By Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun
10:00 PM EDT, April 15, 2012
At some point in next week's NFL draft, the Ravens will get the itch. It's usually a good itch, and few teams, if any, have been as successful at scratching it as they have been the past two decades.
That's why during the draft it has become a question of when, not if, the Ravens will swap one of their picks. They have made at least one trade in each of the past 10 drafts and 14 of 16 overall. Their preference has been to trade down, but they can be aggressive when trying to secure a player they believe is special. And with eight picks this year, the Ravens have the assets to move around.
"There's nobody that covets picks more than the Baltimore Ravens," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said earlier this month. "And so the notion of giving up a pick is pretty distasteful for us -- unless the player is pretty darn good."
In general manager Ozzie Newsome's war room, it's often an easy decision when the Ravens trade up for the top prospect on their board or move down to stockpile picks. But whether they deal a first-round pick or a seventh-rounder, the process itself rarely comes without a little perspiration.
The future of a franchise can be altered in the 10 minutes it takes for the pick to go from the war room to the commissioner's pocket to the lectern, but the groundwork is laid weeks beforehand.
Leading up to the draft, the Ravens contact teams around them in the first round -- teams picking as many as 10 spots before and up to 10 picks after -- to let them know there is a chance they will be interested in trading their top pick depending on how the round unfolds. That ensures they aren't caught panicking in the heat of a frenzied draft moment.
But as Newsome warned, even if the Ravens are looking to deal, they must be prepared to pick.
"You can't control the other 28" previous picks, he said. "So if you're on the clock and 28 players have been taken, you have to be ready to take that 29th if the phone call doesn't come."
As the first round progresses and more and more of the draft's top prospects, sweating in their three-piece suits, finally realize their NFL dreams, the Ravens get an idea of who will be on the board when it's their turn to make a young, well-dressed man cry and hug his mother.
If the Ravens are confident they'll get a player they're comfortable with, they'll stand pat. If they don't think they'll get good value, they'll look to trade down. And if there is a player they really covet who won't last until their pick, they'll start working the phone lines.
"It's really who the player is and who are the other players around him," DeCosta said. "You'll never see us trade up to get a player unless we think clearly he's by far the best player that's still there."
That was the case in 2003 when the Ravens traded a second-round pick and a future first-rounder to the New England Patriots so they could take a quarterback and potential savior in Kyle Boller. The Ravens, who had selected outside linebacker Terrell Suggs earlier in the first round, knew when Boller was expected to come off the board and had trade partners lined up ahead of time.
Boller didn't live up to his draft status, but the Ravens were decisive in drafting him 19th overall.
"It was a very calm progression of getting on the phone and seeing if we could work back up into the area that we were sure -- [pick Nos.] 18, 19, 20, 21, somewhere around there -- where he was going to go," said former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who is now an analyst for Fox Sports and NFL Network. "It wasn't a panic. It was hectic, but it wasn't panicked."
Though the stakes aren't as high after the first night of the draft, the same philosophies are in place in the later rounds. Last year, the Ravens watched all but one of the top offensive linemen fly off their board before they made their third-round pick. Sensing that Central Florida tackle Jah Reid wouldn't last until No.90, they moved up five spots to select him.
"We weigh the pick, we weigh the players," DeCosta said of drafting Reid. "All these guys got picked and it made it easy for us to make that decision. There were no other players at that position -- or even any other players with third-round-type value -- when we were picking. So when you start to get 'the itch' -- which is what I call it -- you make some phone calls, probably."
Inside linebacker Ray Lewis (first round, 1996), running back Ray Rice (second, 2008), right guard Marshal Yanda (third, 2007) and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta (third and fourth, 2010) are among the most notable Ravens players selected with picks acquired from other teams.
The Ravens have swapped their first-round pick in four of the past six drafts -- and it would have been five of six if not for their controversial trade mix-up with the Chicago Bears in last April's draft.
Newsome had a deal in place to trade back three spots from No. 26, but the Bears didn't call the league to confirm the deal. The clock ran out on the Ravens, and the Kansas City Chiefs rushed in to make their pick, but the Ravens still got their man -- cornerback Jimmy Smith -- one pick later.
In 2010, the Ravens traded out of the first round and then selected linebacker Sergio Kindle and nose tackle Terrence Cody in the second round. The year before, they moved up three spots to grab the top offensive tackle left on their board, Michael Oher. In 2008, the Ravens, who started the draft with the eighth overall pick, traded down, then later moved back up to land quarterback Joe Flacco.
But what might have been Newsome's finest first-round swap came when he traded a sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in 2006 to move up one spot -- No.13 to No. 12 -- to draft Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The Browns were so close to selecting Ngata, they called to tell him that barring a trade, they were taking him. Moments later, the Ravens were on his line.
That trade obviously turned out to be a very good one," Billick said. "We only moved up one spot. [Former Ravens director of college scouting] Phil Savage played it very intelligently. We felt like we did what we had to do to go covet that player, and Ozzie was positioned to do it."
Will the Ravens get the itch as the first round is winding down this year? Billick said a trade "could very well happen," though he thinks it's more likely that Newsome will try to trade down.
"He may feel like there's a guy that they can get in the second round by falling back that they would otherwise take in the late first round," Billick said. "Ozzie has been brilliant with that."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.
When: Thursday April 26, 8 p.m. (Round 1); Friday April 27, 7 p.m. (Rounds 2-3); Saturday April 28 noon (Rounds 4-7)
TV: NFL Network, ESPN, ESPN2
Ravens picks: First round (No. 29); second round (No. 60); third round (No. 91); fourth round (No. 130, compensatory pick); fifth round (Nos. 155 and 160, compensatory pick); sixth round (No. 186); seventh round (No. 218).
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