In a few years, maybe Ozzie Newsome will ride off into the sunset like Clint Eastwood in one of those old Western movies.
Despite the Ravens having failed to make the playoffs in four of the past five years, they aren’t far away from being serious contenders if Newsome can draft one or two offensive playmakers.
Of course there won’t be a definitive answer about the direction of this team for several years until recent classes grade out, but the Ravens have some pieces in place. They have a good prospect to be a shutdown cornerback in Marlon Humphrey and two other young promising cornerbacks in Tavon Young and Maurice Canady.
They have some solid defensive players to build around in linebackers C.J. Mosley, Matthew Judon and tackle Brandon Williams. If they can develop second-year outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams into pass rushers, the defense could be special.
So, it’s just about getting a tight end, wide receiver or running back in the draft. If the Ravens want to challenge for a playoff spot in 2018 and save coach John Harbaugh’s job, they have to find impact players.
And if they can do that, then 2019 would be more promising because veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs will be a free agent and both safety Eric Weddle and quarterback Joe Flacco will be near the end of their contracts, which would free up more money and salary cap room. That will give assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, who will replace Newsome at the end of this season, more bargaining and negotiating room during free agency.
It can all fall into place. I hope that it does because Newsome, who will become a team consultant after this season, deserves that type of ending to an incredible career as both a player and executive.
He has taken a lot of criticism in recent years for lackluster drafts, some of it deserved. The disappointments started in 2010 when the Ravens selected linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive tackle Terrence Cody in the second round followed by tight end Ed Dickson in the third.
That was followed by other second-round disappointments, such as linebacker Arthur Brown, linebacker Kamalei Correa and tight end Maxx Williams, as well as first-round failures such as safety Matt Elam and possibly wide receiver Breshad Perriman.
But most all NFL teams go through similar periods. It happened in Dallas, and the Seattle Seahawks are currently struggling. It’s all about perspective, and if that’s the case, then Newsome is one of the best in NFL history. When you take two Hall of Famers — tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis — with your first two picks ever, it can only go downhill from there.
Since moving to Baltimore to start the 1996 season the Ravens have been one of the NFL’s most successful franchises and there has been only one constant: Ozzie Newsome. The Browns came here without a name, colors and money. They didn’t have enough cash to sign players to form a developmental squad.
Yet within five years the Ravens won a Super Bowl with Brian Billick, who was in his second season as coach. Twelve years later the Ravens won another Super Bowl. That’s impressive, especially when 12 of 32 NFL teams have yet to win the championshipincluding Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minnesota, Buffalo and Atlanta.
You have to tip your hat to Newsome. You have to compliment him for selecting two Hall of Famers in Ogden and Lewis, and definitely a third in safety Ed Reed and possibly a fourth in Suggs. There have been some other top players drafted, such as tight end Todd Heap, cornerback Chris McAlister, outside linebacker Peter Boulware and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
DeCosta and Newsome have been victims of their own success. Opposing teams have raided their front office staff and owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged recently that the Ravens have been slow to replace those people with experienced personnel.
The Ravens also need to stop worrying so much about drafting so-called Boy Scouts. Since 2012 the franchise has been more concerned with selecting overachievers instead of good players who need high maintenance.
That approach will earn success and the “good guy award” for players such as Kyle Juszczyk, Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen, but can result in missing the playoffs by one or two games.
The Ravens have made several changes as far as receivers for the 2018 season, adding Michael Crabtree and John Brown, but those are not significant upgrades, just improvements over last year’s bad crew. I want to see young receivers such as Alabama’s Calvin Ridley or Maryland’s DJ Moore.
I want to see a new tight end such as South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst or South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert. This team needs an infusion of rookie talent, players the fans can grow with the way they did with Ogden, Lewis and Reed. Fans want players they can call their own.
The Ravens have a solid nucleus on defense and the same on offense with linemen Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, running back Alex Collins and Flacco. They just need another weapon or two.
In the past Newsome has struggled finding a top-notch receiver. The first-round failures include Mark Clayton and Travis Taylor. The latest could be Perriman. But the sense is that the Ravens spent a lot of time poring over what led them to success in the past and that they’re going back to that formula.
It will be interesting to see whether it works for the sake of this team, its fan base and the coach.
And in a couple of years it would be the perfect farewell present for Newsome.
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