Eric DeCosta opening statement: "Well everybody, thanks for coming. I just got back from the Senior Bowl where we spent the last couple days looking at prospects. We went down on Monday. [It was] a good week. [Mobile, Ala. Is having] historically nice weather down there, so that was awesome. We're back. We're ready to get started. We'll take questions."
The big question from the AFC Championship was the lack of rushing attempts from the running backs. Why wasn't there more of an attempt to run the ball? Was there any point during the game where you had conversations with offensive coordinator Todd Monken about trying to run the ball more?*(Jamison Hensley)*
(HARBAUGH) "Yes, [offensive coordinator Todd Monken and I] did throughout the course of the game. That's not the number [of rushing attempts] you want to have. When it's all said and done, and you look back on it, that's not really going to win us an AFC Championship game, for sure. It's more than just calling plays. In that game, a big part of our gameplan were RPOs – which are run-pass options, based on what the defense gives you – cans and 'check with mes' – which are run-pass options a lot of the times. Sometimes, they're pass-to-pass, which we had. Sometimes, they're run-to-run, but a lot of what we were doing was directed at the line of scrimmage by what the defense gave us. The defense was lined up to take away the run, so the next thing would be to bring [the formation] in tight and just run the ball in heavy formations and wide receivers blocking the edge and protecting the edge that way. We could've done that, but we were down [in the score of the game]. We wanted to keep the formations open and give ourselves the best chance to try to move the ball and score points. Two-minute offense at the end of the half, two-minute offense mostly throughout the whole fourth quarter we were in. That's going to take away rushing attempts. It's not an excuse. You want to run the ball more. Sometimes, you have to be willing to get big and run the ball that way. We just didn't want to do it that way in the game. It cost us the opportunity to run the ball more."
Did the Kansas City Chiefs' two touchdown scoring drives in the first half and the momentum they gained from them force you to change your thinking during the game?*(Brian Wacker)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"Really, you could say it did. It put us in two-minute [drill] at the end of the half, which we were going to be in anyway if we got the ball back. We played that well – we got to the two-minute opportunity. It put us in [a] two-minute [offense] in the fourth quarter. I think that's where it came up as far as run-pass play calling. We still wanted to stay with our gameplan. We still wanted to run the ball. Believe it or not, it was a big part of our gameplan to run the ball. [We] had the ball for nine minutes in the first half. So those two long drives [by the Kansas City Chiefs] took us out of the opportunity to call any kind of plays. Then, we didn't convert. We had mistakes. [The Chiefs] stopped us. They made plays. We were off the field right away after that first drive. I think all those things played into it. The second half, we came out [and] went three [downs] and out. You're not going to get a chance to call any kind of runs when you're three and out. We got the ball back. We started moving the ball. Then, we made a couple of mistakes. We had penalties. We had an opportunity to score that we didn't finish the play on, and those things took us out of the scoring opportunities and wasted a couple drives there when it's all said and done. Then, you're in a passing game at that point, after all that happened. I think when you look at the way the game played out, you can understand it from a football perspective. Once you get through all that, you come back – you want to run the ball against the Chiefs. There's no doubt about it, and we did want to run the ball against the Chiefs. We weren't able to get to it."
How involved were you in the play calling during the course of the AFC Championship game? At halftime on the televised interview, you said you wanted to run the ball more. When did you realize the running backs only had six carries for the running backs in the game?*(Jerry Coleman)*
(HARBAUGH) "You don't think in those terms during the game. You're thinking play by play, series by series [and] what [the Kansas City Chiefs are] doing to stop you and attack you. You're not thinking, 'Oh gosh, I'm going to have to answer for how many times we ran the ball in the press conference after the game.' That's not important during the game. You're trying to find a way to win the game whatever way you can. We could've won that game. If we could've finished a couple plays, we would've won the game. Our defense played phenomenally in the second half. I'm disappointed that we didn't win the game, but from a football standpoint – I understand the focus on it because it's one thing – but for me, it's not the focus. The focus is: How can we protect our run game better with our pass game at times? If you're going to spread the people out, and you want to open up your formations, you have to protect the edges against the run game. You have to do it different kinds of ways – you can do it by bringing blockers in there; you can do it by run-pass options and reads after the ball is snapped; you can do it with quarterback-driven stuff, which we had a few of those in there. You can do it by going to passes with check with mes, which we also called numerous times with all those passes that way. Then, you have to decide, and you have to pick up, 'Am I throwing a pass that's going to beat man [coverage] or zone [coverage] or good versus all?' Those are the decisions that you have to make. It's not so much about, 'How many runs do we have right now? I think we need to get more so I can answer for it in the press conference.' It's more about what's going to give us the best chance to win the game right now in real time, and that's what we were looking at."
