Eric DeCosta makes strong first impression as new Ravens GM

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Eric DeCosta is more than two weeks away from the start of free agency, and the new Baltimore Ravens general manager already has completed a trade that many thought would never happen and made a type of signing that hasn't occurred for this team in seven years.

In replacing widely respected Ozzie Newsome, DeCosta has been aggressive in his first offseason, dealing Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco and making Tavon Young the highest-paid nickelback in the NFL.

DeCosta's first move was as impressive as it was monumental for the franchise. On Feb. 13, the Ravens parted ways with the their most successful quarterback, receiving a fourth-round pick from the Denver Broncos and clearing $10.5 million in salary-cap room for a player everyone knew would eventually get released.

Many league observers were skeptical that Baltimore would be able to trade Flacco, given it was a buyer's market (more veteran quarterbacks available than teams needing one). DeCosta, though, was able to get a deal because he made the first move in the quarterback market, long before the NFL combine. If he had waited, the musical chairs with quarterbacks could've occurred, and Baltimore might have been forced to cut Flacco without any compensation.

A week later, DeCosta signed Young to a three-year, $25.8 million extension, which has the potential to be another watershed moment. DeCosta has pledged to keep the Ravens' best young talent, and as he put it, "Tavon really is the definition of that."

This marked the first time that Baltimore signed a mid-round pick like Young (a fourth-rounder) a year before his rookie deal expired since cornerback Lardarius Webb in 2012. Since then, the Ravens have watched several mid-round picks develop and leave on lucrative contracts: defensive tackle Arthur Jones, linebacker Pernell McPhee, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, offensive tackle Rick Wagner and center Ryan Jensen.

While acknowledging it's very early to draw any sweeping conclusions, how has DeCosta fared with his first deals?

"The jury is still out!" Ravens coach John Harbaugh said with a chuckle.

"It feels decisive; it’s always well thought out," Harbaugh added. "I think Eric does a great job of working with all of us and everybody else. But when you’re the guy pulling the trigger, you’re the one making the decision, you have to make it. Yes, so far, so good."

DeCosta deflected the credit for what has transpired in his first 45 days as general manager. He is adhering to owner Steve Bisciotti's philosophy of committing to "ascending players."

Moving on with signal-caller Lamar Jackson -- while getting the No. 113 overall pick for Flacco, a quarterback in decline -- and signing a 24-year-old slot cornerback fits that model.

"I think we crafted a really good, strong plan that we all buy into and believe in," DeCosta said. "So, I don’t know if it’s necessarily my decision. It’s an organizational decision, from that standpoint. It doesn’t really feel that much different from other years, because we all have a chance to talk about the issues and really form something that we think makes a lot of sense."

If nothing else, DeCosta has proved to be proactive with these early moves. He will have plenty of opportunities to continue this trend.

He is negotiating with linebacker C.J. Mosley, the team's top free agent and the leading tackler for the NFL's top-ranked defense. He could sign long-term deals with restricted free agents in defensive tackle Michael Pierce and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor. He also might strike contract extensions with linebacker Matthew Judon and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.

DeCosta was asked if more news conferences (like the one they had for Young) could be looming, and Harbaugh tapped his fist on the wooden table.

"Hopefully, that will come to fruition over the next two, three, four, five weeks -- whatever it is," DeCosta said. "I think the big thing [is] this is a good first step for us. We signed a player that we really liked a year early, a guy that really epitomizes what it’s like to ‘Play Like a Raven.’ We’re all excited about that."