On Friday afternoon, Steve Bisciotti hosted the long-awaited ‘State of the Ravens’ press conference, nearly a month after the season’s end on New Year’s Eve. Since the franchise’s crushing loss to Cincinnati, Bisciotti has received criticism on two subjects: for delaying the conference in the first place, and for electing to hold the meeting on his own for the first time in years. However, by 1:30 PM that afternoon, Bisciotti was poised and clear in his opinions about the direction of the Baltimore Ravens. Media members fired questions on a variety of subjects, from fan experience, to Joe Flacco’s future, to the upcoming NFL Draft. Bisciotti gave fair, rather predictable answers on each front, but dropped a bomb when addressing the status of the Ravens’ staff. After acknowledging that “it was a thought” to fire John Harbaugh, Bisciotti announced that Ozzie Newsome will be stepping down from the general manager position after the 2018 season.
After the Ravens’ second consecutive season in which a last-second collapse cost the team a playoff spot, many fans demanded sweeping change. Well, while ‘sweeping’ certainly isn’t the right word – Bisciotti stressed that continuity was still central to his vision – a regime change of sorts is on the horizon. Eric DeCosta, a member of Ozzie Newsome’s staff since the team’s conception in 1996, has always been considered the surefire replacement once Newsome decided to call it a career. Still, the nature of this shift is notable, as it will not signal Ozzie’s retirement, but rather a rearrangement of the scouting department. In 2019, Newsome will assume a role as “the highest paid scout in America”. Of course, the change is not immediate, but perhaps this minor turnover will reap major benefits, as fresh eyes may bring an exciting brand of football back to M&T Bank Stadium.
We have yet to see what Eric DeCosta’s personal plan is for the Ravens squad moving forward, and his influence will not be fully uncovered for a few years. However, one can speculate on the potential changes he could make early in his new role. The first is easily the most crucial: the release of Joe Flacco. I have written on this prospect before, albeit under the impression that Ozzie would hold the reigns for the foreseeable future. Cutting Joe Flacco after the 2018 season will save them $20 million, and considering that I believed it to be inevitable with Newsome at the helm, the emergence of DeCosta in 2019 will only increase its likelihood. To that point, as the Ravens scout the mid-round quarterbacks available in this year’s draft, could Ozzie Newsome permit DeCosta a selection of his choice this year? After all, the players taken in April’s draft will be part of the foundation Eric DeCosta inherits. That’s just a thought, though, and I expect that the draft will unfold with little adjustment.
Where the biggest source of hope lies is in the Ravens’ primary focus for this offseason, and likely those in the years to come: the search for offensive playmakers. Steve Bisciotti referred to the first-half offense as “ugly,” and later stressed the importance of hitting on offensive players at skill positions. It appears increasingly likely that Baltimore will take a pass-catcher early in the 2018 Draft, making the decision paramount for the team’s improvement. As we already know, however, Ozzie Newsome’s Achilles heel has been drafting wideouts. Perhaps Eric DeCosta will be able to provide the remedy. The Ravens won’t find out for at least a year, but they had better hope so.
Eric DeCosta has been Ozzie Newsome’s understudy since the franchise’s birth. Therefore, in all likelihood, little will change in terms of the Ravens’ identity. DeCosta should provide a fresh mind leading the scouting department, which will be beneficial, but as Steve Bisciotti stated on Friday afternoon, the change was made simply because “it was time.”