gift that Ozzie could have given me.”
I think it has gotten easy for us over the years to kind of view you and Ozzie Newsome as being this pair, very closely associated and on the same wavelength. Are there areas where you are substantially, philosophically different than Ozzie when it comes to doing this job? (Peter Schmuck) “That’s a hard question. Do we always agree? No. Have we always agreed? No. I’ve always looked at my role, though, as serving Ozzie. So, I would give my opinion, and no matter what decision we make, I support it. Are there things I want to do differently? Probably. Does he appreciate analytics as much as maybe I do, or at least maybe as much as I see possible benefits? Maybe, maybe not. I think he has probably come around a little bit. Look, we’re very different in a lot of different ways. We don’t see players the same way all the time, and if we don’t, we’ll typically scrimmage it or talk about it, and that’s what makes it good. It’s just like with coach [John] Harbaugh. He and I don’t always see players the same way. But, I think what I’ve learned over the years – and this started with Ozzie and coach [Ted] Marchibroda, and Ozzie and coach [Brian] Billick, and then with Ozzie and John – is it’s healthy to have disagreements or to see things differently. You have to make the best decision for the organization, and you do that by talking about things, not running from them, not closing your door. You talk about these things. You confront the issue. You confront the evaluation or the player or the decision, and you come to an agreement that’s the best decision for the organization. Yeah, we’ve never always been aligned on every single issue or every single player. But in the end, I always feel like we’ve always made the best decision, regardless.”
For ILB C.J. Mosley, is the franchise tag in play for him? (Jamison Hensley) “I think everything is on the table right now. I certainly hope that C.J. is back. I believe in my heart that he will be. We’re having those discussions now. I think we have several different strategies in place. We’re in the business of keeping our good football players. Talent wins in the NFL, and he’s a Pro Bowl linebacker, so we’re going to do what we can to make sure that C.J. is back on the team.”
How fortunate do you feel to have a coach who has the kind of clout that might have allowed him to try and push for more power, but he doesn’t seem to care to get into your world? (Stan Charles) “I think John [Harbaugh] has had such a great experience with Ozzie [Newsome], and I think in his heart, he knows it’s going to be the same way. John is also a very humble person, and he just wants to do what’s best for the organization. What we’ve done has worked in the past. He and I have a good relationship. I think he respects me, and I respect him very, very much, and I think it will be a great partnership.”
It was about this time last year that Ozzie Newsome said, “We’re looking to change that receivers room, in terms of personnel.” Is there a room you’re looking to change in terms of personnel this year, or what would you see as this team’s most pressing needs? (Bo Smolka)“I think everything is a need. We can always get better. I think the only times in this organization’s history when we probably couldn’t get better is when we had Ray Lewis as an inside linebacker and Ed Reed as a safety and Jonathan Ogden as a left tackle. But, we can always improve at every position across the board. That’s what we do in scouting. That’s what we do in player personnel and in coaching is try to get everybody better, so we’ll make those evolutions. Certainly, there are some positions that, probably, we need some additional help, but I’ve been pleasantly encouraged by some of the younger players and the growth that they’ve made. I think we’ve become a younger team. I think we have some other players that are going to make some more jumps this year, and I think we’re headed in the right direction, roster-wise.”
How different is the challenge to try to create the offense around a quarterback with such an eclectic skillset, if you will, a special skillset like QB Lamar Jackson has? (Pete Gilbert) “It’s fun, I think. I think we embrace the challenge of building the best team we can, the best offense that we can, the best defense that we can, and we’ve got a quarterback with a unique skillset, and so how best can we make him better? What types of players are we looking for? A lot of that is going to happen with input from the coaches and what they think is best for Lamar, and this is a really, really fun, exciting offseason, because we get a chance to look at other teams, and maybe even have the chance to draft some players or add some players that maybe other teams don’t like as much as we do because we’re doing something different. So, we may be able to find or exploit that situation a little bit.”
Do you think it’s going to be tough to attract free agent wide receivers with QB Lamar Jackson’s style? What would your selling point be knowing they want to catch the ball? (Jerry Coleman)“I think they’ll catch the ball. I think players respect talent. I think players respect athletes and competitors. Anyone can watch Lamar Jackson and see how talented he is and what kind of a competitor he is. Players also want to win, and I think that’s something that drives every professional athlete – winning football games or winning games. I think they’ll recognize that about us. When they watch us play, they’ll want to play here.”
It’s been a while since you’ve had a quarterback on a rookie deal. How do you think that will affect things, in terms of free agency and the money that you have to spend? (Garrett Downing) “I think it’s great. As I said, one of the things that we want to do is put ourselves in a really good salary cap situation now and also moving forward. That’s the goal, that’s the challenge. I think we can get there. I think we’ll make strides this year. I think we’ll make more strides next year. Moving forward, that’s our plan. So, having a quarterback on a rookie deal is a big part of that.”
