Ozzie Newsome’s ‘Beautiful Mind’ has Been the Key to Baltimore’s Success

newsome 2Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, however, minced no words when asked about Newsome’s importance to the franchise.

“I’m not really sure what other people say about Ozzie, but the people I talk to and have been around universally believe that he’s one the top executives, if not the top executive, in the NFL,” Harbaugh told me on Monday. “We sure feel that way in Baltimore, right? So many things make him great. First of all, he’s a brilliant guy. He’s a very smart man, and he’s got a knack for understanding what’s important. He’s got an incredible ability to get to the heart of a matter, just like that. He’s also got a great ability to communicate that to whoever he talks to. Also, he has good judgment Bottom line, and in the end, he really cares about people. Ozzie’s tremendous, and we would in no way, shape, or form be where we are without him.”

Newsome isn’t a self-promoter, though he’d certainly have reason if he so chose. Not only has he been a great success in the front office; he’s also a Hall-of-Fame player and one of the first receiving tight ends — the precursor to today’s Rob Gronkowskis and Jimmy Grahams. He played with the Cleveland Browns from 1978 to 1990 and caught 662 passes for 7,980 yards, and 47 touchdowns in a era where most tight ends were smaller tackles who could run around a little bit. Football is football, some might tell you — but as Matt Millen might admit in one of his weaker moments, an estimable career as a player doesn’t automatically set one up for success in front of a draft board.

“I think the biggest thing is that when you’re dealing with the players, you’ve got to be truthful to them,” Newsome told me on Tuesday when I asked him about that transition. “They’ll trust you if you tell them the truth, and sometimes, you’ll tell them things they don’t want to hear. A lot of what I do in evaluation — I had to evaluate how I wanted to pretend to block Lawrence Taylor or Carl Banks, or some of those other guys. You’re evaluating talent while you’re playing.”

And the challenge of evaluating talent never dissipates. As a team-builder, Newsome has generally managed to avoid the high-round bust rate that turns execs into ex-execs quicker than anything else. There are exceptions, of course, but the Ravens have been able to make up for their mistakes with other players who made huge impacts for years. Newsome’s most obvious draft misstep was the selection of Cal quarterback Kyle Boller with the 19th overall pick in the 2003 draft, but when you get Terrell Suggs with the 10th pick in that same first round, things tend to work out.

Baltimore’s one clear and potentially fatal flaw — the lack of a marquee quarterback — was solved when the Ravens took Delaware’s Joe Flacco in the first round five years later. Newsome and the Ravens came back to the well in the next round and picked up an allegedly “too small/too slow” running back from Rutgers named Ray Rice, and Baltimore’s offense was off to the races.

Moreover, Newsome holds fast to the notion that general managers really earn their salaries in the later rounds. Among the players taken in the third round or lower who have made serious contributions to the current Super Bowl team are guard Marshal Yanda, tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, defensive lineman Pernell McPhee, and running back Bernard Pierce.

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