What Mink Thinks: How Eric DeCosta Played 'The Game' to Perfection

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GM Eric DeCosta

Eric DeCosta's strong comments about being "insulted" by the pre-draft chatter that the Ravens didn't have good enough wide receivers made headlines and even ruffled some feathers around Baltimore.

But in the end, did those comments help Baltimore land one of the top wide receiver prizes with Rashod Bateman at pick No. 27?

Go down this rabbit hole and let me explain why I think they may have.

Sitting two picks behind the Ravens in this year's draft were the Green Bay Packers, who were widely regarded to be in the market for a wide receiver. Their general manager, Brian Gutekunst, had traded up in the first round in each of his three years at the helm.

Entering the day, DeCosta thought there was about a 60 percent chance that Bateman would be available at pick No. 27. He thought three teams might stand in the way – the Chicago Bears at No. 20, the Tennessee Titans at No. 22, or the Packers at No. 29.

The Packers were clearly on DeCosta's mind, and for good reason. If the Ravens wanted Bateman, it would behoove them for Green Bay to stand pat. One way to do that would be to convince the Packers that Baltimore wasn't locked into picking a wide receiver.

Of course, everybody around the league knew the Ravens could take one early. Their three biggest positions of need were at pass rusher, offensive line and wide receiver. With two first-round picks, they were probably going to address two of those spots.

But in order for Gutekunst to not trade up, all that's needed is a seed of doubt. Could he stay at 29 and still get the player he (potentially) wanted? That's the kind of question every general manager has to grapple with as the draft plays out.

Let me say now that I don't know if the Packers coveted Bateman. Gutekunst personally attended Bateman's Pro Day at Minnesota and there was a lot of chatter about him getting Aaron Rodgers a first-round receiver, something the organization hadn't done since 2004, to pair with All-Pro Davante Adams.

After the Packers selected Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, a local newspaper wrote that they "narrowly missed out on Bateman … although it's unclear if they were smitten, despite a host of mock drafts linking the ex-Gopher to the Packers."

Gutekunst was asked late Thursday night whether he thought about trading up in the first round.

"It's always hard when you're picking in the back half of that draft to watch all those guys come off," he said. "We had some conversations. I just don't think it was in the cards."

The Packers clearly wanted wide receiver help because in the third round, they traded a fourth-round pick just to move up seven spots and select Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers. Perhaps Rodgers, who is more suited for slot work, is who they wanted all along, but Bateman can play inside too.

So I asked DeCosta during his appearance on "The Lounge" whether his pre-draft comments were an effort to dissuade the Packers from moving up.

"I would just say no comment other than to say the draft is a game and there's a strategy involved," he said. "You try and be as gray as possible with everything that you say. You never want to give anybody a strong indication on what you're going to do. We've learned the hard way over the years."

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DeCosta shared a story from 2012 about how the Ravens liked wide receiver T.Y. Hilton "quite a bit." They planned to take him with their pick near the start of the fourth round, with the intention of making Hilton a slot receiver and returner.

However, Chuck Pagano left to become the Indianapolis Colts' head coach earlier that offseason, and he brought Marwan Maalouf, then a Ravens assistant special teams coach, with him. Well, the Colts ended up trading up into the third round and picking Hilton six picks ahead of Baltimore.

"That always bothered me because we were going to take him," DeCosta said. "It was a great pick by the Colts; he's a great receiver, a Pro Bowl guy, very, very talented. I always felt like somebody knew we were going to take T.Y. Hilton."

That is why DeCosta will always highly protect the Ravens' information. He's not there to tell fans what they want to hear. He's not there to help reporters write our stories. DeCosta plays "The Game" to help the Ravens win games.

"I think one thing people will learn, eventually, is sometimes what we say leading up to the Draft, there's different ways to interpret those types of things, and it's a game. The Draft is a game," DeCosta said after Day 3 concluded. "It never serves us any purpose to give away any inside information. We're not going to talk about players that we love. We're not going to talk about players that we want to pick, strategies, all those types of things. And so, for us, we're competing with those other teams."

We may never know for sure whether DeCosta's pre-draft comment actually gave Gutekunst pause. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. But we do know DeCosta's gamesmanship was on-point.

For the record, DeCosta did feel a little insulted by the disparaging pre-draft wide receiver chatter. After all, he picked or signed those guys being written off. Even though the Ravens selected two wideouts in this year's draft with Bateman and Tylan Wallace, it doesn't mean DeCosta is throwing in the towel on any of his guys.

"I 100 percent stand by what I said," DeCosta said. "But I'm not going to sit here today and say I didn't have other reasons for saying it quite like that as well."

P.S. DeCosta also played the game well by not trading up in the third round to pick guard Ben Cleveland, despite Head Coach John Harbaugh pushing him to do so. Guards went with back-to-back picks at Nos. 86 and 87, but DeCosta and Harbs got their guy at No. 94.

"My job as GM is to understand league value. How does the league see this player – not just you," DeCosta said. "That's a big part of my job. You win some and you lose some."

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