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Ravens GM Eric DeCosta on trading away Hayden Hurst, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and more

During a six-day span last week, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta finalized three trades. The first made headlines: The team was acquiring Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, for a fifth-round pick.

But DeCosta’s second and third deals were in some ways just as notable — one because of whom he was dealing, and the other because of whom he was dealing with.

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On Monday, in his first public comments since the NFL’s new league year started Wednesday, DeCosta explained the mechanics behind the trades that sent tight end Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons and defensive end Chris Wormley to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

DeCosta told the team website that both Hurst and his agent had expressed a desire after the season for the 2018 first-round pick to “get out on the field and contribute and show the world what he can do.” DeCosta said Hurst “loved it here, of course” — he’d grown especially close to the team’s other tight ends, Pro Bowl selection Mark Andrews and playing-time leader Nick Boyle — but that he would welcome the chance to play elsewhere.

At the NFL scouting combine last month, DeCosta recalled, he started to have “preliminary” discussions about Hurst with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. With Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper headed to free agency, Atlanta would likely soon have a need at the position.

“As other teams look at our roster, they would see that [Hurst] was the guy that was playing with some other really good players,” DeCosta said. “And teams look at your strengths on your team and sometimes will ask about players. And Hayden was the guy that sometimes teams would ask about. And so I made the decision ... that if a team was able to match what I would consider to be fair compensation for Hayden, that we would consider trading him.”

DeCosta said that while there were “probably three or four teams in the mix” for Hurst, the Falcons emerged as maybe the most interested suitor. With Atlanta’s proximity to Hurst’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, and the chance to get more snaps in a pass-happy offense led by star quarterback Matt Ryan, DeCosta said he had the chance “to put Hayden in the position where he was going to succeed.” In exchange for Hurst and a fourth-round pick in next month’s draft, the Ravens acquired 2020 second- and fifth-round selections.

“And because of that,” DeCosta said, “I think Atlanta made a lot of sense.”

DeCosta joked that it didn’t hurt that the Falcons play in the NFC. Of course, scheduling concerns didn’t keep the Ravens from sending Wormley to the Steelers, only the second trade ever between the AFC North rivals.

Salary cap considerations motivated the decision, DeCosta said Monday, hours before the Ravens re-signed cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive back-linebacker Anthony Levine Sr. But an apparent philosophical shift was a factor, too.

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“We felt like that we were going in a different direction, maybe, on the defensive line," said DeCosta, who also has designated Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon with the franchise tag and agreed to a three-year deal for defensive lineman Michael Brockers this offseason. “If we had the chance to trade Chris, it would be a tough call. But what I try to do is have a value in my mind and weigh that with the team.”

Ultimately, he said, the salary cap relief — Wormley was set to make $2.1 million in 2020 — and the arrival of a fifth-round pick made the deal “something that we felt like we should probably do.”

“You can’t second-think anything, and you just go through [with] it,” DeCosta said. “We thought it was a good decision for us at the time. We still stand by it. I think Chris is a good, young player, and I think his best football is probably ahead of him. But for us, where we are as a team, we felt like it made the most sense.”

Coronavirus concerns

Across the NFL, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of college pro days, restricted travel and limited access to team facilities. “This is a challenging time,” DeCosta said Monday. He acknowledged that the Ravens would have to adapt to the league’s new realities as free agency continues and the draft approaches.

“We can’t do the things that we’re accustomed to doing, we can’t be meeting with these players, we can’t be working out players, we can’t be visiting with players, so what are the things that we can do?" said DeCosta, adding that he expected to be “more hands-on” in the predraft process. "We’ll take advantage of those things as best as we can.”

Among the challenges for NFL scouts and officials, according to DeCosta: fewer interviews and medical rechecks and less workout data, especially for prospects who didn’t participate in postseason all-star games or the scouting combine.

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“So what are we going to do? We’ll have a plan," DeCosta said. "Rest assured, I’ll be watching every single player in this draft and go back to my days as the college scouting director. And we’ll work together, and we’ve got a great staff of people. And even if we can’t be together [at the team facility in Owings Mills], we can get on the phone, we can work remote, we can video-conference each other, and we’ll make the best decisions that we can for this club.”

Extra points

>> DeCosta said he’d hoped to complete a deal for Campbell before the start of free agency Wednesday. Fortunately, he had a willing trade partner in Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, whom he called a “really good friend." (Their relationship dates as far back as their days as competing scouts.)

By trading for Campbell, DeCosta said, “you have a little bit of an advantage over these teams who are all competing for the same players. My fear was that if we didn’t get out early to make a move, then there’d be a lot of multiple parts that we’re trying to juggle, and it becomes a lot more difficult.”

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>> Asked whether the Ravens now would seek a replacement for Hurst in the draft, DeCosta pointed to the team’s wealth of returning talent on offense and said that there are “many, many ways we can score a lot of points." DeCosta did, however, acknowledge that the team would add skill-position players “at some point” in the draft, but did not elaborate on what positions or how high in the draft.

>> With nine draft picks, including five in the first three rounds, DeCosta wouldn’t rule out trading up in the first round from the No. 28 slot. “I love to move around the board, as you guys know, and we’ve done that as much as probably any team in the league over the last 24 years, and we’ll continue to do that,” he said. “I’m open for business at all times.”

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