In Ozzie Newsome the Ravens trust

Faith in GM Newsome makes roster changes easier to swallow

September 03, 2013|By Childs Walker | The Baltimore Sun

As Steve Bisciotti tells it, neither he nor John Harbaugh is patient when it comes to the Ravens.

So when a big decision confronts them and emotions are boiling, they turn to their in-house Solomon, also known as Ozzie Newsome. They do so knowing full well that he'll ask them to wait.

"It's kind of a running joke with us that Dad doesn't give you an answer right away," said Bisciotti, the Ravens owner. "You bring him your requests and then you have to wait a day to get your answer from Ozzie. If he agrees with us, the day didn't kill us. If he doesn't agree, he's thought about it and has some pros and cons that maybe we didn't think of. Or maybe our tempers and anxieties have calmed down. It just always works in our favor. He's always a calming presence."

Newsome's ability to look past the emotion of the moment was the story of the Ravens' offseason. Coming off a Super Bowl victory, he could have forsaken his long-term plan and clung to as many players as possible. Instead, he moved rapidly to redesign the roster.

Whatever happens when the Ravens take the field in Denver on Thursday night to open the NFL season, the tale of 2013 will be different than that of 2012.

There are plenty of reasons to feel uncertain about this season's Ravens, from the absence of retired linebacker Ray Lewis to the lack of familiar pass catchers. Because the Ravens could start as many as six new players, some experts are picking the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North and some see the Ravens failing to make the playoffs.

But talk to players, coaches and fans and they express little fear that the franchise will lose its way.

In most NFL cities, that kind of faith would be attached to a star player or coach. In Baltimore, much of it is credited to a balding, modestly spoken executive who hasn't played a down in 23 years and has never called a Ravens formation from the sidelines.

Widespread respect

Asked whether he'd feel greater anxiety about the title defense without Newsome calling the shots, Bisciotti said, "Absolutely."

Fans scratched their heads over some of Newsome's moves this offseason, especially the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, which looked worse after tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a hip injury in training camp.

"Some things, I don't understand," said Charlotte Krause, a Kingsville resident who presides over the council of Ravens Roost fan clubs. "But they always seem to work out. I trust in Ozzie 100 percent."

It's a sentiment shared by many around the NFL.

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick remembers tearing his hair out as he sat beside Newsome during their first draft together. Newsome wanted to trade down, confident the Ravens could get the players they wanted and acquire a future No. 1 pick. Billick, staring at an imperfect roster, wanted a player right then and there.

Newsome won the argument and traded for a pick that would net star running back Jamal Lewis the following season. Sure enough, receiver Brandon Stokley and guard Edwin Mulitalo were still there to be picked in the fourth round.

The moral of the story? "That guy knows what he's doing," Billick said. "That was our baptism by fire, and Ozzie delivered."

Newsome turned down an interview request, as he does for most articles about him.

But the respect for him is just as fervent from other team builders who compete with the Ravens. "We're all chasing Ozzie," New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese said.

Newsome is the perfect man to rebuild a championship team, because his own biography is one of reinvention, said Scott Pioli, a former executive with the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.

"How many guys have you seen that rest on their laurels as players and don't reinvent themselves in their next chapter of life?" said Pioli, now an NBC football analyst. "Ozzie keeps doing that."

Newsome, 57, could have walked away after last season with one of the best all-around resumes in football history — college and pro Hall of Famer, pioneering African-American executive, architect of two Super Bowl winners.

Instead, he opted to shake up the pieces and believe that he and the people around him could construct another beautiful puzzle.

This came as little surprise to those who work closely with Newsome. They describe him as, quietly, one of the most competitive people on earth, a man invigorated by this sort of challenge.

Bisciotti said he talked with Newsome about the general manager's future and came away certain that Newsome planned to stay. "No, I had no fear," the Ravens owner said. "And if I had that fear, I would've been more reluctant to back this purge of these veterans."

In a league of rampant turnover, the Ravens are a picture of stability at the top. The roots of the story go back to Cleveland, where Browns owner Art Modell grasped that Newsome was, more than a star player, a man of rare ability and dignity.

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