Eric DeCosta opening statement: "First, everybody, thanks for coming. I know there's going to be a lot of different types of questions, but I first want to just talk about Zay [Flowers] because it's a special day for him. It's the Draft, and we're very excited. This was a player that I've seen a lot. I'm partial to Massachusetts. I've always liked his game, and we spent a lot of time watching him. We do a project at the end of the Draft process where we assign usually between seven to 10 players to all the scouts, and they have a chance to grade all of those players, whether they're in their area, or outside their area, or whatever it is, and then rank. Zay was by far the number one prospect of those eight players that we assigned last week. We brought him into Baltimore; we interviewed him, and we also interviewed him at the Combine. He's really passed every single test. He's just an explosive, competitive, tough guy who can play outside, he can play inside. So, we're very happy for him and for the Ravens. We think he fits what we're going to do with [offensive coordinator] Todd [Monken] and just with the personnel that we have very well. It was a great day."
Eric, what was the turning point in your negotiations with QB Lamar Jackson? What happened where all the sudden the deal came together? (Jamison Hensley)
_Eric DeCosta: _"I think it's just one of those things. Sometimes, you just need time. These things develop, and as I said – I think I've said it a few times – sometimes these things can happen in two weeks, and sometimes it takes two years. This was on that scale. I know that our appreciation and love for Lamar [Jackson] has really never wavered, but it was business as well. I said [that] today, and I feel that way. Sometimes with family, things can get tough. We all feel that sometimes, when you're in a fight with your parents, or a sibling or you're trying to figure something out. It's like the emotion of it, and there was definitely some emotion, but in the end, we've been blessed to have Lamar as part of this organization for a long time. We've won a lot of football games. I think he feels this place is special, too. It was business; it wasn't personal, and I think over time, that's kind of what developed."
Personally, do you feel like a huge weight has lifted off of you with how long this has been going on and how much we've been talking about it? (Morgan Adsit)
DeCosta: _"Yes, I have to say yes. I do. It's been a challenge in a lot of ways, but I will say this: We have a lot of awesome people that work with me, and I get to spend time with them. I've gotten pep talks at different times; they've made me laugh. I'm very appreciative. I've been here my whole career, so I really have an appreciation for the culture of this place and what it means to me. I guess that's one of the reasons why I think I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself in situations like this because I've been here forever, and this organization means more to me than just a job. The weight of that – it means a lot. So, I do feel that way. I think I'll have more appreciation for it probably on Sunday, how I feel. I know my family will probably sense it; these guys will sense it. I'll get back to more practical jokes, which I haven't been able to do quite as much over the past year – I've done some, but not as many. We'll get back to that. _(Head coach John Harbaugh: "We're all excited about that.") (laughter)Yes. I think more of a normal kind of NFL career awaits."
You talked at the Pre-Draft presser about the goal of acquiring more picks. Was there an opportunity to move back from where you were, did the phone not ring, or did you consider it? (Bo Smolka)
_DeCosta: _"Yes, we did actually get some calls. One of the things I think when you're the director of scouting or whatever, you always have to kind of look at the board and assess who might be there. It's great to trade back; we love picks, but the picks have to be good picks. Zay [Flowers] was a player that we had highly rated. We thought he was an excellent fit for what we do. As we look back into the later part of the round and then the early part of the second round and we kind of see who's available, we felt like there might be a run on receivers – which there was. As we look at other positions, we just felt like for us, passing up on Zay to get a couple extra picks was probably not the smartest thing to do."
During the negotiations with QB Lamar Jackson, you kept saying that you were optimistic that something would eventually get done. Was there ever a point where you wondered, "I don't know anymore," with Lamar publicly asking for a trade and everything? (Cordell Woodland)
_DeCosta: _"You have your moments, of course. I think you always kind of question what you're doing. I'm my toughest critic, so I've had a lot of self-reflection and looking at ways maybe you could have done something differently to speed this process up, to make everybody happy. I just think that it happened in the normal course, that it was meant to happen the way it did for whatever reason. I've never been in this position before; I don't think these guys have. It was a very unusual, unique negotiation. So, it just took time. Hopefully – honestly, I have to say – I hope I never have to be a part of that type of negotiation again because of the time, because of the emotional aspect, because Lamar [Jackson] is such a special player and what that means to our club and to this city. We feel that, certainly. So, I think we're all very, very happy. We really haven't had a lot of opportunity to kind of sit back, quite honestly, because the deal was announced and then two hours later we were in the Draft room and we were getting ready to make a very important pick. So, I think we'll have more time for reflection in the coming days."
