One day before that first draft as director of player personnel of the Ravens, Newsome explained his strategy for the fourth overall pick to the rest of the inner sanctum, especially Modell. The pick would be either receiver Keyshawn Johnson, linebacker Kevin Hardy, Phillips or Ogden.
Phillips had character flags coming out of Nebraska. In the 1995 season he was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend and was suspended for part of the season. Modell and Marchibroda led a group that took Phillips to dinner on a pre-draft visit and came away thinking Phillips could be coached. Modell had started a program called “Inner Circle” to provide psychological and emotional help for players who needed it. It was a source of pride for Modell.
On the field, the team needed a talent like Phillips. The previous season, no Browns running back had averaged more than 46 yards per game. Modell wanted an exciting pick to help him sell tickets in a new city. The Ravens already had a good offensive line. But Newsome and Savage were in lock step.
“If we take Phillips, you will never be able to put your head on a pillow at night and be certain of what he’s up to,” Savage said. “If we take the other guy [Ogden], not only is he an awesome player, but you will never have that concern. Class act all the way.”
Newsome, who to this day prefers to listen and then speak last, had the final word. “Art, we just feel that Jonathan Ogden is the best player, period,” Newsome said. “And that’s who we’re going to take if it comes down to it tomorrow.”
On draft day, Johnson and Hardy went 1-2 to the Jets and Jaguars, respectively, and Cardinals took defensive end Simeon Rice at No. 3. That left both Ogden and Phillips on the board for the Ravens. Modell looked at Newsome. “You have time to reconsider,” the owner said.
“Art, yesterday we made the decision that he’s the best football player, and that’s who we’re going to take,” Newsome said.
“Well, where’s he going to play?” Modell replied.
“Left guard,” was Newsome’s retort, which fell flatter than a cornerback blitzing against Ogden. Newsome relayed word to the staffer in New York to write down the name Jonathan Ogden. At the same time Savage leaned over to Modell and said, “I don’t think we will ever regret what we just did.”
Modell looked at Savage with equal parts “You better be right” and “Who’s this young kid?” The Ravens were off and running.
With the 26th pick, the Ravens were looking for a weakside linebacker to play next to Pepper Johnson, their veteran in the middle. After end/linebacker Marcus Jones went 22nd to the Buccaneers, there was one linebacker remaining on the board whom the Ravens had an interest in: Ray Lewis of Miami.
In the end, with defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis’s input, the Ravens felt Lewis could play weakside for at least a year.
History will show that Newsome’s Ravens were born with two future Hall of Famers drafted to play out of position as rookies. Ogden spent a year at guard before Tony Jones was traded to the Broncos for a second-round pick (which became defensive back Kim Herring). Lewis was so good that the Ravens made room for him at middle linebacker by cutting Johnson before the 1996 season.
In 1997 the Ravens were in the market for a defensive end, and Cardinals free-agent Michael Bankston was the target. After picking the brain of Moriarty about the salary cap since its advent in ’94, Newsome and his tutor had become effective at what Newsome likes to call “scrimmaging.” Before any negotiation, Newsome, Moriarty and other top brass sit and determine what the market is, and what a player should be paid.
The Ravens reached a stalemate with Bankston and decided to move on. Modell wanted to know what happened. Owners certainly don’t mind the buzz created when news breaks of the team signing a top free agent. “The numbers were too high, the value wasn’t there,” Newsome told Modell.
Two weeks later Seahawks end Michael McCrary came on the market. For the same money, the Ravens ended up signing a better player. McCrary had 51 of his 71 career sacks over the next six seasons in Baltimore and went to two Pro Bowls. Bankston had 12.5 sacks in his final four years.
The kind of patience learned by waiting for the world to change as a child in the segregated South would become a weapon for Newsome.
“He is a very patient, patient guy,” said Ravens senior vice president for public relations Kevin Byrne, who has been with the franchise for 33 years. “He believes oftentimes that things will work themselves out without having to make a dramatic, drastic decision.”
The Road Taken
Newsome’s next bout with draft-day drama would come in 1999, after a third-straight losing season resulted in the firing of Marchibroda and hiring of former Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick as head coach. Before the draft, the Ravens traded a third-round pick to the Lions for quarterback Scott Mitchell (and would later also sign Tony Banks), leaving them with selections in the first, second, fourth (two picks) and seventh rounds. All agreed to take cornerback Chris McAlister with the 10th overall pick. In the second round the Falcons called and inquired about trading for the Ravens’ pick, in exchange for a first-round selection in the 2000 draft. Newsome explained the deal to Modell and concluded that it was a good trade for the Ravens.
Billick, who had some new-coach cachet, wanted players he could coach now, and Savage, who wanted to protect the work his scouts did, disagreed with Newsome.
“We need players. We need players now,” Billick said. “We don’t need players next year.”
“I understand that,” Newsome said, “but that’s a lot of currency for a second-round pick.”
“It could be the 32nd pick next year—they beat my old team to go to the Super Bowl,” Billick responded.
Newsome replied, “I don’t think it’s going to be quite that low next year.”
As the pick got closer, there wasn’t much talk in the room. Modell looked at Newsome and asked his opinion. “I like the Atlanta trade,” he said.
Billick became more forceful. “Ozzie, we need players. The reason I’m here is you don’t have enough good players. That’s why Ted got fired and I’m here,” Billick said. “We have a chance to get a good player. You tell me there are good players up there that will help us win.”
“This will be good for us in the long run,” Newsome said quietly, with five names of possible prospects on the board. “I’ll guarantee you this: one of those five guys will be there in the fourth round.”
Billick shook his head and said, “Ozzie, you have to take a player in the second round. Art, he’s got to take a player in the second round.”
At this point, Newsome, seated at the head of his table, put his elbows on the edge, leaned forward and looked to his right at Modell. The owner looked at Newsome, then at Billick. “He makes the choice,” Modell said, pointing at Newsome. “It’s his draft.”
“We’re going to make the trade with Atlanta,” Newsome said quietly.
Billick walked out the room angrily. Savage also gritted his teeth.
That season the Falcons fell from the Super Bowl to 5-11. As a result, that trade brought the Ravens the fifth overall pick.