The Ravens' "Council" (from left): Anthony Levine Sr., Patrick Onwuasor, Tony Jefferson and Matthew Judon.
The Ravens' "Council" (from left): Anthony Levine Sr., Patrick Onwuasor, Tony Jefferson and Matthew Judon.

For as much as its name might evoke stuffy, wood-paneled boardrooms or bureaucratic taskmasters, the Council does not take minutes. But it does note times. There is punctual, and there is tardy. No in-between.

So it was Wednesday morning that Ravens safety Tony Jefferson, his cellphone out, Instagram story rolling, panned to the digital clock in the Ravens’ weight room. It was 6:30 a.m. Here he was in team sweats, ready to work. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon had joined him. But where were the other two Council members? Where were Patrick Onwuasor and Anthony Levine Sr.?

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Turning the camera on himself, Jefferson shook his head, as if he needed to make clear his scorn and disbelief to every last one of his 87,000-plus followers. He looked as if he’d been betrayed. His Instagram story returned to the clock on the wall: 6:31. They were late.

“I just ... am not sure … quite exactly … what is going on,” Jefferson said in halting tones. His incredulity turned to irritation. “Go around, you talk about, ‘Council this, Council that.’ I’m about to cancel your application. I’m about to cancel your membership.”

Jefferson wagged his finger at the camera. “Get here on time, Peanut! Anthony Levine! We don’t got time for this!”

About 165 hours separate the end of the Ravens’ season-opening rout of the Miami Dolphins and Sunday’s home opener against the Arizona Cardinals, and even in mid-September, it can start to feel like a slog. Meeting, workout, practice, sleep. Meal after meal after meal. The more professionalized the operation, the harder it gets to connect with the game’s simple pleasures.

But there is joy in the company you keep, and brotherhood forms the Council’s bedrock. It is what gets them in the gym before the sun rises over Owings Mills, what drives them to game-day glory. It is what keeps Council business as secret as Area 51 and Council membership as exclusive as Harvard admission. The Council is another family, one they’ve made for themselves to last amid the churn of the NFL.

In football and in life, the four are stronger together than they are apart.

“The Council has nothing to do with football,” Levine, the special teams standout and hybrid defensive back, said Thursday. “It’s not, ‘Oh, you’re a football player. You go be in the Council.’ We talk about family issues. We’re talking about football issues. We talk about personal issues. You know what I’m saying? We’re brothers, so we talk about all that stuff. That’s why it’s like the Council. You know, it’s members that just …”

He trailed off, smiling. There was only so much he could say about the Council. Those are the rules.

Trust one another

The group came together as all friendships do — naturally, without much thought of what might await. The Council didn’t even have its lofty name until training camp this summer. (Levine declined to identify who’d suggested the name, choosing to call it a “group effort.”)

Levine, 32, is the Council’s longest-tenured Raven, but it was Jefferson’s arrival in 2017 that linked old and new. From safety Eric Weddle, a close friend and diligent worker who’d signed a year earlier, Jefferson learned “how to be a pro,” he said. Onwuasor, an inside linebacker, and Judon, both rookies during Weddle’s first season in Baltimore, gravitated toward the veterans. Hangouts turned into workouts. Workouts turned into a routine.

The group’s similarities mattered more than any differences. Weddle, a three-time Pro Bowl safety with the Chargers, had come east from San Diego, where Jefferson grew up. Inglewood, California, Onwuasor’s hometown, is two hours north. Levine spent his childhood in Louisiana and North Carolina. Judon was from Michigan. But of the five, only Weddle had been picked before the fifth round. Jefferson, Onwuasor and Levine hadn’t even been drafted.

“We just kind of bonded,” Onwuasor said Wednesday. “I know a lot of people are like, ‘How are you guys so close when you guys came in at different times?’ I feel like it’s more of a trust thing.”

