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Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome’s GOAT era comes to an end

The architect behind two Baltimore title teams steps aside for new role

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. has been with the team for just a single season, but for his entire life he’s considered Ozzie Newsome family. His dad, Orlando Brown, was a star offensive tackle on the Cleveland Browns team that moved to Baltimore in 1996, a team that employed Newsome as a team exec and played its first game in Baltimore just four months after Brown Jr. was born.

“Literally, he’s been a part of my life since birth,” Brown Jr. told The Undefeated on Sunday after the Ravens were eliminated by the Los Angeles Chargers, 23-17, in the AFC wild-card round. “He’s always looked out for me and my family. Whether it was as a player or an executive, he’s a Hall of Famer in everything that he’s done in his career.”

There’s a bust of Newsome at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, with his 1990 induction recognizing a 13-year career in which he stood out as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history.

Perhaps one day there will be a second bust to recognize the front-office accomplishments of Newsome, whose reign as the general manager of the Ravens came to an end with Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. Newsome announced his retirement last February but will continue to work with the team as a scout.

“In my opinion, he’s the greatest GM in the history of football.” — John Harbaugh

The tally for black general managers remaining in the NFL with Newsome’s departure: one. There were six African-American general managers at the start of the 2017 season, and seven at the end of the 2016 season.

Newsome was named the Ravens’ general manager in 2002 (adding the title to his role as senior vice president of football operations), the first African-American to serve in the general manager role in NFL history. But he’s been an executive with the team since it arrived in Baltimore in 1996. In those 22 years he’s helped guide the Ravens to two Super Bowls, five division championships (including this year) and 11 playoff appearances.

“In my opinion, he’s the greatest GM in the history of football,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh when asked by The Undefeated about Newsome’s legacy. “He’s made the Ravens who they are.”

And he’s done it out of the spotlight, preferring to operate in the shadows during the course of his career. Win or lose, Newsome never craved attention and, for the most part, avoided the media.

When the Ravens won the AFC North with a win over the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 30, 2018, Harbaugh took the time to acknowledge Newsome’s latest accomplishment by presenting him with the team ball.

The players chanted in unison, “Speech, speech, speech,” hoping Newsome would take the spotlight. Newsome, as is his character, took a pass.

Newsome, through the years, instead spoke volumes with the talented and competitive teams he assembled.

Ray Lewis, who made his signature strut before the Ravens’ first home playoff game in six years on Sunday, was unsure whether Baltimore had a team when Newsome called him in 1996 with the news that he was the second pick in team history (26th pick in the first round). Lewis, of course, developed into one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history.

Newsome was also the brains behind drafting offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden (the team’s first draft pick in 1996, whom Newsome persuaded Art Modell to select over the owner’s choice, running back Lawrence Phillips); linebacker Terrell Suggs (10th overall pick in 2003); safety Ed Reed (first-round pick in 2002 and virtual lock for the Hall of Fame when the Class of 2019 is announced next month); quarterback Joe Flacco (the 2008 first-round pick and Super Bowl MVP who likely appeared in a Ravens uniform for the last time on Sunday) and Lamar Jackson (who, on Sunday, was the only 2018 first-round quarterback to make the playoffs and became the youngest quarterback ever to start a playoff game).

Part of Newsome’s success has been his ability as a black executive to relate to players in a league where nearly 70 percent of them are African-American.

“He comes from where we come from,” said Jimmy Smith, who was drafted by the Ravens in the first round in 2011. “I’ve had problems off the field that have been well-documented, and he’s helped me in terms of personal growth. He makes sure I’m OK when it comes to my personal life, and he makes sure I take care of my responsibilities when it comes to this team.”

Even though cornerback Brandon Carr has been with the Ravens since only 2017 (after playing with both Kansas City and Dallas), he respected the team from afar because of what Newsome had built.

“Year in and year out his teams are always in the hunt, and that’s something I always admired about him,” Carr said. “Being in this locker room, you get to see what the magic is all about. He’s connected to us by either talking to us constantly or even working out next to us. A real down-to-earth guy, and a special person.”

For Brown Jr., he’s thankful that Newsome believed in him enough to take him in the third round despite a poor performance in the 2018 draft combine that scared off some teams, thankful for Newsome giving his father another chance after he suffered a career-threatening eye injury that was caused by an official’s penalty flag, and thankful for Newsome being sympathetic after his father died in 2011 from complications related to diabetes.

“He’s always been there for me,” Brown said. “He’ll always be family.

“I know Ozzie was upset I didn’t go to Alabama,” added Brown, who was an All-American at Oklahoma in 2017. “But, in all seriousness, to be a black man on top of what you do in this field is not easy. He was able to do this for a long time.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.