John, a similar question for you. Were there ever times along the way where you sort of wondered if you would get to this day with QB Lamar Jackson. We know you're always fired up on this day as you look ahead to the team, but are you even maybe more so this year given the pick and the signing? (Childs Walker)
_John Harbaugh: _"Yes, I'm always fired up, and very much probably more fired up now than ever. I don't know if it's because it's now or because of the circumstances. Along the way – to kind of echo what [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] said – I thought Eric did just a tremendous job through the whole process. The decisions he made, choices he made, risks he took, or didn't take or whatever. [It was] just really well thought out. He communicated with all of us really well through the whole process. I thought he did a great job of communicating with Lamar [Jackson] through the whole process, too. So, in that sense, I think we just had confidence that we were down there on the right road. Strategically, we were doing what we needed to do, and trying to do the right thing just by the people involved, especially by Lamar and for the team. So, that's what I felt good about the whole way; I just felt like we were doing things the right way, and treating Lamar the right way and that it would work out one way or another. I didn't know if it was going to work out with Lamar being there for sure; you just never know. You can't know that, but I believed it would. To see it happen the way it did, today, to hear how excited Lamar was on the phone about it when we talked about it … That was really a great moment. I know I felt that way; I know you felt that way, Eric, when you talked to him. That just kind of made it all come together. Plus, our players are fired up, too."
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken took a bit of a leap of faith in not knowing for sure if QB Lamar Jackson would be back. What was this day like for him with Lamar being signed, and then adding WR Zay Flowers? (Luke Jones)
Harbaugh: _"Yes, [offensive coordinator] Todd Monken had a good day today; he's pretty happy. _(laughter) He seemed pretty happy – he better be happy! (laughter)We've really upgraded our offense. It's not just today; we've kind of been at it. You look at Nelson [Agholor] – that's kind of an underrated signing – of course, everybody knows about Odell [Beckham Jr.], and then all the things leading up to that. Rashod Bateman, I just saw him this week in here training and working out; he's in a great place. Guys like Isaiah Likely, of course, Mark [Andrews], our offensive line. (Executive vice president & general manager Eric DeCosta: "Devin [Duvernay] looks great.")Yes, Devin looks great; he's healthy and rolling. James Proche [II]'s in here working hard. Tylan Wallace is doing a great job. So, really across the board, we're going to be OK."
When you guys signed WR Odell Beckham Jr., it seemed like QB Lamar Jackson was pretty excited about that. Did you notice any kind of change in the tenor of negotiations after that? (Noah Trister)
_DeCosta: _"We didn't spend a lot of time communicating for a little period there, because we're getting ready for the Draft and Lamar [Jackson] was doing his own thing. Again, I think that sometimes people will try and interpret things – messages and such – and it's hard to do unless you're actually talking to the person and communicating. I feel like Lamar was probably challenged like we were over this period, but I think his love for this club was unwavering as well. I don't want to speak for him – he can speak for himself – but I think he genuinely loves this place, and we love him. We're trying to build – and we've talked about it. Our goal this offseason, and one of the things that I was focused on, was adding to the receiver room. We talked about it; we talked about it the same last year with the offensive line. When somebody gives us a challenge, we're going to attack it. When we feel like we need to do better, we will attack it in different ways. I think we've proven that. So, that was something that I thought about this fall watching us play; that was something that I thought about in January right after the season, and that was our mission. Odell [Beckham Jr. is] a talented player. He's a big part of that. Nelson [Agholor is] a big part of that. Zay [Flowers], other guys coming back healthy. 'Bate' [Rashod Bateman] coming back healthy, Devin [Duvernay] coming back healthy, other young guys. We feel like we're on our way, but it's not just those guys. It's our tight ends. We love our tight ends; they're a big part of it. Our running backs; they're going to be healthy this year – fully healthy – J.K. [Dobbins], Gus [Edwards], Justice [Hill]. We feel like we have a lot of good pieces to be a very strong offense, and Lamar's a huge part of that, of course."
How much do you think QB Jalen Hurts' deal impacted QB Lamar Jackson's deal? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta: "I couldn't really say. What we try to do is come up with a deal that we think is good and fair for the player, that, hopefully, the player looks at and it resonates with the player, as well. And it's been ongoing. Over the last couple of years, we've given Lamar [Jackson], probably, five different, six different, maybe, proposals in different ways. And when you negotiate, a lot of times you just kind of edge forward towards progress. Sometimes it's fast, sometimes it's slow, but you're just trying to make progress every single time to find that sweet spot. Of course, you look at every single deal that gets done. Quarterback deals – that's how you kind of build out the parameters for what you think is fair – the market. The market is what the market is. [Head coach] John [Harbaugh] says it all the time; that's the market. But I think that the way that we feel about Lamar, it's the market-plus, if that makes sense. Like, we've seen Lamar; we've won lots of games with Lamar; we're around him all the time. And we do feel that he's the best quarterback in the NFL, and I think this contract reflects that."
