Focus on the Front Office

April 02, 2008 |

They say you can’t really judge an NFL draft class until three or four years down the road. So go ahead and accuse me of hyperbole, but I’m willing to say that the recent loss of wide receiver Devard Darling to the Chiefs officially makes the Ravens’ 2004 draft class a complete bust for the organization. To refresh your memory, here are the players who the Ravens plucked from the college ranks in April of 2004:
DT Dwan Edwards (2nd round)
WR Devard Darling (3rd round)
LB Roderick Green (5th round)
QB Josh Harris (6th round)
WR Clarence Moore (6th round)
WR Derek Abney (7th round)
OL Brian Rimpf (7th round)
To be fair, the Ravens were without a first-round pick in 2004, thanks to trading up with the Patriots the previous year to snatch Kyle Boller with the 19th pick. Additionally, it’s unrealistic to expect that every member of a draft class should still be on a team’s roster four seasons after being drafted. However, I’m sure Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the front office envisioned more than just two of their ’04 draftees (Darling and Edwards) taking snaps for the team in 2007, and only one (Edwards) playing for the team in ’08 – and only in a part-time capacity.
So if you’re wondering why the 2007 season descended into such a train wreck once the team’s veteran starters began falling to injuries, just take a look at the names above and then factor in the Ravens’ 2005 draft picks:
WR Mark Clayton (1st round)
LB Dan Cody (2nd round)
OL Adam Terry (2nd round)
OL Jason Brown (4th round)
FB Justin Green (5th round)
QB Derek Anderson (6th round)
LB Mike Smith (7th round)
Those 14 picks, under normal conditions, would’ve represented the changing of the guard for the franchise in 2007 — players with two or three years of NFL experience under their belts ready to jump into starting roles (perhaps permanently) and salvage the season when veterans go down with injuries. Instead, only one of them (Brown, who started all 16 games for the Ravens last season) looks to be a long-term fixture at his position. Clayton is a great guy and obviously considered a “starter,” but he has yet to influence games the way a first-round receiver should. Terry, a left tackle by trade, has struggled to secure a starting role on the right side of the offensive line, but may eventually grow into a suitable successor to Jon Ogden. That said, the team drafted Marshall Yanda (a guard/tackle combo) last April and picked up Maryland’s Jared Gaither in the supplemental draft, and many pundits have them selecting a tackle (if one of the top two is still available) with the 8th pick this year. So the Ravens must still consider Terry a question mark at this point.
As for the rest of the bunch, does anyone really expect Dan Cody to ever be healthy enough to contribute to the team? Fullback Justin Green has also battled injuries and last season lost his job to rookie Le’Ron McClain. We all know the Derek Anderson saga, and Mike Smith didn’t take a snap all year, spending 2007 on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list (which, if you ask me, sounds like something you’d hear in one of the countless erectile dysfunction ads to which we’re subjected during televised sporting events).
So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s one bona fide “star” (if that term can be used when describing an offensive guard) out of 14 picks. Given that, does the Ravens front office really deserve to be considered one of the best in pro football? I know we all think highly of Newsome, Eric DeCosta and the other members of the front office. They seem to be genuinely good guys and are very accessible to fans and the media alike, but take off your purple-colored glasses and really think about where the team rates in the grand scheme of things.
Using playoff appearances, division titles and Super Bowls during the past decade as the measuring stick, the Ravens are basically a notch below the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams, both of which have single Super Bowl titles (like the Ravens) but have won more division titles (four and three, respectively) than the Ravens (two) since 1997. And I don’t hear anyone routinely lauding those franchises’ front offices, do you? Here’s a quiz: can you name the general manager of the Bucs or the Rams? Yea, I didn’t think you could.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti obviously thinks the world of Newsome, though calling him “one of the top five GMs in the league” (as he did in the Sun today) doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement to me. (Imagine calling your wife “one of the five best wives in the neighborhood.” Would she take that as a compliment?) But Bisciotti has made it clear that mediocrity will not be accepted. He expects the Ravens to forge a consistent place among the elite NFL franchises, which is hard to do when your organization has traditionally followed periods of success with cap purges and rebuilding, rather than operating in a mode of perpetual retooling.
So why is it that Newsome and DeCosta are not feeling any heat? The team is clearly in rebuilding mode (again) and the front office has fielded one winning team since Phil Savage and James Harris left the organization. In 2005 and again last season, the team was proven to be completely incapable of overcoming injuries to aging players. The coaching staff paid the price for the tremendous drop-off in play from the first-string to the second and third when they (at least most of them) were fired this winter after a 5-11 season. Now, the lens should focus squarely on the management level, with these next few seasons dictating whether or not the current front office is filled with the right people to lead the Ravens to the heights supposedly demanded by their owner.
By the way, it’s not just WNST
For anyone who thinks the icy relationship between WNST and the Orioles is nothing more than an isolated personal spat, listen to what WBAL General Manager Ed Kiernan had to say in the March 7-13 edition of the Baltimore Business Journal. “In the second year of [WBAL’s contract with the Ravens] … the talk shows that we do were a lot tougher, and the fans were frustrated and expressed themselves fully,” said Kiernan. “I never heard a word from the Ravens about any of our talk shows and they were tough. That’s the difference between the two teams. The Orioles are much more interested in controlling what’s said and quite honestly I don’t miss that.”
If only the organization was as concerned with fielding a winning team as it is with “controlling the message.”