Rarely does the coach of the year and the executive of the year come from the team. But it’s a rare season in Baltimore.
The Ravens have compiled the best record of the NFL’s 100th campaign. And they have laid the foundation to contend for years to come, thanks to something that happened in 2018.
They wanted Lamar Jackson, they expertly worked the draft board to get Lamar Jackson, and they have assembled the pieces to get the most out to Lamar Jackson. Eric DeCosta, officially the G.M. in 2019 but a key member of the front office for years before that, deserves plenty of credit for that.
DeCosta, who arrived in Baltimore with the Ravens in 1996, has gone from having a hand in the franchise’s consistent success to presiding over the football operation. His first year has resulted in the best regular season in franchise history.
With Jackson’s arrival (and, more specifically, with his placement in the lineup), came a wild-card appearance in 2018, ending the team’s three-year playoff drought. And then began the work to take the team to the next level. DeCosta and the Ravens targeted running back Mark Ingram in free agency, adding punch to the running game and an ideal foil for Jackson. With receivers not inclined in joining what many feared would be a run-centric offense, DeCosta and the Ravens added Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin via the draft. (A pair of tight ends picked in 2018, Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, has worked out well, too.)
DeCosta and the Ravens shrugged at the departure of defensive stalwarts like C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Eric Weddle, adding Earl Thomas at safety (they arguably overpaid, especially given his performance this year) and relying on the next men up.
It has all worked, incredibly well. Fourteen total wins. Twelve in a row. The top seed for the first time ever. And the kind of potential outcome to the season that could get Ravens fans to officially revise “In Ozzie We Trust.”
Others considered for the award were Packers G.M. Brian Gutekunst and Bills G.M. Brandon Beane. Gutekunst did more in free agency in one year than his predecessor did in his career, helping to transform a non-playoff team into a serious contender. Gutekunst also hired, with CEO Mark Murphy (who probably could be regarded a finalist as well for the products of his more active role in the football operation), coach-of-the-year finalist Matt LaFleur.
Beane has built a roster that meshes perfectly with coach Sean McDermott, and as quarterback Josh Allen continues to develop the Bills will get better and better. They enter the playoffs as a team that doesn’t get the respect they deserve, and that is one signature win away (a divisional round victory at Baltimore or Kansas City would do it) from forcing everyone to take them seriously.