In terms of QB Lamar Jackson, he’s still early in his development. Does that give you another variable as you try to figure out the skill position players that would best incorporated into the offense? (Jonas Shaffer)“I think what we really want is just good players. We want guys that can make plays – playmakers, guys that have the chance to help us win a football game in crunch time. We also want big, physical, tough, aggressive, nasty, mean offensive linemen who can protect Lamar and help open up some running holes. We want tight ends who can make plays. We want running backs who can take the tough yard; we want running backs who can break big gainers. I think what we really want is a guy that when you watch them, you watch 10 plays and you say, ‘You know what? This guy is good.’ You don’t have to watch five games to watch a guy to say, ‘This is the type of guy we want.’”
In terms of the veterans who are not free agents, \John Harbaugh said last week that in an ideal world, he would like to have G Marshal Yanda and S Eric Weddle back – along with some other guys as well. Would you share that outlook and optimism? (Childs Walker) “Again, I think we want to have the best players we can, that we can fit in under the parameters of the salary cap. We want to have a great mix of young players and veteran leadership and guys that can help us win games. There are a lot of different formulas for that. We’re not, as of right now, we’re not tied to cutting anybody, and we’re not tied to playing with anybody. We just want the best team we can field to play in September 2019.”
There’s a lot of outside conversations about LB C.J. Mosley and negotiations with him. He plays inside linebacker, which may not be considered a premium position. What do you say to that assumption that he maybe should get paid as much as a premier cornerback or edge rusher?(Aaron Kasinitz) “Well I think Ray Lewis got paid deservedly. Good football players should be paid. C.J. is a good football player – there’s no doubt about it. You can get caught up in these types of positions that guys get paid – you should pay the left tackle, or you pay the corner, but not pay the defensive tackle or the inside linebacker. That’s all well and good unless someone rushes for 250 yards against you, then all of a sudden you change the dynamic and say, ‘Well, we should sign the inside linebacker or the defensive tackle.’ You want to be a balanced team, you want as many good players as you can. You try to fit that in under the parameters of the salary cap that you can. But in the end, you have to win the game. Guys in different positions can help you do that. If it’s an inside linebacker, as we saw with C.J. late in the year – the interception – he won that game [versus Cleveland] for us. So at that time, I think people would say that was pretty important.”
Ozzie Newsome had a lot of success signing free agents, veteran wide receivers. How do you view the wide receiver position? Does anything need to change in the scouting or adding of wide receivers? (Ryan Mink) “That’s a challenging position, I think, to draft and to scout and to develop for a lot of reasons. But in the end, I’ve learned from Ozzie that the guy has to catch the football – first and foremost. You’d like the guy to have some toughness and some speed, some route ability, there’s a lot of different things you look for. Now, for instance, blocking as a wide receiver for us is important. It’s really important. Again, we’ll hash these guys out in the draft meetings and free agency and try to find the guys that fit us best, fit our identity that we like, our skillset – again, working under the structure of the salary cap.”
You mentioned Ed Reed as a guy who couldn’t have been upgraded. What stands out in your memory of scouting and drafting him? (Childs Walker)“Man, [he was] just a playmaker. I go back to that game against B.C. [Boston College]. It was one of the greatest plays – he just pulled the ball away from the guy to win the game. Ed just always had a great knack for making a critical play in a critical situation. He was a finisher. He was a guy that when the lights were on, he was going to make the play – just like that Washington [Redskins] game. I’ll never forget that night game when he blocked the punt, recovered the fumble and basically, single-handedly won that game for us. He just had a flare for making the best play of the game.”
Since QB Joe Flacco was established here as a starter, the backup quarterback position was almost a throw-away position. With the jeopardy QB Lamar Jackson puts himself in, the way he plays the game, do you think you need to put more assets in to that position? (Stan Charles) “I think that position is often overlooked, unless you need that guy, and then he becomes critical. We want to make sure we have a good backup in place regardless of Lamar Jackson being quarterback or somebody else being the quarterback. Having two quarterbacks is essential in the NFL. There’s no faster way to ruin your season than to get your starting quarterback hurt and not having an effective backup quarterback. Your season is basically over at that point. We never want to be in that position again.”
You said in your opening statement that John Harbaugh is the only coach you want to work with. Why is that? What is it about him that makes you feel that way? (Aaron Kasinitz) “I think his determination, his drive, his love of his players, the respect he commands in the locker room, his passion. I think he’s a man of integrity, honesty, great character. I admire a lot of things about him.”