QB Lamar Jackson's legs are such a big part in what you do offensively. How unfortunate was it that his legs in general weren't a bigger part in the AFC Championship game?*(Cordell Woodland)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"It's always going to be a big part of the game. I had a great conversation with Lamar [Jackson] yesterday. We talked about all these things. We hashed it all out. Lamar is just [a] really good football mind. I'll say that we both are [in] lockstep. We were both already thinking the same way. Does that mean I'm saying, 'I have a good football mind?' I don't know, but I was happy with that because the challenges that you're facing schematically and personnel-wise against the different defenses that are coming up against us are the things that he's thinking about. Just saying he could've scrambled more – I don't really know if that's really what your question is – but that's always going to be a huge part of it, because it keeps the defense honest in a lot of ways. It didn't factor in as much in this game. It did a little bit, but we want that to be a big part of what he does, of course, because it keeps the defense honest. If they want to push out of [the box] underneath your downfield routes, [and] they want to match up on your checkdowns, that's going to leave Lamar [uncovered], and you have to find a way to stop him, too. We've seen that throughout the course of the season a lot."
Eric, how would you assess the season overall?*(Todd Karpovich)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"I think it was a great season. [It was] very rewarding. I love the team, the players, the chemistry, the culture, the camaraderie – every single day, these guys came to work. The coaches – the effort they put into it. The job the scouts did. It was a great season. [It was] disappointing at the end, of course. It always is for most teams. I don't have the luxury of really dwelling on a season. We go to the Senior Bowl the next day. [I] literally woke up the next day, said goodbye to the kids and went to the Senior Bowl. We've moved on. I know I've moved on. I think the scouts have moved on, and now we're excited about the future."
Was there an aggressive play made to try and keep former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald in Baltimore after he was getting head-coaching interviews? What went into the decision to promote new defensive coordinator Zach Orr?*(Bo Smolka)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"[We] would've loved to have kept [former Ravens defensive coordinator] Mike [Macdonald], but no, we couldn't keep him. He was going to go take that job [as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks]. He was happy and excited about it. We're happy for him. When these things come up, these are good things. These are good problems to have, because you know you're doing well. Mike did a great job. I think the whole defensive [coaching] staff was phenomenal this year. The players were phenomenal. It's interesting. Everybody talks about how talented we are, and I agree. We were super talented thanks to [executive vice president/general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [director of player personnel] George Kokinis and all those guys over there [in the player personnel department] in terms of all the players they put in. That wasn't the conversation before the season, as you all well know. I think that defense proved something to a lot of people. [It was] same conversation that was had two years ago. It wasn't the same when everybody was talking about at the end of this season with Mike moving on. I'm proud of that. That's something that, as a coach, you look back on and you go, 'We worked together – all of us – to build something really special as a team, but on defense.' It was phenomenal. Opportunities are going to happen. [Former defensive backs coach] Dennard [Wilson] has an opportunity now to go be the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. [Former inside linebackers coach] Zach [Orr] has an opportunity to be the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. A rising tide raises all ships, and those are pretty good jumps for those three guys. I'm excited for them, but with Zach, specifically, and not just Zach. The guys that are here – [pass game coordinator/secondary coach] Chris Hewitt, who's our pass [game] defense coordinator, [assistant head coach/defensive line] Anthony Weaver who runs the whole [defensive] front and does a great job with the pass rush. [He] does a great job with the run defense. He's also my assistant head coach. [He's a] phenomenal leader. [He] was interviewing for head-coaching jobs already this year. Those guys along with Zach and the guys that we have on defense and some of the younger coaches that are already here including [outside linebackers coach] Chuck Smith – those guys are going to build another great defense, and I'm going to be in the middle of it, just like I'm in the middle of the offense and special teams. I'm going to lean on those guys and trust those guys and empower those guys to build a great defense. Zach is super talented [and] super enthusiastic. He's very smart. He has prepared for that job. He's in the middle of the defense. I think when you're a linebackers coach, that's an advantage because you're in the middle of the defense, [and] you understand the whole defense inside and out. You have a big picture. [It] helps you with defensive play calling, for sure. Anytime a linebackers coach usually has an advantage as far as that goes. [With] Zach, there's no reason not to put Zach in that position in my mind right now, and I think he'll do a great job, but I also think he'll do a great job because of the support he's going to get from two veteran coaches who are great coaches in Chris Hewitt and Anthony Weaver."
How big of a consideration was it that defensive coordinator Zach Orr has never called plays before?*(Luke Jones)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"That's definitely a consideration. You definitely have to think about that. That's something that we're going to have to work through and [Defensive coordinator Zach Orr's] going to have to get on board with quick. I think he's been studying that and how to do that all the way through. In talking to him, I have a comfort level that he'll be good at it, but he has to go do it. There's no doubt about it. Again, he's going to get support not just from the veteran coaches but also the young coaches that are going to help set up those gameplans and make sure that all the bases are covered that way."
