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Baltimore Ravens’ General Manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the most respected figures not only in the NFL, but in all of professional sports. Newsome has been pivotal in turning the Ravens into perennial playoff contenders, as well as helping deliver two Super Bowls in the Ravens’ relatively short 18-year history. He has built his reputation through savvy free agency additions and a usually unwavering policy of taking the best player available in the NFL Draft, and with the Ravens’ 19th season looming on the horizon, it looks as if the ‘Wizard of Oz’ is working his magic once again.
Newsome started the offseason by restructuring the contract of Terrell Suggs, which gave him more wiggle room in free agency, as well as potentially ensuring the iconic Raven will play his entire career in Baltimore. It was an excellent move by Newsome, as it keeps a still productive pass rusher on the roster, lowers his cap hit, and keeps a fan favorite at M&T Bank Stadium. The franchise lost both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in the previous offseason, and losing Suggs’ leadership and locker room presence would’ve been a grave loss for the Ravens, as cutting him was a very real option if he had not restructured his current deal.
Baltimore struggled offensively last season, but if they could lock up tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe to long-term deals, then they would be well on their way to righting the ship. So, Newsome did just that, firstly inking Pitta to a new deal, before letting Monroe hit the open market for all of a few hours, before also signing him to be the solution to the Ravens’ problematic left tackle spot. With these deals in place, Newsome was then also able to bring back wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones, linebacker Daryl Smith and safety/special teams ace Jeremy Miles on cost-effective contracts, leaving the Ravens with an ever-dwindling list of needs ahead of the 2014 season.
At this point, glaring needs remained at wide receiver, center, offensive tackle and free safety. Cue the Carolina Panthers cutting veteran receiver Steve Smith. Newsome swooped Smith, who had a scheduled visit with the New England Patriots after his trip to Baltimore, never made it to the airport, and instead signed a three-year deal with Baltimore. Next Newsome brought in former St. Louis Ram Darian Stewart, giving the Ravens a versatile safety to compliment Matt Elam, and although he might not be the archetypal free safety Newsome was initially hunting for, he gives the Ravens security and solidity in their secondary. The final addition, as of today, was a trade for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ center, Jeremy Zuttah. Baltimore is believed to have given up a 2015 fifth-round draft pick for Zuttah, who they will now try to negotiate a new long-term deal with, but regardless, should be Baltimore’s starting center next season.
These additions leave the Ravens with just the one major need going forward, although hopes are high that Ricky Wagner, a fifth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, could earn the starting spot at right tackle. Depth is also questionable at cornerback and on the defensive line, but ultimately Newsome’s savvy maneuverings should allow the Ravens to continue their trend of taking the best player available in the draft, and with them picking unusually highly this year, that could be a real boon for the 2014 season and beyond.
With the elite offensive tackles (Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan) likely all gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock with the 17th pick, Baltimore may target a rangy safety like Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, or a dynamic offensive talent like tight end Eric Ebron. Trading back in another option, although with the Ravens drafting higher than they usually do, chances are they will take advantage of this opportunity to land a highly-coveted player. There will be opportunities in the later rounds to try and grab a corner, tackle, and defensive end, with the likes of Pierre Desir, Seantrel Henderson, and Will Clarke all prospects worthy of keeping an eye on.
Factor in the depth of this year’s draft at positions the Ravens will likely look to draft, as well as the cap space they also still have, and it’s not hard to imagine Baltimore being back in the playoff mix next season. The losses of Arthur Jones, Michael Oher, and Corey Graham are significant, but a case can be made that the Ravens are already a better football team than they were last year, with more free agency additions and the NFL Draft still to come. In Ozzie Baltimore trusts, and in all honesty, it’s not difficult to see why.
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