As the chief architect of the Ravens' roster, general manager Ozzie Newsome constructed a team that has reached the Super Bowl.
His imprint extends to other important issues, including offering guidance to coach John Harbaugh on the decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replace him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell last month.
However, Newsome was emphatic in denying that he and owner Steve Bisciotti had pressured Harbaugh to dismiss Cameron after five years of running the Ravens' offense.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, that wouldn't be fair to John,” Newsome said during a news conference Friday at the Ravens' training complex. “John has to stand before his coaching staff and his players. If at any point do they ever think that he's overly influenced by Steve or I, then he loses his staff and his players. It has to be him.”
The firing of Cameron unfolded in the early hours of Dec. 10 at team headquarters, the morning after the Ravens' 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins.
Newsome said he held a discussion with Harbaugh during the trip back to Baltimore from FedEx Field.
The move has galvanized a dormant offense, with the Ravens averaging 427 yards and 30 points in the playoffs as quarterback Joe Flacco has passed for eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Newsome indicated that the decision to fire Cameron wasn't a snap judgment. He called upon his experience with former Ravens coach Brian Billick firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel during the bye week of the 2006 season to give advice to Harbaugh for how to handle this situation.
“No question about it,” Newsome said. “The process of hiring Jim Caldwell is something we talked about way before and why we wanted to do it and why he wanted to do it. He didn't just walk into my office that Monday morning and say, 'I want to make that move.' When we got off the bus downtown and we both were driving home from that Redskins game, John and I talked about it that night. He said, 'I think I might have to make a decision,' and was telling me all the reasons why. ...
“What I try to do for John is paint a picture so he can have as much information as he has to make that decision. It came down to when he walked into my office and told me he was going to make that decision, he had a peace about himself, and that's all I can ask of him. I said, 'You want to?' And he said, 'Yes, I think this is the right thing to do.’”
Perhaps the most pressing business matter facing the Ravens this offseason will be when they attempt to negotiate a new contract with Flacco to lock him up long-term and avoid using a $14.6 million franchise tag to retain him.
Flacco's rookie deal expires after the Super Bowl, and talks between vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty and Flacco’s agent Joe Linta have been tabled until after the season. The two sides aren't close to a deal at this time after the Ravens made a lucrative offer in August that was declined.
Flacco is expected to be more expensive to sign now that he's had a strong postseason.
“I'm not discussing that,” Newsome said. “Joe and I have a very good understanding about his contract and where we are. End of story.”
Newsome acknowledged that a tight salary cap won't allow the Ravens to retain all of their key free agents, a class that includes outside linebacker Paul Kruger (nine sacks), cornerback Cary Williams (four interceptions) and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (4 1/2 sacks).
“We knew we were going to lose Rod Woodson, we drafted Ed Reed,” Newsome said. “I already can look down the stream. I know what the contract situation is, and, No. 1, I know what our salary cap is. I can look and say and know that we are not going to be able to retain some players.
“So, I don't have to worry. I worry about winning today, but I've got to also worry about winning tomorrow. And I've got to be able to balance those books every year.”
Reed is another player whose contract is up after finishing a six-year, $44 million deal that paid him a $7.2 million base salary this season.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year intercepted four passes this season, but he’s 34 and his durability and tackling have declined. Reed indicated Thursday that he intends to keep playing and won't retire after the Super Bowl.
“That'll be up to Ed Reed,” said Newsome when asked if Reed has a future in coaching. “That'll be something that Steve [Bisciotti] and I can talk about, but Ed's still got a lot of football left to play. It's important for us to keep players around, but Ed's got a lot of football [left]. And if he decides he wants to do that, I think we can find a way.”
The Ravens' reconfigured offensive line has allowed only four sacks in the playoffs, upgrading its play significantly since Bryant McKinnie was elevated to the starting lineup at left tackle, Michael Oher shifted to right tackle from the left side and rookie Kelechi Osemele moved from right tackle to left guard.
Behind the scenes, McKinnie had previously met with Harbaugh to make his case for increased playing time. But Newsome said the line shuffle was primarily a result of left guard Jah Reid suffering a season-ending toe injury.
“It was just Jah Reid getting injured,” Newsome said. “That was the only that that precipitated that change. We don't have a poor offensive line anymore in Baltimore. We've got some good, young talent that I think can play together for a lot of years.”
Newsome also weighed in on the fact that no minorities were hired to NFL head coaching jobs this offseason. Although NFL teams complied with the Rooney Rule requiring that at least one minority be interviewed for head coaching and general manager vacancies, none got jobs. That has prompted the Fritz Pollard Alliance to call for the NFL to do more to ensure that there's diversity in the league as far as head coaches and general managers.
As the first African-American general manager in NFL history, Newsome said he remains confident in the process.
“Is the opportunity there? Yes it is,” Newsome said. “Are we going to work to get better? Yes. But all we can do is to put people in front of people. [Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin got in front of the Rooneys and got that job. I think that opportunity is there.
“I'd like for African Americans to get an opportunity, but John Harbaugh is a good football coach. Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach.. So, they're not making bad decisions. There's just a good pool of candidates out there that people have to choose from.”
Meanwhile, Newsome indicated that he got a lot of positive feedback this week at the Senior Bowl practices from fellow general managers about the future job prospects of Caldwell.
“I had a couple of GMs tell me, 'If it wasn't for your guys' success in the playoffs, that [Caldwell] would have been someone we would have interviewed,'“ Newsome said. “Hopefully next year we'll be in the same spot and it will be tough for him to get interviews again, but I can see him getting that opportunity a year from now.”