Will assistant head coach/defensive line Anthony Weaver still stay with the Ravens, or is he still considering other opportunities elsewhere?*(Jeff Zrebiec)*
(HARBAUGH) "That's a good question. [Assistant head coach/defensive line Anthony Weaver's] still involved with the [Miami] Dolphins defensive coordinator job, and we'll see. If he gets that job, I'll be happy for him, if he takes the job. I don't even know if he'll take it if he gets offered. He's involved in that job [opportunity]. Maybe I'm speaking out of turn, [and] maybe I'll get in trouble, there's a league rule against this, but he'll be a great head coach. He didn't get hired this cycle, and great coaches got hired, but someday, some people are going to look back, and they're going to say, 'We had a chance to hire Anthony Weaver.' I guarantee you that. They're going to see that they missed their chance. The next time around, somebody's not going to miss their chance. That's how I feel about Anthony."
As far as former director of player personnel Joe Hortiz, personally you've been with him for so long. What does that mean to you and also as far as the plan in place to replace that?*(Pete Gilbert)*
(DeCOSTA) "Joe [Hortiz] and I worked together for 26 years [and] for probably the last 15, he sat next to me during the draft. [He] had a chance to study and watch me stack the board and run the meetings. [He's] a great evaluator [and] a great consensus builder. He did an amazing job, the last five years, especially, really working closely with the scouts [with] managing and leading the scouts, and he's just a great guy. He's one of my best friends. I'm very happy for him and Jennifer and their kids – their boys – it's a special family. As far as replacements, we have a great staff. One of the luxuries I have as a GM is that we've all been together for a very, very long time. You have someone like [director of player personnel] George Kokinis, who's been here forever, [and is] probably the best pro personnel guy in the league, and that's how we find these guys like the [Kyle] Van Noys, [Jadeveon] Clowneys, [Arthur] Maulets and the [Ronald] Darbys and all those kinds of guys, [and guys like assistant director of player personnel] Mark Azevedo [and] our director of college scouting] David Blackburn. It'll be hard for me, personally, just because I really value Joe as an evaluator and as a person and as a friend, but I think we have the people to kind of take care of the process for us."
As you get into moving forward in the next year, do you anticipate using the franchise tag on OLB Justin Madubuike, and is there any way you anticipate seeing him reach free agency?*(Bo Smolka)* (DeCOSTA) "I learned a lesson this year and that was as hard as it – not to revisit the Lamar [Jackson] negotiations – but one of the great things about that negotiation was that I learned that it's beneficial to just not talk about things. There is a value sometimes to not really showing your cards or showing your hand. So, we'll have all those decisions made at some point coming soon. We don't have a lot of time. We'll talk about it – [head coach] John [Harbaugh] and I, [owner] Steve [Bisciotti], [executive vice president] 'Oz' [Ozzie Newsome], [director of player personnel] George [Kokinis], [vice president of football administration] Nick [Matteo] and [sr. Advisor to the general manager] Pat [Moriarity]. We'll have those decisions made in the coming weeks. We'll know what's best for us to do. It's something that we haven't just started thinking about, obviously. It's something we've been thinking about. Justin [Madubuike] had a great year as did Patrick Queen. Those two guys obviously are Pro Bowlers [who] had great seasons, and we'll have a good plan in place for those guys."
This time next week, we'll be talking about QB Lamar Jackson having a second MVP. He had one great Divisional game, and it was not his best AFC Championship game. Where do you guys kind of fit the postseason evaluation in what Lamar did this year? Do you separate it? How does that fit into what you want to see from Lamar in future years?* (Kyle Goon)*
(HARBAUGH) "To me, it's big picture. This is the first year in this offense. [It was] asked how you judge the season, and Eric [DeCosta] said exactly what I would say: you take it as a whole and each game, you go back through each game, each part of it, and within that each part of it, each play within it. That's how we evaluate it. It's a pretty deep metric. So, [with] success [or] failure, well it depends on your criteria. In the National Football League, unless you don't make the playoffs, your last game is not a success unless you win the Super Bowl. You have to understand that. So, when you don't win the last game, especially a home AFC Championship game, which is so rare and so hard to get to – it's rare air – then it's like, 'Whoa, is it success [or] is it a failure?' Lamar Jackson is a phenomenal success. He's a phenomenal success as a football player. He's phenomenal success as a person, as a leader, as a family man, but you're asking about the football player. In my opinion, there's nobody better in this league, especially nobody better for the Baltimore Ravens and for this organization and for this city and just from a historical perspective. I'm excited about the future; I'm excited about taking this offense to the next level next year. [We have] an opportunity to pick up where we are and dig deeper with what we can give [Lamar]. You say Lamar has the keys to the offense, now you build the offense, it's like setting up a car. We have to build a car. We have to set the car up. If Lamar's the driver, he has to be involved in the setup of the car even more. Last year, that wasn't even possible. This year, he's going to be involved, and we've talked about it, he's already involved by what we talked about yesterday in setting up that car. Now he comes in on the front end, and he's talking to the guys about how the car is set up, exactly how these things need to be run. This year, every day was a new day in the offense right on through the last part of the season. Next year, it won't be a new day every single day, and that's pretty easy to figure out, and it makes sense, right? But it's real, and I'm looking forward to that process."
