In his final predraft news conference as Ravens general manager, Ozzie Newsome didn’t dodge the toughest question, but he wasn’t ready to answer the easy one.
He fell on his sword when he was asked about his recent performance in the early rounds of the draft and the link between the team’s early-round misses and its three-year absence from the postseason.
“No doubt,” Newsome said. “Just like it was when we were having success, we were getting all the credit, and when we haven’t had the success, I need to take all the blame and it falls right on me.
“John [Harbaugh] and his staff do an unbelievable job, but we have to do a better job of bringing in players. Whether that’s through the draft, free agency or trades, we have to do better. And hopefully, when we sit here at Game 16, we’re already in the playoffs and not trying to get in the playoffs.”
That’s the plan, of course, as it is every time the Ravens front office embarks on the intense period of preparation for the draft. It was the plan when Newsome struck gold with Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in the very first Ravens draft in 1996. It was also the plan when the Ravens drafted safety Matt Elam first in 2013 and Breshad Perriman in 2015.
What makes this draft different is not the organizational approach — which Newsome, Harbaugh, GM-in-waiting Eric DeCosta and college scouting director Joe Hortiz made fairly clear is not going to change — but the fact that it will be Newsome’s swan song.
Owner Steve Bisciotti announced at his “State of the Ravens” address in February that DeCosta’s five-year contract called for him to be promoted to general manager in 2019. So this will be Newsome’s chance to put an exclamation point on his great front office career with a strong draft that helps put the Ravens back into the playoffs.
If you were expecting his eyes to well up with emotion when he was talking about that, however, you’re going to be disappointed.
“I really haven’t thought about that,” Newsome said. “I’ve been more just preparing for this draft.
“What’s going to occur a year from now is not in my thought process. It’s just making this the best draft that we can this year. That’s what’s been my focus.”
DeCosta also wasn’t eager to address the transition that is taking shape behind the walls of the Under Armour Performance Center and sought to keep most of his comments centered on the draft. Maybe that’s because nothing has changed yet and also out of respect for Newsome, who has been his boss and mentor through so many draft cycles.
“I think that’s still in the future,” DeCosta said. “Honestly, the best thing I can do is take care of today and this process, this draft for the future. We’re really focused on this. We’ve got an opportunity here to really fix our team, which we need to do. We tried to start to do that in free agency, but we look at the draft as a real opportunity for us to take the next step to be the team that we all want to be. That starts right now.”
It’s hard to argue with that approach, considering the long dry spell and the admitted impact of some of the team’s ill-fated draft decisions over the past few years. But such a dynamic organizational change almost begs for more illustration.
“I think we’ll worry about next year next year,” DeCosta said. “But I think this draft has a lot of significance, not because it’s Ozzie’s last draft but because it’s the draft that we have right now. We’ve got a great opportunity. We don’t want to blow it.”
Newsome’s role next year has not yet been defined, but it is believed that he’ll be allowed to define it any way he wants — whether that means coming to the facility every day or going on the road to scout players. DeCosta said Wednesday he wants Newsome to be around as much as possible.
There might be some fans who are eager for a more dramatic change in organizational philosophy, which might or might not come a year from now. Based on the comments of everyone on the stage Wednesday, it won’t come before the draft begins April 26.
Newsome said he remains committed to the best-player-available approach in the first round, which has served him well for most of his 22 years as Ravens GM. Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey was at the top of the board when it came time for the Ravens to make their first pick last year, and Newsome said that the next three picks were also faithful to the process.
“Is it going to end up being four defensive players this year? … I would hope not,” Newsome said. “There are some areas on offense we think we can improve based on the players in the draft. But I can’t control what the 15 people in front me are going to do.”
DeCosta said Wednesday that the process has evolved over the years, for reasons both strategic and technological, but didn’t hint at any major change in the way he will oversee it next year. Newsome has long involved a wide array of front office and coaching personnel in the run-up to the draft and doesn’t expect anything different going forward.
“You know, the way the process works, we’re all about getting it right,” Newsome said. “It’s not about me being right, Eric being right, John being right, Joe being right, Steve being right. Let’s just get it right. I don’t see that changing. I really don’t.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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