Going back to WR Zay Flowers, he talked about having watched WR Steve Smith Sr. since he was a young kid and having heard some of the comparisons there. Do you see a little bit of that – that sort of infectious self-belief? (Childs Walker)
DeCosta: "Yes, I do. I do, as a matter of fact. And I had the fortune to spend some time with Steve [Smith Sr.] at the Combine. [I have] a lot of respect for Steve. [He's] one of the great competitors that we've ever had here, I think, and [he's] a fantastic guy. I consider him a good friend. We talk about receivers. He's got strong opinions, and he loves Zay [Flowers], too, so it's mutual. I will say this; if Steve Smith has that much respect for a receiver, you better pay attention. It's like when [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] loves a tight end, you better pay attention – same deal. So, that resonates with me. If Steve says, 'That's my guy,' then I'm kind of like, 'OK, I better pay attention.' And so, Zay happened to be a guy that I liked, as well, so it's like a perfect DNA match when you've got a Hall of Fame – someday – receiver, like Steve Smith, telling you that he loves him, and I like him, and [director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz] likes him, and [head coach] John [Harbaugh] likes him, and [offensive coordinator] Todd [Monken] likes him; it's like, 'OK, this might be the guy.'"
When did WR Zay Flowers come across your radar? And is there an anecdote or story that you remember about one of the first times you started studying him and breaking down his film? (Jeff Zrebiec)
Joe Hortiz: "Yes. Actually, our scouts went in there last year. In the 2021 season, they wrote him, liked him then. Obviously, [Zay Flowers] elected to stay in school for this past season. And then, obviously, our scouts went back in. He put on a great display this past year, so we had strong grades coming out of the fall. He showed up at the East West [Shrine Bowl] and really, truly stood out in the receiver group there. It was him and everyone else. [He] was really just explosive [in] just one day of practice, and you just saw the difference. And then the Combine performance … But when you watch his film, you just saw such an explosive player on tape who can play inside and out. [He has] great acceleration. [He's a] playmaker with the ball in his hands, makes big plays, contested plays downfield. So, just everyone who watched his film just saw exciting things, and the chance to add him was awesome."
Before the 2019 season with QB Lamar Jackson, you guys picked a lot of speedy players in the 2019 Draft, and you talked about building a "track team" for that offense. Big picture, what is the impact of the speed in this offense, and how do you want that speed to be played to the offense you envision for this next season? (Jonas Shaffer)
DeCosta: "That's probably more of a [offensive coordinator] Todd [Monken] question, but I would just say [that] we look for good players. And just watching Zay [Flowers], he's just got a competitive energy about him, [and] he's a playmaker. I just appreciate that, and the fact that he's kind of a versatile player. Receivers sometimes have a specific fit, maybe, but with Zay we see a guy who could do multiple things, which is exciting, and he's a special teams guy, as well. The other thing I would say about Zay … We evaluate players, but we also interview players, we talk to players. We do a lot of background, like you guys do when you write stories a lot of times – well, most of you guys. (laughter) Sorry. We do a lot of research on these guys, and we spend a lot of time interviewing these players, and Zay was a player that I have to say … I haven't come across many more impressive, just, face-to-face prospects that I've ever interviewed at the Combine and then here in Baltimore. His story, his resiliency, his ability to just succeed and handle things was really, really impressive. And so, it's kind of all those things. It's the ability and how he fits, what he's going to do on the field, but it's also his drivers, his mentality, his grit, his growth mindset – all those types of things."
Piggybacking off of that, did you feel like WR Zay Flowers staying at Boston College really showed something about him? And it also seemed like QB Lamar Jackson, WR Odell Beckham Jr, CB Marlon Humphrey and other players really liked the pick. Did you get the sense that even players on the team really liked Zay? (Ryan Mink)
DeCosta: "Yes, we had some feedback. We knew there were some guys that knew Zay [Flowers] or had been around Zay a little bit, which is always great. What I will say that I thought was cool [after] talking to Zay is one of his motivations for coming back [to Boston College] was to get his degree. I believe – and you guys can talk to him – he's one of 14 brothers and sisters, [and] I think he's the first one to go to college, and so getting his degree is critically important to him, and that was a big part of his decision, which I think speaks to who he is as a person."