When you talked to QB Lamar Jackson, what does he feel needs to be done?*(Jamison Hensley)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"I didn't bring the list in my pocket right now, but [Lamar Jackson]'s been talking Xs and Os. He's talking the opportunity and how we attack the different defenses that we play. Anything from how we practice to it, to the options that we have, protecting runs, pass protection, how we protect and how we adjust the protection, how we get to certain routes against certain coverages – those are things that are on his mind, and those are things that he's going to be involved with the staff talking about. I'm excited about that. He wants to do it. He's just into it. He's really into it."
Jumping off of what you said earlier on being judged on the last game, fans that we've heard from this week, it wasn't so much that you lost, but they felt it wasn't the team that they had seen all season in the last game, and they felt that way also in 2020 and in 2019. Do you think that's a fair criticism, and do you see anything in the process you could tweak to avoid that?*(Childs Walker)*
(HARBAUGH) "[It's] definitely a fair criticism because that's what you see. You look at it, and it's not the same. It wasn't a 30-point win over a division leader, obviously, and that's the result of it. It was the same team, it's the same guys. It was the gameplan that was devised against that particular team that day, but we didn't play better than the team we played. They played better than us. They had a better gameplan. They executed their gameplan better. They made plays. They made some great throws, [and] great catches [and] a few great runs in the first half, especially, and they scored those points. Their defense came up and made plays. They tackled well. They kept us bottled up. They covered us well. We didn't come up with those great plays. That's really the difference. So, in that sense, it's not the same team, but the sense of the effort, the preparation, what we were bringing to the table, schematically, was exactly the same team, it was just a different result. Every single team in the league is going to have that feeling after losing in the playoffs. I get it, I feel the same way. I'm telling you, I'm heartbroken. I'm heartbroken. The fact that we didn't win that game at home in front of our crowd for the first time in all these years and get a chance to play in the Super Bowl because ... I felt the same way last year. I felt like if we hadn't not finished the game last year, made the mistakes last year that cost us the game against the Bengals, I'd feel like we would have been in the Super bowl last year. I believe that with all my heart. I've told the guys that – they know that. I think that's normal and natural. Our fans care. They care just as much as we do, coaches and players, I have to believe that. And we all should be feeling that way, but we all should be excited about where we're going and what's in front of us and what we're building here. And then we're challenged by the things that we have to overcome. There's always things that you lose, and you have to make up for it and improve on. We did a great job of that last year. I hope we can do even better this year."
By his own admission, T Ronnie Stanley expressed disappointment in how he played this year. We know how the last few years have gone for him health-wise and lack of availability, but given where he is with his health, his performance, and also with his compensation level, where is the organization at with him? Is left tackle a position you need to start maybe looking at more carefully in a big picture scheme?*(Luke Jones)*
(DeCOSTA) "The offensive line is always going to be something that we stress here. We're going to continue to look at that every single year. Particularly as you get older, it gets tougher and tougher for guys to stay healthy. And unfortunately, Ronnie [Stanley], no fault of his own, he has had a series of injuries that have hurt him [and] hurt his performance – the ankle and then a series of knee injuries. So, that's definitely been a factor. I love Ronnie, he's still a talented player. I think this is going to be a big offseason for him getting himself healthy [and] getting himself strong again [and] coming back in good football shape. We'll make all those personnel decisions over the coming weeks [with] what we decide to do. But as far as the position in general, I definitely think ... Coach [John Harbaugh] said this in 2008 when we interviewed him. He says, 'We're always going to have to have a strong physical big offensive line,' and that's kind of bled into the culture of this place and who we are as an organization, and we're going to continue to do that."
What happened with OLB Tyus Bowser? It's been kind of a mystery all year and where does that leave his status going forward?* (Jeff Zrebiec)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"Unfortunate for Tyus [Bowser], he couldn't play this year. [I] can't really get into all the different specifics of that, as you guys know, how we handle the injuries. I think Tyus has probably talked about it in some way. He had an injury unfortunately and wasn't able to play. We'll have to continue to assess that in the coming weeks to see where he stands with that injury. [He's] a great man [and] a good player for us. [It's] just a tough deal for him this year, and we'll have to deal with it."
