Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has long been considered one of the top GM's in the NFL, mainly for his ability to find that "diamond-in-the-rough" draft pick in the later rounds that end up being stars. He also seems to be able to find quality guys, compared to the other players that are good on the field but bad off of it. He has also done well for this franchise in the off season, finding value in free agency while not overburdening our salary cap with high priced superstars that take away the balance of the payroll.
However, this current off season may have been his crowning moment. Faced with the possibility of losing many of his top defensive players through free agency, he has not only stopped the flow of players signing elsewhere, he has actually improved the team through retaining the top players and adding key free agents through shrewd strategic moves that have bolstered what was thought to be our weakness. At the same time, he has put us in a position going into the NFL Draft later this month that will allow us to go for the best player available, rather than focus solely on team needs.
How has he managed to do this when most other teams have either lost irreplaceable key players or had to outspend other teams to grab the overpriced free agents early in the free agency period? Other than Ozzie's ability to convince players to come to Baltimore, he has a "little" bit of help from the team ownership, where Steve Bisciotti is a great guy and willing to give Ozzie the room he needs to do his job, as opposed to the other "helicopter" owners (Dan Snyder, Al Davis, Jerry Jones) who insist in being involved in every decision. The team's Training HQ certainly knocks the socks off of prospective targets of the team as well.
Look at what has transpired since free agency began: The press was saying our defense would lose its core group of defenders. Well, we grudgingly allowed the Jets to overpay for Bart Scott, who will find out life in the NFL is quite different when playing out from under the shadow of Ray Lewis. We let CB Chris McAlister go, and you've seen how much interest the rest of the league has had in him. We knew we couldn't afford to keep safety Jim Leonhard, who joined former Ravens defensive coordinator and new Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Bart Scott in New York. After a long and sometimes contentious period, we re-signed the heart and soul of the defense, Ray Lewis, from which the defense, if not the entire team revolves around. We signed CB Domonique Foxworth to team with Fabian Washington, giving us two of the speedier cornerbacks in the league and then added reserve CB and former Titan Chris Carr, who is also an excellent kick returner. We then released CB Samari Rolle, who was due to make way too much for a 34 year old CB. Ozzie franchised Terrell Suggs, allowing us to retain him for this year while negotiating a long term contract. Finally, we just re-signed Rolle to a cap friendly contract, taking a position that had reserve CB Frank Walker starting games last year and now putting him at the fourth or fifth option at the very same position.
Oh yeah, that was just on the defensive side of the ball! Offensively, we lost up and coming center Jason Brown to the Rams who signed him to a ridiculous contract, but then signed 11 year veteran and former Pro Bowler Matt Birk, from the Minnesota Vikings. He also signed the starting tight end of the Philadelphia Eagles, LJ Smith, to complement Todd Heap. The other day he retained punter Sam Koch, one of the better punters in the league. Now it appears that if there is any weakness to this team, it is the depth at wide receiver. There is all the condfidence in the workd that Newsome will address this at some point in the draft, as early as the first round. However, he has put us in the position to not be forced to take any one specific position, as his selections on draft day have been legendary in the league.
After what was looking to be a disasterous off season has turned into one of if not the most successful one, Ozzie is now sitting in an enviable position of waiting to see who falls to us with the 26th pick of the first round of the draft. Whatever player he takes will be welcomed in the Castle in Owings Mills and probably make an immediate effect on this team, one who looks to be a major force in the hunt of another Super Bowl title run in 2009.