Did it bother you when there was speculation about how you guys might not see eye-to-eye on things? (Jeff Zrebiec) “Yes, it did bother me. There’s a word I like to use sometimes – I was an English major – and it’s called subterfuge. I would see that, and I would read it, and all I would think to myself is, ‘We have enemies out there who are trying to create divisions and cracks and fissures and things like that.’ I get it. It’s what we do around draft time. I stand up here at draft time and tell you guys things, and sometimes I have an agenda. So, I get it. But it did upset me a little bit, I think, because it just wasn’t true, and it was a personal thing. It wasn’t work-related; it wasn’t a game or something that would affect the outcome of a game or strategy. It was personal, and it was simply not true.”
At this point, former Ozzie Newsome has made the final call on all the decisions. Do you look forward to that moment where you make the final call? Have you considered what might happen at that time? (David Ginsburg) “Not really, because I’ve been here 23 years, and I can only probably think of only a handful of times when Ozzie probably had to use that power. Almost every decision that we make is a consensus decision between Ozzie and the head coach. I’ve been fortunate to have some input in that regard. But the best decisions are the ones that are made together with the interest of the team at heart. John [Harbaugh] has great wisdom; Ozzie has great wisdom. We have really great people working here. I’m confident that the best decisions that we make won’t be my decision, but it’ll be organizational decisions.”
You’re working for the team that you love and the city that you love. Now as the top guy, there is attention, pressure and there will be criticism. How well-skilled are you for that part of it? (Mark Viviano) “I think from a pressure standpoint, no one can put more pressure on me than I’ve put on myself my whole life. I mean, I’ve always been – unfortunately for my wife – the person that just worries about everything and puts pressure on myself. My family would say that. I’ve been an overachiever my whole life. I’ve always felt I had to battle and scrap to survive. From that standpoint, that doesn’t bother me. The scrutiny and all that – I get it, I get it. Regardless, when I would wake up on Thursday, April 26, getting ready for the day of the draft, I feel more pressure on myself than anybody could put on me. I’m OK with that. I think it’ll be different for my family a little bit, that’ll be more challenging. I’m not really sure how this will affect me personally. I’ve had different roles over the years that have been a little different than this. I’ve also had a lot of time to think and reflect on it and discuss it as a family. I think we’re in a good place. I embrace it.”
As a compliment to the organization, a lot of teams have hired your top scouts. Owner Steve Bisciotti said and the State of the Ravens last year that probably has had an impact on the organization. Are there any plans to make any hires? Is there change coming to the scouting department in the next couple years? (Jeff Zrebiec) “Well I’m really, really comfortable and confident in our scouts. I think this past season, the record, some of the younger players, I think that bears out. I think we’ve got the best group in the league, quit frankly. We’ll change some responsibilities around. We’ll do something different things to tweak things to keep it fresh, to give some guys a chance to do some different things and to really play up to their strengths and give some guys some opportunity. That’s what this is about: is opportunity. We’ve had some guys that have been very, very loyal, that have been hardworking, who are really, really good at what they do. I want those guys to be in power. So we’ll do that at some point and we’ll make some announcements at some point later on. But I think in terms of going out and having all these different people … No. 1, I don’t think we need to. No. 2, I don’t think it’s fair to the guys we have. No. 3, I think we have a great group of guys that are going to grow and continue to grow and mature and become the best in the league.”
Does it feel strange to be up there at the podium alone? (Pete Gilbert) “Yes, I’ve never been up here alone before.” (Reporter: “Were there any moments where you realized that you have huge shoes you’re filling? Any jarring moment or anything like that?”) “Well I have size 10.5 feet, and I think Ozzie [Newsome] is a 13 – so there you go. (laughter) I actually did stand up here one time. I had my [son’s] soccer team here, and I gave them a speech. They were sitting right there. I think there are sometimes when I look at the challenges and they are daunting. But I’ve been blessed that I’ve had a lot of time to think and prepare for this. Whereas, had I gone to another team – all new faces, new organization, new people – that’d be, in my mind, a little more challenging to not have the relationships and things that I’ve been able to develop here over the last 23 years. That would be tough for me. Being here, having been able to observe people, I know the quality of people that we have here. I know this community; I know what our fan base is like. There’s no better challenge for me than this.”
It became an annual thing in the offseason with talk about another team trying to get you. I know you said you would wake up the next morning and say, “Am I crazy?” But was there any time or any period where you were really close to being a phone call away accepting one of these GM jobs elsewhere? (Jeff Zrebiec) “I don’t know. I think I’ve had some cool things happen. When [co-founder of Microsoft and Seattle Seahawks chairman] Paul Allen called me, that was kind of cool. But no – I love this place. From Steve [Bisciotti], to Ozzie [Newsome], to Manny [Tejada] in the kitchen – these are the Ravens. I love this place. I love the idea that I started here when we had a blank helmet on our stationary, and we had holes in the walls over there at the police barracks on Owings Mills Boulevard, and all the tape was just scattered everywhere in the hallways. One of my jobs was to take all that tape and file it away. Here we are now. It’s great to see the brand grow; it’s great to see our fan base grow and this building and the stadium and who the Ravens are. To me, that’s everything.”