OLB Jadeveon Clowney was out of the league. OLB Kyle Van Noy, he was on the couch, but they came in, and they were able to play when other teams didn't look at them very much.* (Kirk McEwen)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"That's partly their own ability as players and their desire at this stage in their careers, but I also think it's this place. Players come in here, and they're part of our strength and conditioning program and the way that we practice and the way that we coach. Other players and the vibe that this place has – you guys see it at practice every day – we've become a place where veteran players can come and succeed and really play well. There are a lot of reasons for that – the performance stuff that we do upstairs and the wellness stuff that we do and nutrition with [director of sports nutrition] Sarah [Snyder] and [football performance coordinator] Sam [Rosengarten] and the trainers and [head coach] John [Harbaugh] and his program. Guys come in here and flourish, and so it speaks to that, but also to the type of guys that they are – [Kyle] Van Noy, [Jadeveon] Clowney, [Arthur] Maulet, [Ronald] Darby, all those guys. Those guys are wired the right way, and they really, really wanted to win this year. They saw a potential to win this year, and they hit the ground running, and they played very well."
Moving back to the defense really quick – obviously, it's a big loss when you lose a guy like former defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. You always want your new coordinator to be able to leave their fingerprint when your defense was as good as it's been. How different do you want it to look? What differences would you be looking for?* (Cordell Woodland)*
(HARBAUGH) "Well, yes. I'm looking for evolution and growth just like we would if Mike [Macdonald] was still here, and that's why we have advancement from within. I've seen the job that those guys have done, and [new defensive coordinator] Zach [Orr] has done, and [we've been] building and evolving this defense ever since [my first year here in] 2008. There's been some [defensive coordinator] seat changes. There was a seat change in '12, and there was a seat change in '18, and then there was a change of face a little bit when Mike came in, and now there will be another change of face with Zach in here and kind of putting his fingerprints on it, like you said. But it will still be, in the world of what we do, a Ravens defense, schematically and even more importantly, how we like to play. Zach, [it's] hard to beat Zach in terms of knowing that, because he's born and bred a Raven. I'm looking forward to it."
I'm sure you've gone over the AFC Championship a few times. What happened with K Justin Tucker before the game? We heard from Tucker. We've heard from the Chiefs. I don't know if you have an opinion on who was in the wrong or who was in the right, but whether or not that got into the heads of your players as some fans perceived, because you guys had four personal fouls throughout the game, and maybe the Chiefs were in your guys' heads or perception out there.* (Jerry Coleman)*
(HARBAUGH) "As far as the [pre-game] thing, I know Justin [Tucker] did the same ... I wasn't out there for it, so I didn't see it. I heard about it after, but [it's] the same routine he's done for the last 12 years [and] same timing. There is no [assigned] side of the field. The field doesn't split in half until a certain time. The kickers are always out there, as well as the returners, before that happens, so teams get to use both ends of the fields, because you have to kick into both winds. You get to kick both ways. While that was going on, their kickers were down there at the other end doing the exact same thing in the exact same spot, and there was no problem down there. So, it's pretty normal that we do that. We've played the Chiefs a bunch of times before; it was the same exact time schedule that we had all those other times, so it's fine. As far as the other part of it, no. It's a football game. It's about how you execute and how you play, and the Chiefs played a better football game than we did, but that part of it, early on, I don't fault 'Tuck' at all. He was doing what he always does. I'm not blaming anybody. I could care less. It didn't mean anything. It didn't get in 'Tuck's' head. He's kicking the ball straight and kicking touchbacks, so I don't think it impacted the game in any way."
How would you describe the*seeminglydisconnect between QB Lamar Jackson and WR Rashod Bateman in the passing game this year?*(Jonas Shaffer)**
*(HARBAUGH) *"I don't have anything to say about that [and the] way you asked the question, because I don't see it that way. Those guys are doing their jobs, and we're trying to build the pass game around everybody we can. Rashod Bateman has a great future. Yes, he runs great routes. He's developed into a great, great route runner, and I know Lamar [Jackson] wants to get him the ball as much as he can. So, the idea that he didn't maybe ... You're saying he didn't get as many passes as you would have liked him to get or whatever. Hey, I agree. I want 'Bate' to flourish and make a bunch of plays, and he's going to do that, and I think he'll be a bigger part of it next year, just by the fact that he was healthy all year this year [and] had a chance to establish himself that way, and he'll be starting. He'll be playing all those snaps, and he'll rise to the occasion."
You built up the receiver room last year, but WRs Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay are set to become free agents. A decision needs to be made on WR Rashod Bateman's fifth year option in May. Could this group undergo a lot of change again this season?*(Tim Barbalace)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"I don't know. I love the guys we have coming back. I think 'Bate' [Rashod Bateman] is going to have a great season, and we have Zay [Flowers]. We'll talk to guys and look at potentially bringing guys back, but I feel really good about where we are. We also saw the emergence of Isaiah Likely this year, and we know, of course, what Mark can do this year – Mark Andrews. We have a lot of guys that can make plays and, watching Zay this year and just picturing Zay and 'Bate' out there next year is very exciting, and we'll see where that leads. We've also got the Draft, and like I said, we'll have conversations with our free agents, as well, and we've already started those conversations in some cases. So, I would expect the reciever room to be very strong next year and very productive."