Together, Levine said, they laugh about as much as they argue — “a lot.” But in that back-and-forth is room for growth. Because every Council matter is dealt with in-house, there’s a sense of security in speaking up. “Say you get into it with your significant other, and you bring it to the Council,” Levine said. "Like, ‘Listen, man. This is what happened. Am I tripping?’ And we talk about it.”

“It's a lot of responsibility, because you have to be a leader,” Jefferson said. “Not just when you're here, but when you're outside of here. And especially when you are here, you need to show leadership and respect to everybody.”

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Be on time

In the Council, that requires an early wake-up call. For a regular 6 a.m. workout, Levine sets his alarm clock for 5:10 a.m. Which also means being in bed on nights like Wednesday by 9:30.

It can be tempting to sleep in. Football taxes a body in ways that other professions do not, and Jefferson said mandatory team meetings don’t start until after 8 a.m. But the Council does not forbid public shaming. It might even encourage it. If early-morning planks are not enough to reform those arriving late to workouts, the threat of persistent ribbing and razzing, most of it documented on social media, can sway hearts and minds.

“The Council has nothing to do with football. ... We talk about family issues. We’re talking about football issues. We talk about personal issues.”


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“I do not have to be up early, but I get up early,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who’s worked out often with Council members, said Wednesday. “The morning check-in, if you’re not there, it gets pretty bad.”

“You don't want to hear their mouth,” Levine said. “Because now you've got to hear it all day, until the next day.”

There is value in knowing where they stand. Jefferson said the Council regularly holds a four-way Group FaceTime to review plays. Onwuasor said “everything” the group does together, even dinner, is carefully orchestrated. Levine used the word “accountable” five times in one answer to a question about how behind-the-scenes work tends to reveal itself on grander stages.

Just four days earlier, he’d taken a direct snap on a fake punt 60 yards, nearly scoring against the Dolphins. Judon had opened his season with a sack. Onwuasor had led the Ravens in tackles and added a sack himself. Jefferson had broken up a near-certain touchdown pass.

“We make each other better day by day and challenge each other to greatness,” Judon said Friday. “Even though we obviously know everybody can’t be perfect, that’s what we strive for. And we’ll call each other out on some [B.S.] if we see it. It’s just our ability to be honest with each other, is what draws us much closer.”

Respect the Council

The Council, like all deliberative bodies, big and small, has evolved over the years. Weddle, cut by the Ravens in March, later signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Levine, Onwuasor and Judon are in the final year of their respective contracts. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Thursday that the Council’s members have embraced the legacy of previous defensive leaders, setting an example for the next generation to follow.

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But it’s unclear just how many other Ravens want in. The Council’s admissions office is highly selective — unanimous decisions only, Jefferson said. And the application process is still being ironed out. How long could an applicant wait before hearing back? “We can’t give you an exact time on that,” he said.

Humphrey and second-year safety DeShon Elliott are top candidates. Both worked out regularly with the Council during the summer. Still, there’s much to learn. When Jefferson first saw Humphrey on Wednesday morning, it was 7:31. He was digging into breakfast in the team cafeteria, claiming ignorance about the workout.

A day later, after a reporter told him Humphrey had credited the Council’s brotherhood with convincing him to work out early, Jefferson said flatly: “I agree with that, even though Marlon really shouldn’t be talking about the Council, because he’s not in the Council.”

“We'll never stop somebody from wanting to hang with us, wanting to be around us, wanting to work out with us and stuff,” Levine said of Humphrey and Elliott. “But they get held accountable, too. We hold them accountable. They can't, like, just directly talk to a Council member. They don't have ideas. They try to come up with ideas. We shut it down. Like, no. This is only Council business. They're in the group chat, but they can only say so much.”

It’s not that the Council doesn’t want more members, Jefferson said. It’s just that, as a “founding father,” he’s more concerned about the foundation than any expansion. It has to be built to last. He wants it to mean something to be in the Council — to arrive even one minute late for a voluntary workout with a handful of your closest friends and have it still matter.

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