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Hall of Fame Week: Ozzie Newsome's What-If case for contributor induction

Ozzie Newsome is a Hall of Fame tight end and the only general manager to craft two Super Bowl winning teams in two completely distinct eras and rosters. Would he make it as a Contributor?


Ozzie Newsome is the owner of two of the most unique accomplishments among NFL general managers.

First, he was the first minority candidate to reach the GM position. Art Modell's selection of Newsome was noteworthy for having broken a major racial barrier and empowering him to run the team. Since then, Newsome has served as a mentor and success story for other minority general managers such as Jerry Reese and Rick Smith, who have strong relationships with Newsome.

Secondly, and perhaps his strongest case for contributor induction, were he eligible, he is the only GM to craft a Super Bowl winning team in two clearly distinct eras with completely different rosters.

A few general managers have won multiple Super Bowls. That in and of itself is an extremely rare accomplishment as only one third of the NFL teams have done so. But all did it with the same approximate core of players within a short time window.  Except Newsome.

Ray Lewis is the lone link between the teams, having the unusual feat of playing 17 years. The fact that Newsome's first two ever draft picks were themselves inevitable Hall of Famers is practically an argument by itself.

In fact, what makes Newsome's accomplishment all the more impressive is that it occurred in the Free Agency Era.

During the olden days, players couldn't leave for more money and greener pastures. Team executives could easily low ball players because they could, something that the great Tex Schramm of the Cowboys was famous for. A dominant core of players could be protected for years, as in the case of the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys, without fear of pilfering. Today, those teams would have long been picked through by teams willing to pay more for their notable players in a tight salary cap environment. Those teams would have had to make significant tradeoffs in roster personnel.

Then, it was simply enough to draft well and develop players. Now, you have to retain and pay for the rights to hold onto a dominant set of draft picks and do so under a strict salary cap.

Changes to Contributors Induction Process

On Saturday, the class of 2014 was officially inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Notable in recent changes being made to the Hall of Fame voting process is the separation of the contributor selection. Previously, contributors, such as owners and executives, were considered in the same overall process with players and coaches. Inducting a contributor meant one less player.

This obviously was not very logical — after all, the Hall of fame is at its core about the game, not the business, of football.

The change ensures that valuable contributors who impacted the sport's evolution can get consideration without subverting the already stringent process of inducting players.

While the limit on five modern era players is a topic worthy of its own discussion, the contributor change makes for an interesting conversation with respect to Baltimore's main contributors.

Modell himself has one of the more compelling cases. In fact, it is likely that were Canton not near Cleveland, he would already be in. Several voters have gone on record of saying this. We can question the absurd level of appeasement in such logic, especially when Al Davis, who was inducted in 1992 as a team administrator, moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland in the span of about 13 years. It seems weird for the voters to have bleeding hearts about Cleveland while no one gives Oakland or Los Angeles the same consideration. It probably has more to do with the fact that Cleveland hasn't won anything of significance since Lyndon Johnson was president, but I digress.

Newsome is, of course, already in the Hall of Fame as a tight end from his days with the Browns and so any discussion of his entry as a contributor is purely academic.  But given how hard it is to be inducted as a contributor, there is some question on whether he could make it as one.  There are only a few team executives currently in the Hall and it may be instructive to benchmark Newsome against them.

What other general managers are in the Hall of Fame?

It can be hard to determine the fine line between owner, administrator and general manager in the old days of the NFL. Many teams followed the modern Cowboys model of owners who were heavily involved in personnel decisions and football operations. Nowadays, owners are simply extremely wealthy businessmen looking for another business interest and hobby, albeit one of the most exclusive and coveted. General managers are a distinct role now, almost always filled by a front office executive who rose up through the scouting or salary cap ranks. But there are a few men who could be considered true general managers currently in the Hall.

There is Tex Schramm, a titan of NFL influence who ran the Cowboys for 29 years until Jerry Jones bought the team.  Schramm is often credited with many of the modern rule changes but perhaps his biggest influence was how he worked to help the Cowboys earn their "America's Team" moniker. The Cowboys developed into a behemoth of popularity and publicity under his tenure that continues today. He built the famously strong Cowboys of the 1970s under Tom Landry and Roger Staubach who won two Super Bowls and appeared in five.

But perhaps the closest resemblance to Newsome is Jim Finks, the long-time general manager of the Vikings, Bears and Saints, who built the 1985 Chicago Bears championship team and crafted the Vikings teams that made the Super Bowl twice in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Finks is notable for having turned the moribund Vikings and Saints teams into contenders after years of futility.

In fact, Finks came incredibly close to being the first GM to build two completely distinct and separate Super Bowl winning teams rather than Newsome. Unfortunately, the Vikings lost in Super Bowl IV and VIII, denying Finks that accolade.

Like Finks, Newsome took on a difficult task of remaking a previously imploding team into a winner.  His success doing that is well documented. In less than five years at the helm, Newsome brought a championship to the Baltimore Ravens.

The hypothetical case for or against Newsome's contributor induction is, of course, premature because he is not retired yet. He has more work to do. If it's up to us (which it isn't) and Steve Bisciotti (which it is), Newsome will be around a long time and add to his case.

Nevertheless, it seems he would have a strong case. After years of Cleveland and their sympathizers on the voting committee stubbornly and bitterly denying Modell's entrance at all costs, it's too bad we can't one day lay claim to Newsome as a Ravens Hall of Famer.  Alas, we'll have to settle for Lombardis.  In the meantime, he's doing a pretty good job finding the team other future Hall of Famers.