I know you said in 2019 that you were like roaming the hallways, agonizing over the fact that you didn't have a second-round pick, and you were seeing all these good players flying off the board. Do you see any opportunity to trade up into the second round? (Bo Smolka)
DeCosta: "We don't have a second-round pick. Do I hate that? Yes. But our second-round pick is Roquan [Smith], and I've got to say, I don't think you'll get a better second-round pick. And so, I'm thrilled that we don't have a second-round pick. I look at that, and I say, 'Man, we really lucked out.' We got him [Roquan Smith], we wanted him, and we got him signed. Roquan is a force multiplier; he lifts everybody else up, so that's awesome."
Do you have any update on ILB Patrick Queen's fifth-year option? (Bo Smolka)
DeCosta: "As far as Patrick [Queen] goes, [I'm] not going to address that right now. I probably will maybe later this week. As the Draft ends, we'll talk about that, but I'm not going to talk about that right now."
Do you guys like the depth of this cornerback class as you head into Day Two of the Draft? (Ken Weinman)
_Hortiz: _"Corners? Yes. Yes, absolutely. Like we said in the pre-Draft press conference, there are players at every level of the Draft for us, and there are still plenty of targets available for us. So, we'll be watching them in the second round and as they come off, and if there is someone there in the third that matches us, we'll be there."
I know you don't know what the offense will look like next year as you're kind of going through everything and putting together the team, but just from watching what Georgia did last year to put the ball in their playmakers' hands, do you kind of see WR Zay Flowers' ability adding another dimension to this offense? (Jonas Shaffer)
_Harbaugh: _"Absolutely. One of the things about him [Zay Flowers] is he's good on all three levels. He goes deep – you saw the highlights, probably, when you watched him get drafted – he runs the intermediate routes, the deep-ins and things like that, especially, and then the run after the catch is really special; it is kind of Steve Smith-like in that sense. He can catch it, take two or three steps and really accelerate away from a tackle, which is the one thing I thought jumped out on the tape for me. He's a strong runner, too. So, yes, he's going to be part of that. And we've got kind of a versatile receiving group. We've got a lot of guys … I know [wide receivers coach] Greg Lewis, when we were having our meetings, he really liked Zay, as well, and his thing was, 'Let's take the best player, the most versatile guys, and then move them around in different spots and use them all,' and I thought that was something that kind of resonated with all of us."
A lot has been made about fully guaranteed deals as Deshaun Watson got his. Looking back on it, do you feel like Watson's contract made these negotiations a little tougher? (Cordell Woodland)
_DeCosta: _"There's probably a lot of different reasons why a negotiation can go on a different way. I think the most important thing is being patient, communicating and refusing to give up – you know, on anything – to keep trying to find the solution. What are the challenges? What does the other side want? What is the other side saying? What do you want? What are you saying? What's most important to you? What are you willing to move on? What are they willing to move on? There are a lot of different challenges with these types of negotiations, especially with great players. [It] happens with every team in every sport. You see it all the time, so it's not one thing. It's not guaranteed money. It's not this. It's not that. It's just tough sometimes. It's just a part of sport and we're fortunate we got it done. I know a lot of people doubted us, but we never really doubted ourselves and here we are. We're excited about that."
I was just going to say after this long process that you admitted was challenging, was there kind of a poignant moment whether when you told John [Harbaugh] or Joe [Horitz], when you talked to Lamar, when you finally agreed on this number – I know you had the Draft coming up – but you had to take a moment, right? To celebrate this? (Jeff Zrebiec)
DeCosta: _"Yes, there's a few funny stories, but the one story I will tell you is I was at home. It was about 10:30 at night the other night and the [Boston] Celtics were up by like – I'm a Celtics fan – they were up by 15 or 16 points and it just got worse and worse and worse and worse, and I'm like, 'What is going on? They're choking.' These guys are literally choking. And just as Trae Young hit that bomb, I got a text from Lamar [Jackson] that said, basically, 'I think we can get a deal done. You know, we're getting close.' And I said back to him, 'Lamar, you just saved my night, because I was in a dark place.' (laughter_) And at that point I didn't care anymore about the Celtics. So, that would be one thing, but just try to keep these things – this is an unusual negotiation, because no agent is involved, and so when it's two people you can kind of keep a secret more so than in most cases. But, you know, as we make progress or not, I get these guys involved and they get excited, but they don't want to pester me because they know I'm so stressed out about the draft and everything. John [Harbaugh] will come in every night, usually before he goes home, and he's like – his standard line is – 'Any updates?' You just go, 'Any updates?' And a lot of times I say, 'No updates, coach. No updates.' And Joe [Hortiz] came down today and I had George [Kokinis] and Joe and I said, 'Guys come on down for a second.' Joe came in and I said, 'We got a quarterback,' and he just started flipping out. I think we're all very excited that we got Lamar back and I think it's great for our fans – I really do. And it's great for Baltimore. It's great for the city. It's great for the NFL – in my opinion – and I think we're ready to go."