You guys have had such a phenomenal success rate with draft picks in this franchise. With that being said, the Super Bowl window is obviously wide open. Just given where you are competitively, are you viewing the potential for using those picks to acquire established players – players who are already in the league – or does the franchise's preference to remain finding guys through your process?*(Kyle Goon)*
(DeCOSTA) "Fundamentally, we are always going to be focused on the Draft. I mean, look at our history. Now, in the last couple of years, we have traded draft picks for players, in some cases, but generally, we're going to be a draft-centric team, and as we've said, the landscape has changed a little bit, because we're paying a quarterback – who deserves it – a lot of money, and that's going to have a salary cap ramification for sure. We'll start to feel that. We started to feel that last year. We'll feel that this year, as do a lot of teams, so draft picks are very important to us and will continue to be very important. However, of course, if we have the chance to acquire an All-Pro-type guy, we're going to look at that very closely. So, there's really not one set formula, of course, but generally, we like to have a lot of draft picks, and I would expect us to have a lot of draft picks this year."
I know you made a lot of tough decisions last year. You made the decision to not pick up ILB Patrick Queen's fifth-year option. Looking back now, with him being a free agent, do you still feel the same way you felt at the time when you guys didn't pick that up?* (Cordell Woodland)*
(DeCOSTA) "You never know on these situations, [and that] is the challenge. Patrick [Queen] had an amazing season. I love Patrick. He's one of my favorite guys on the team. He's put himself in a great position, potentially, to hit the market and see what his value is. You never know. If you pick up an option, that's less money you can spend on somebody else, so how do those dominos fall? [It's] really hard to say. I can say that Patrick – I know Coach [John Harbaugh] feels the same way – he had an excellent season, a Pro Bowl season. His future is extremely bright. He's one of the best inside linebackers in the league. [That's a] credit to him. I'm very happy for him. [I'm] very, very happy for his family. He's a special player and a special person."
Generally speaking, with 20-plus unrestricted free agents and with where you sit salary cap-wise, is the first priority looking at bringing a lot of these guys back? How do you feel about the chances of doing that?*(Ryan Mink)*
(DeCOSTA) "Well, we'll be busy. We'll be talking to agents at the Combine, and we'll be talking ... We've started talking to agents [and] looking at the crop of free agents that are out there, but mostly [looking] at our guys, and who can we bring back, and what's that contract going to look like, and what will those long-term ramifications be, as well. At some point, you get to the point where you have to play with who you have, and you have to draft well, and you have to hit on players, and we've done that the last couple of years. We've seen the emergence of a lot of younger players, and that's going to continue. We've got a great process. We've got great evaluators. Our coaching staff does a phenomenal job, and we also develop players, so I don't really subscribe to the idea of windows opening and closing. I'd like to believe that with careful roster building and good drafting and development of players, the window is going to always be open."
One of those free agents is G Kevin Zeiter, who dealt with a lot of injuries this year. What's the plan with him? You have a couple free agents at the guard spot. How much of an emphasis will the offensive line be in that evaluation process, be it free agency and the Draft?* (Brian Wacker)*
(DeCOSTA) "Well, congrats to Kevin [Zeitler]. He's at the Pro Bowl right now, and he's earned it. I think he's been a Pro Bowler; this was his first year, but in my mind, he's been a Pro Bowler. [He has] a great attitude, [he's] a great player [and] a veteran, [and he has] an awesome family. His wife, by the way, she is an unbelievable baker, but I'm really happy for Kevin. He's a free agent. He's one of those guys that we'll continue to talk to. He and I met last week. We'll see what that looks like in the coming weeks, but as I said, the offensive line is going to always be a preference. I know it's not a sexy position for a lot of people – my sons included – but it's a critical, important [position] for our team. We'll spend a lot of resources and a lot of time talking [about] what that's going to look like."
You talked earlier about the emotions coming off of Sunday's loss and now a busy week full of lots of changes, personnel-wise. Have you guys remembered a time in the past where you've had such a busy first week of the offseason? Are you guys feeling alright? Everything good?*(Valerie Preactor)*
(HARBAUGH) "Yes. I remember last year – it was pretty busy last year, and the year before was just as busy. The year before was the same amount of busy, and I think your point is really great, because it's amazing; you come off that game and the emotions of it and the challenge of it, and you have to dive right back in. That is exactly how it feels, to what you're saying. You have to go, man. You have to go to work. You have to set it. We haven't just been working on staff. We've been working on setting our path [and] stoking up the engines schematically – defensively and especially offensively, since the whole [coaching] staff, offensively, has been together all week. We're going to meet today, and that's going to be a presentation that's going to be made about what we're going to do the next four weeks, in terms of setting up our offense for where we're going to go in the future. That's exactly what you do, and that's exactly what you have to do."
