Friday, January 08, 2010

Losing DeCosta could cost the Ravens dearly

Clearly Ozzie Newsome has been successful as a general manager and his track record with first round draft picks is unrivaled. Yet Newsome would be the first to admit that the credit is far from solely his when it comes to the Ravens’ draft day success.

The team has been very careful to hire scouts who have worked in the trenches and committed the prerequisite hours to develop an eye for collegiate talent that will project well into the NFL. The club affectionately refers to members of the organization who began in their 20’s and worked for wages in the 20K range as the 20-20 club.

They are the grinders, those that invested the sweat equity to move up the organizational ladder.

Building a successful organization takes time and that is something Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti is intimately aware of. After all, he built his fortune on understanding the work force and how to effectively place skill sets in the right positions to succeed.

Now it appears that his expertise will be needed to guide the Ravens into the future.


Other NFL clubs are knocking on the door of the Ravens’ Director of Player Personnel, Eric DeCosta, one of the most decorated members of that 20-20 club.

Prior to being named Director of Player Personnel (which for all intents and purposes means Assistant General Manager) DeCosta served as Director of College Scouting (“DCS”) for the Ravens for six years and at one point he was the youngest in the NFL to assume such a position. From Player Personnel Assistant to Midwest Scout to DCS, add it all up and DeCosta has been with Ozzie Newsome for fourteen years.

DeCosta by his own admission is a bit of a pessimist. That doesn’t mean he’s difficult or that his company is unpleasant by any stretch. In fact there’s value to the organization in DeCosta adopting such a mindset. Instead of taking credit for a player like Ray Rice, he’d rather focus on what he can do to improve the team’s inability to draft a prototypical playmaker at the wide receiver position.

He is his own worst critic and that drives DeCosta to look for alternative ways and means to improve upon what he does for the Baltimore Ravens. He often reads books to help train his mind and his eye to seek out new paths of discovery – to not just look and think outside the box but in many ways live there.

It’s all part of his mental makeup and his insatiable desire to succeed. That ambition bodes well for the Ravens – assuming he stays.

Other teams have noticed and they are calling DeCosta. Why wouldn’t they be interested in an Ozzie Newsome protégé?

Back in September I had the opportunity to chat with Steve Bisciotti during our Ravens Rap program and discuss his organization and specifically Eric DeCosta. In so many words, he anointed DeCosta the heir apparent to Newsome if and when Ozzie moves on.

Some have speculated for years that Newsome would embrace the Athletic Director’s position at his alma mater, the University of Alabama. Others believe that Ozzie will stay until he earns another ring.

The uncertainty leaves the ambitious DeCosta in limbo.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know DeCosta and besides his impressive and inspiring pursuit of excellence I have come to respect his love for family and its importance in the lives of his wife and children. It keeps him grounded and it keeps him loosely anchored to Baltimore.

Yet the anchor is hardly permanent and if a team like the Seattle Seahawks who are armed with the deep pockets of owner Paul Allen come calling, the Ravens run the risk of losing DeCosta.

Bisciotti recognizes the vulnerability and almost casually dismisses it as the collateral damage of being a successful organization. He knows that other teams are going to want his people.

But there’s danger here for Bisciotti, a man who has repeatedly said he doesn’t want windows of opportunity opening and closing as the culprits of age and the salary cap work against his roster.

Prior to Bisciotti coming on board, Ozzie lost an understudy in James “Shack” Harris who went on to become the GM in Jacksonville. Then there was Phil Savage who left to become the GM in Cleveland. Last year Director of Pro Player Personnel George Kokinis moved on to replace Savage as the Browns’ GM.

Yet the organization remained strong because there was always someone else to step in. The next man up was always a good one.

Instead of replacing Kokinis, DeCosta was given expanded responsibilities while the team promoted scout Joe Hortiz into DeCosta’s DCS role and Vince Newsome into Kokinis’ former position.

But what if DeCosta leaves for Seattle?

Who will fill the void left by his departure?

Is Hortiz experienced enough?

Is Vince Newsome?

Might the club consider bringing back Savage or Kokinis?

What if Ozzie does leave some time in the next couple of years? Can the replacements keep Bisciotti’s window perpetually open?

There’s a simple solution to this potential mess.

The last time I checked there is no salary cap for NFL front offices. Give the 38-year-old DeCosta a very healthy raise and a written commitment that he will be Ozzie’s successor once he decides to move on to the next chapter of his life.

Get it done now before DeCosta goes too far down the mental path towards the Pacific Northwest.

You’ve probably been there before yourself in your job. Once you start looking, once you start being courted by another company and once those bigger dollars start to enter the equation, you are at least one foot out the door and the other not too far behind.

More times than not the other foot follows and you’re gone.

DeCosta leaving will put a big dent in the side of the Ravens’ organization. Maybe some of the team’s current scouts will go with him deepening the dent.

And if Ozzie leaves shortly thereafter, that dent becomes a gaping hole.


Please no Savages said...

Effective blog. DeCosta turned down the Seattle interview. So did your boy get a raise? If so it was deserved.

Harryos29 said...

Harry OS 29 Jan 8th
...I think ERIC made a smart move by staying with the Ravens. He is a very young man, and Ozzie is Not.
...We do not have to look back too far to see what happened to Savage and others who went to CLEVELAND for greener pastures and visions of greatness. Sometimes, you are better to stay at home, in your own back yard where you are safe.
...Again, Smart Move Eric, continued success with the likes of Lardarius Webb and others.

Jerry B said...

While I'm of the opinion that nobody is irreplaceable, DeCosta's loss would probably "smart' for awhile. So, It's good to see him turn down the Seahawks hopefully because he's been led to believe that he will someday replace Ozzie here. That being said, the other front office personnel that you mention who left for "geener" pastures didn't exactly distinguish themselves, which leads me to believe that, while nobody does it alone, Ozzie is the "man"! Glad to see DeCosta focusing in on wide receivers, which is the one area this front office has yet to succeed in finding......

Rod Tidwell said...

Look, just because DeCosta pulls out of the Seattle gig, don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet. There's plenty of other offseason activity ahead and the best way to remove DeCosta from this mess is to do what Tony suggested.


Anonymous said...

You have to do more than show him the money. You have to guarantee him the position now, before Ozzie retires. That is what they have done in Indianapolis with Polian junior.

I can see in retrospect why they didn't hold onto Phil Savage. His performance in Cleveland has ruined him for life. George Kokinis seemed like a hard worker, but maybe didn't have a strong enough personality. Eric Mangini treated him like dirt and he stood there and took it until he was fired. DeCosta is the real thing here and since every great organization starts at the top, this should be a no brainer for Bisciotti. Make him the GM in waiting and guarantee it!!