None of them could recall seeing such a moment in an NFL draft war room.
“Ozzie, man, I love you,” Sanders said.
Every eye in the Owings Mills conference room turned to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who had just orchestrated the trade to acquire Jackson. And to a man, the football executives broke into applause for Newsome.
“In this business, we’re not emotional people, not like we are with family and friends,” said Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, who will succeed Newsome after the 2018 season. “But this just happened in such a way, and it was a special draft.”
The burst of emotion touched on the Ravens’ past, in the form of Newsome’s draft acumen, which built two Super Bowl winners, and the team’s future in the form of Jackson, who is expected to replace Joe Flacco as soon as 2019.
In the moments before, coach John Harbaugh spoke to Jackson by phone. “We talked about this two weeks ago, did we not?” he said.
The scouts who’d advocated for the Louisville quarterback crowded in from the hallway. “That’s something special,” national scout Lonnie Young murmured.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti cupped his face in his hand looking content. Newsome tapped him and pulled his boss into an embrace as commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Jackson pick.
“We got it done,” Newsome said as he watched coverage through reading glasses perched on his nose. Given his even temperament, this amounted to a display of high emotion.
Waiting is the hardest part
Meanwhile, in Texas, Jackson was relieved and a touch angry at the teams that had bypassed him. He’d endured a familiar but excruciating ritual — the all-world college star who waits and waits as the first round melts away and less accomplished players come off the board. This green-room torture test has launched some of the greatest careers in league history. Just ask Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But that was little solace to Jackson as he and his mother, Felicia Jones, entered hour four with no satisfaction in sight. Jackson acknowledged feeling discouraged when the Eagles — a team with two established quarterbacks — went on the clock for the last pick of the night.
“When I got to the last pick, the 32nd pick, I was like, 'Man, I hope I didn't wear my suit for no reason,’ ” he said, alluding to the green Gucci he’d worn for luck. “I felt my suit was kind of fly if you ask me.”
Newsome called him just as the networks announced the Ravens had traded into Philadelphia’s spot.
As news reverberated around the football world, people close to Jackson basked in his joy.
His Louisville teammate, cornerback Jaire Alexander, had been picked 18th overall by the Green Bay Packers and was in the middle of a television interview. He paused, turned away and began hopping up and down when he saw Jackson’s name on a nearby screen.
Hayden Hurst, the Ravens’ first pick of the night, had just finished a telephone interview at his parents’ house in Jacksonville, Fla., when he saw the Jackson pick flash on the family television
“As soon as I saw his name move across the board, I was like, 'Man, what he did at Louisville, he's going to bring it here, and what I did at South Carolina, I'm going bring that here as well.' ” Hurst said.
Rick Swain, Jackson’s coach at Boynton Beach High School in Florida, was eating chicken wings at the Carolina Ale House with family members and former assistants.
“Everybody went crazy,” he said of the moment when the Ravens traded back into the first round. “We’ve all followed him all the way through.”
In Swain’s 42 years of coaching Florida high school football, Jackson was the best player he ever saw.
“I used to call him my own, personal video game,” he said. “Because humans just don’t do that stuff.”
Appealing trade partner
Going into the draft, few expected the Ravens to stand at the heart of the evening’s drama. But as the first round picked up speed and several top defensive players — most notably Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Florida State safety Derwin James — plummeted, their No. 16 pick suddenly became an appealing trade target.
Newsome has always compared the moments before the Ravens pick to the nervous anticipation he felt when he ran out of the tunnel as a Hall of Fame tight end for the Cleveland Browns.
But he’s also patient.
None of the defensive stars filled an immediate need for the Ravens, and Newsome has always tried trading down to strengthen his position for days two and three of the draft. So when news flashed at 9:47 p.m. that the Buffalo Bills had moved to 16 (to pick Edmunds), it was the first sign the evening was breaking the Ravens’ way.
Forty minutes later, when they reached their turn to pick at No. 22 overall, the Ravens still sat in an enviable position — plenty of players they wanted on the board and teams eager to move into their spot.
Newsome traded again, acquiring another pick in a fourth round the Ravens project to be rich with talent.
Finally, a pick
Nearly four hours into the first round, with Jackson still in limbo, the Ravens picked Hurst, the pass-catching tight end they needed.
There’s an inevitable exhale when a team makes its first-round selection. After months of study and prognostication, the operation briefly turns toward celebrating the organization’s newest player.
The conference table at the center of the room was cluttered with empty water bottles and a tub of peppermints.
Given that the first round was almost over, Ravens vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne asked Newsome if he wanted to speak to reporters about Hurst.
No, Newsome said. He wanted to check out what options remained over the last seven picks of the first round.
With Jackson now the target, Newsome began calling other general managers to see if he could trade back into the first round. His conversation with Philadelphia’s Howie Roseman was the most promising.
As is custom, Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz wrote the potential trade — the Eagles’ first- and fourth-round picks this year for the Ravens’ second- and fourth round picks in 2018 and their second-round pick in 2019 — on a white board.
The teams didn’t have a deal when Newsome hung up with Roseman the first time. But when someone in the room inquired, he said he thought it would happen.
Still, nothing was set when the Eagles went on the clock. Newsome made his final call to the league with less than five minutes to go.
“I’m a Raven,” Jackson shouted on the big screen, and the general manager’s grin widened.