T Morgan Moses mentioned at the locker room cleanout that he might be looking at a surgery option this spring. Is S Marcus Williams undergoing surgery, too? Are there any guys that you anticipate will be dealing with injuries or rehab that could hold them up from the start of training camp?*(Bo Smolka)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"Marcus [Williams] is not [having offseason surgery]. Yes, I just had this conversation yesterday. [There will be] very few surgeries. Morgan [Moses] has to decide if he wants to have the surgery or not. He doesn't have to have it, but he might want to have it to be ... Just, he has to make that decision – performance-wise and life-wise. And then Odafe Oweh had a thumb surgery. He'll be [at] full speed in like six to eight weeks. And was there another one? There might have been one more, but I can't remember – nothing serious. So, no, there is no big, major injuries at this point. We do have guys coming off major injuries that will be ... They'll be rehabbing, like [David] Ojabo and some other guys."
Do you anticipate any changes on the offensive or special teams staffs?*(Jeff Zrebiec)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"We're just kind of working through that right now. Guys get opportunities. I don't want to speak before all this hiring process gets done – I don't really [anticipate it]. But then again, opportunities come along."
Have you had a chance to speak with QB Lamar Jackson since the season ended? Have you gotten input on what he might want and his vision for possible offensive additions?*(Jamison Hensley)*
(DeCOSTA) *"No, we just texted. That's probably the way that we really communicate most of the time – is through text. And I just texted [Lamar Jackson] and told him how proud I was of what he was able to accomplish this year, and just watching him play was pretty amazing for me – to see him week to week and just the way that he practiced. He stayed healthy this year. So, we'll have those conversations. Maybe I'll go down [to Florida] at some point and visit with him, as I have a few times over the years, and maybe take him out to dinner and just talk about things in general and get some sun. But maybe that's probably going to be a February, March ..." *(Harbaugh: "Make sure you wear a hat when you go down there." laughter) "But, so no, I haven't really talked to him too much. But Lamar, I'll tell you, he's great about offering suggestions and ideas, and he and I have a great relationship, where we can exchange different ideas on personnel and things. He's a huge fan of college football, and I appreciate his feedback."
Do you ever go back and look at your old notes when one of your former players, like defensive coordinator Zach Orr, reaches a new level? And just in the bigger picture, what does it mean to this organization to see somebody who is a player now take on the defensive coordinator role and reach these levels? *(Kyle Goon)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"Yes, it's cool. You do have certain players over the years [who] you think about, 'Would this guy make a great coach?' We were just talking about a couple of guys the other day that played here [and] that we thought would make great coaches. [Defensive coordinator] Zach [Orr] comes from a football family – his brothers played, his dad played – he's got a coaching background in his family, and he's a student of the game. Zach is not the biggest guy. You guys that covered him as a player here know; I think he probably played at 218 [pounds], maybe 220. I mean, he had a hard time keeping weight on, but what made Zach so good as a player was [that] he had a great instinct for the game. He was very, very quick to key and diagnose, and he played with a passion, and he was just relentless to the football. Those qualities make a great coach, so I have no doubt that Zach is going to be a great defensive coordinator and probably, if I had a crystal ball, a head coach someday."
Were you surprised to see new Los Angeles Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz poached by your brother?*(Kirk McEwen)*
(HARBAUGH) *"No, I wasn't surprised. Is there a follow up to that?" *(laughter) *"I'm going to make you ask the question here." (laughter)*
Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh has been around a lot. He knows the success that's been had here. Why not take the guy who has been watching all these college players develop into great professionals? That's a great hire. I was very upset – Joe Hortiz is a great guy.*(Kirk McEwen)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"Yes, I kind of agree. I mean, I think what you're saying is right. And [Chargers head coach] Jim [Harbaugh] and [Chargers general manager] Joe [Hortiz] already have a relationship, because of all the visits that Joe makes. And of course, being from the Ravens, I'm sure [that] Joe gets a little more access, as far as talking to Jim, because they have a shared interest. And they've built a great relationship, already. They've been friends for a while. But that wasn't ... Joe was already involved in that job. He was involved in that job before Jim was ever even finished with his season. Joe had ... I think he had already interviewed there, probably. So, I think, when they got their two finalists – and then Jim was involved with both the interviews – he loved both guys, and he thought they were both great. But the fact that they knew each other already is good for Jim, and I think it's good for Joe. And it's a really great hire, to your point."
Did Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh reach out to you ahead of time?*(Pete Gilbert)*
*(HARBAUGH) *"Oh, yes, yes, absolutely."
Did Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh ask if it was OK?*(Pete Gilbert)*
(HARBAUGH) *"Was it OK? Oh, no, it was already ... No, no, [Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh] didn't ask that. Maybe he should have, now that I think about it." (laughter)* "But it was already in the works. It was already in the works. But he asked me what I thought of [Chargers general manager] Joe [Hortiz], obviously, and I had nothing but ... I just love him and respect him [and] think he's the best."
