The Baltimore Ravens front office has a new man in charge for the first time in sixteen years. The 2019 NFL Draft will reveal a lot about general manager Eric DeCosta’s plans for the team.
It’s not quite Steve Young taking over for Joe Montana, or Aaron Rodgers replacing Brett Favre. But it’s close. General manager Eric DeCosta succeeds Ozzie Newsome, who has served in the Ravens’ front office for 27 years (five with the Cleveland Browns pre-Baltimore relocation). Sixteen of those years have been as general manager. Newsome has been responsible for every draft pick since 1996. That all changes this year.
GM Ozzie Newsome has made the final call on every pick since 1996. Now, he approaches his final draft.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) April 4, 2018
The big shoes to fill aren’t just because of the longevity. Newsome built good teams. His teams featured strong defenses, offenses built around the ground game, and a “next man up” roster philosophy. He was a man that made things happen, especially on draft day. Newsome made draft day trades in every Ravens’ draft except 2001 and 2017.
Decosta’s tenure began this offseason with a bang, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. He immediately jettisoned longtime starting quarterback Joe Flacco. DeCosta also let a fleet of players, mostly on defense, leave via free agency. Linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, along with safety Eric Weddle were arguably the centerpieces of a Ravens defense that led the league in nearly every statistical category in 2018. They are all gone, leaving DeCosta with the early task of rebuilding a previously stout defense.
What we know about DeCosta
If you really want to know what DeCosta has planned, you’ll have to get in bed with him. His wife tells Baltimore Ravens media that the new front office leader talks NFL Draft in his sleep. One of the reasons he’s so passionate about the draft is because he has organized the teams draft board since 2004. Sure, Newsome made the deals and signed off on the team’s official picks. However, Ravens fans should rest easy knowing there will be no continuity issues as far as the way the team ranks NFL prospects.
DeCosta also seems to embrace the Ravens “next man up” mentality famously documented in John Feinstein’s book Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today’s NFL. He prefers to call his draft strategy the “Ravens strategy” and relies on trusted people around him to help make decisions. It’s a model that afforded the team to address Newsome’s departure organically and with ease. Apparently, the DeCosta succession plan has been around since as early as 2007.
DeCosta’s already made a mark on the roster
To be fair, Newsome kind of forced DeCosta’s hand to deal Flacco by trading back into the first round last year to draft QB Lamar Jackson. This offseason DeCosta wisely moved fast, arranging a deal with Denver back in mid-February. He snared a fourth-round pick for the aging veteran, clearing $10.5 million in cap space in the process. It seems Newsome’s selection of Jackson is the gift that keeps on giving.
DeCosta then made cornerback Tavon Young the highest paid slot corner in the league. That move, coupled with the free agency departures, tips his hand a bit. DeCosta seems all-in on a youth movement, allowing for the salary cap maneuverability to build a complete roster from top to bottom. It’s likely one of the reasons the Ravens decided not to keep C.J. Mosley at such a high price tag (Mosley signed with the Jets for 5 years, $85 million).
Just this week, the team exercised the fifth-year option on left tackle Ronnie Stanley, keeping him through 2020. Stanley is a quality starter and only 25 years old, so expect DeCosta to get to work soon on locking him up long-term, just as they did with Young.
What to expect on draft day
The Ravens filled some holes in free agency with veteran running back Mark Ingram and safety Earl Thomas. DeCosta will likely look to the draft to fill out the remaining gaps with players that can play sooner rather than later. Baltimore still has major needs at receiver, linebacker, and offensive line. Because they lack a second-round pick (due to the Lamar Jackson trade last year), look for DeCosta to keep the Newsome tradition going with a potential trade down in round one to pick up more draft capital.
The buzz in the AFC North this offseason has been about Cleveland’s roster rebuild and the Pittsburgh Steelers changing of the guard, but don’t count Baltimore out just yet. Coming off an AFC North Championship, look for DeCosta to draft experienced players, most likely from Power 5 conferences, ready to step in and be the next man up for the Ravens.