How will you becoming GM affect your pranks around the building? (Ryan Mink) “I thought about that a little bit. It’s not going to be quite as easy, but I’ve got some plans in place. We’ll do some things sporadically. We’ll have to break them out differently, but probably not quite as much. I think Pat [Moriarty, senior vice president of football administration] is going to be happy that I have a lot less time on my hands. But we’ll see what happens.” (laughter)
Can you give a quick thumbnail sketch of the division as you see it? Where the Ravens stand and the competition? (Stan Charles) “Well, we won the division this year. I’m proud of that. Obviously, the other teams are all good. They’ve all got their strengths and weaknesses, just like we do. Obviously, the Steelers – they’re great. They’ve got a lot of great personnel, well-coached, fan base, history, all that going for them. The Bengals have always been a tough team for us to play. They’ve got a lot of really good players that created matchup problems for us in the past. The Browns are on the rise, and we saw that this year. They’re a tough team to play. They have a good, young quarterback and some really good, young players. I think the challenge for us is just play really well against our division, to win our division every single year, to win those games and just to compete against all the other teams.”
You talked about pressure, you talked about filling shoes. Have you thought much about the weight of the job, meaning that if you’re 12-4 at the end of the year – that’s yours, or if you’re 6-10 at the end of the year – that’s yours. You say that you’re hard on yourself. (Peter Schmuck) “I think I've always felt that way. I always feel that way. I'm not the GM – I wasn't the GM – but if we went 6-10, I took it personally. It really bothers me. I hate to lose. People can tell you that. There are people in this building that know how I feel about that. I'm a very competitive person, so I never look at it as not my responsibility; I've always looked at it as my responsibility. If we have a player that's not playing well, I've always thought, 'That's my pick. My name is on that guy, too. Not the GM, not the head coach, but my name, too.' So, I do take that personal. When we play poorly, I take that personally. I take that home, and I take it personal. It's very personal for me. So, I don't think about it like that – I never have. Even when I was 26 years old working with Ozzie, I never felt that way. I took it personal, and I still do.”
Quick follow up. You said that Ozzie Newsome would be like a consigliere. If he tells you to whack somebody… (Peter Schmuck) “I’ll have to wait and see how all that shakes out.” (laughter)
There are three phases to the game, but recent history shows efficient passing offenses winning Super Bowls. Knowing that you have offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the talents of QB Lamar Jackson, is building a playoff contender with a run-first offense a unique challenge? (Jonas Shaffer) “I think football is very cyclical. For years, you couldn't just win a Super Bowl with a really strong defense. I think we did that back in 2000. I think we want to be balanced, for sure. We want to have the best special teams in the league, we want to have the best defense league, and we want to have the best offense in the league. There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat. We want to be a balanced offense with the threat of being able to run the ball effectively and pass the ball effectively. I'm confident. I know John [Harbaugh] is extremely confident that we're going to do that this year. We're excited about that. We expect Lamar to make a jump, but we also expect a lot of the other players on offense to make a jump as well. We think we're going to get there.”
I’m sure you have an idea of how much cap space you want to have going into free agency. How active do you expect to be in free agency? (Jamison Hensley)“I think it depends. It depends on the player, and as Ozzie [Newsome] has always said – I'll steal an Ozzie-ism – 'Right player, right price.' The other thing is we're going to look at our players on our team, we'll make some tough decisions with certain players, and there are a lot of different ways we could go. We could let some guys go and free up some cap room. We may decide that's not the best thing for us to do for the football team. We may wait to do that with certain players. We may not. We may then decide to wait and draft first and see what we can do via the draft before we really do anything in free agency, which can be effective as well. So, I think there are a lot of different strategies that we can use. I think right now, what we're trying to do is just assess the quality of the draft and also assess the quality of free agency – to rank the players from best to worst and to find and sort of ascertain which players can help us be the best team that we can be.”
The closer a guy gets to free agency, the closer it obviously is to sign him. Does having a quarterback on rookie deal allow you to lock up guys early this year before they hit free agency? Will that be a goal? (Jeff Zrebiec) “I think that would be a goal, for sure. I think that we would love to keep as much young talent as we can in Baltimore. That's hard to do at times when you have a really, really good quarterback who's making a lot of money, and you have less cap room. It is tougher for you to keep your roster intact. It is a lot easier to do when you don't have those parameters. So, I think that if we can do that, we certainly should investigate that. It’s something we've talked about it at length. We discussed that in Jupiter [Fla.]. We'll discuss that again, probably, this week and next week. What are the best strategies we can use to keep our football as intact or for as long as possible?”