You guys have been through a lot of these conference championships – executive vice president & general manager, Eric DeCosta, you a few more than head coach John Harbaugh...(Harbaugh: "I wasn't through a number of them in Philadelphia before? Get your facts straight." (laughter) That's true, but I meant in Baltimore. This is a Baltimore-based question. Was that as gut-wrenching a loss as you've ever had? A lot of people want to compare it to the loss against New England in the 2011 AFC Championship. Was what happened on Sunday even more gut-wrenching, and did it take a while to recover from it, given how personally you guys take these things?*(Jerry Coleman)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"They're all gut-wrenching for me, but I move on. As I said, I don't have the luxury ... I don't get to talk about it on the radio all week and write articles about it; I have to move on. I mean, that is what it is. I've got to go to the Senior Bowl. Imagine how my wife felt when I told her [on] Sunday night, 'Oh, by the way, I'm leaving in the morning to go to the Senior Bowl for the week,' but that's what we do. It was a hard game. You move on – you have to. I mean, there have been so many games over the years that I can go into. I could talk about the game against the Steelers in 2007, when I was at the Manhattan Beach Marriott – the Monday night game – when I smashed the mirror in my hotel room. I think we were down 21-0 in the – what – first five minutes of the game, [ESPN reporter] Jamison [Hensley]? You know, right? You covered that game. So, there are so many bad games, [and] there are so many great games. We're blessed to be a part of it, [and] we're blessed to be a part of this team. Every year is a unique challenge, and we'll move forward, and we'll be the best we can next year."
How will you approach the running backs position? You have quite a few free agents in that room. I know you guys probably think highly of RB Keaton Mitchell and have him coming back, but what do you make of the future of the running backs position?*(Cordell Woodland)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"Well, I'm glad we have Justice [Hill] on a two-year deal. Last year, [vice president of football administration] Nick [Matteo] was able to get a two-year deal done with Justice, and Justice was really one the unsung heroes of the team this year, down the stretch. I mean, the guy had a phenomenal season. Obviously, we do have some free agents, and it was a challenge this year, with J.K. [Dobbins'] injury, which was unfortunate and terrible for us, and then with Keaton [Mitchell]. But we'll assess that market, we'll talk to those guys, [and] we'll try to ... We'll see where things kind of lay with Gus [Edwards] and J.K. – both [are] two guys that I have a lot of respect for [and have been] two outstanding players for us over the past three or four years. We'll look at the draft, we'll look at free agency. That's kind of a position, like offensive line; like, we've got to have some good running backs, [and] I think we do – part of that is predicated on how guys come back from injuries. But I know [that] we've got a great running backs coach [Willie Taggart], and we'll be ready to go."
I know that you haven't done your big meetings with owner Steve Bisciotti yet, but has he offered any comment on the season overall, what he thought of it and where he thinks the team stands right now?*(Childs Walker)*
*(DeCOSTA) *"I think [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] is extremely happy that we could bring an AFC Championship game to Baltimore, and I think he was really happy with just the season, in general. He's now turned his ... He's a huge draft [guy], and I think he's starting to look at that. I was down there this week, and he was asking me about players. But it's always hard for all of us. We kind of just ... We love what we do, and we want to see this thing finish in a great way, and it didn't, so that's a challenge for everybody, honestly. But we move on, and we get excited, and we understand the challenges ahead, and I think Steve is a part of that, as well."
*(HARBAUGH) *"I agree. I texted [owner Steve Bisciotti]. He said some great things, and of course, he's also a competitor, and he wants to find every way we can to get better, just like we want to do it. I mean, you talk about the losses, [and] it just got me thinking, 'How do you rank them?' I feel really bad about the [Week 3] Colts loss – I was devastated, [and] I was cut in half on that one – and the [Week 10] Browns loss, and then the two [Weeks 5 and 18] Steelers losses, If I'm ranking them, probably even worse. So, those four losses during the regular season were brutal, as well. So, we take it hard. We take it hard, man. Anytime we lose a game, we take it hard. So, we took that one hard, too. But then you know what, you're tough – you better be, to [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta's] point. I sit up here and say that, but maybe people kind of roll their eyes, but that's the great thing about it; you have to bounce back, and you have to go back to work, and you have to compete. And that's not just football; that's life. It's what everybody does every single day in their life. That's what they're tasked to do. Everybody has to do that. And you can thrive in plenty, and you can thrive when you have little – you can still be the same person. And I think that's what we try to do, that's what all our guys try to do, that's what you guys try to do with your life every single day, and that's what you do. We were on the mountaintop this year many times, and we were down in the valley sometimes, [and] we were in the middle a lot of different times, but we were still moving. We're going to continue to do that."