State Your Case: Why Ozzie Newsome deserves to make Hall-of-Fame history
Put Ozzie Newsome in Canton. Again.
Now before we get started, let’s get something straight: I know the former star tight end is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I know there’s only one enshrinement per person.
Which means I know this won’t happen.
However, if it could … if, somehow, the Hall were open to a history-making precedent … it should, doubling down to make Newsome a contributor inductee. And why? For the most basic of reasons: While Newsome was general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, nobody was better. He was the gold standard against which everyone else was measured.
“A rare human being” is how Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti described Newsome.
I’d second that. Until he retired following the 2018 season, Newsome was the only personnel decision-maker the Ravens ever had. He was also the first African-American general manager the NFL ever had.
Of course, he was much more than that. He was the architect of one of the NFL’s most successful franchises of the past two decades. Let the record show that in Newsome’s last 19 years as GM, the Ravens were so successful they produced 10 seasons with double-digit victories and only four where they failed to reach .500.
Let it also show that during that period they won two Super Bowls, five division championships and reached the playoffs 11 times.
Much of that was predicated on the talent Newsome mined through the draft, and it was considerable. His first draft was 1996 when he made tackle Jonathan Ogden his first pick and linebacker Ray Lewis his second. Both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His last draft was 2018 when he traded up to make quarterback Lamar Jackson the last pick of the first round and his last first-round choice ever. Jackson was the NFL’s unanimous MVP in 2019.
In between there were a slew of direct hits. He drafted safety Ed Reed, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. He drafted Joe Flacco, a Super Bowl MVP. He drafted linebacker Terrell Suggs, eighth all-time in sacks and the league’s 2011 Defensive Player of the Year. He drafted running back Jamal Lewis, the league’s 2003 Offensive Player of the Year. He drafted Justin Tucker, the NFL’s most accurate kicker ever. And he drafted guard Marshal Yanda, a seven-time All-Pro and virtual certainty to reach the Hall of Fame.
Of the 24 first-rounders Newsome chose from 1996-2018, 14 – or nearly 60 percent -- were named to Pro Bowls. It didn’t matter where the Ravens picked. High. Low. Newsome seldom missed.
Of the seven players he found in the top 10, five were named to Pro Bowls. When he didn’t pick until the bottom half of the round the results were similar, with choices like Lewis, Reed, Flacco, tight end Todd Heap, linebacker C.J. Mosley and, of course, Lamar Jackson.
The Wizard of Oz indeed.
In 2000, the Ravens’ first winning season since moving to Baltimore, Newsome built more than a Super Bowl champion. He assembled one of the greatest defenses of all time. Then, eight years later he took a chance on John Harbaugh, a young assistant who spent all but one year with Philadelphia as the Eagles’ special-teams coordinator. Harbaugh not only is still the Ravens’ head coach; he was the NFL’s 2019 Coach of the Year.
I think you get the idea. Newsome was smart. He knew how to draft players, and he knew how to hire coaches. But he was he was more than the brains behind the Ravens’ football operations. He was a league authority, a valued member of the NFL’s competition committee that helps shape the rules of the game. And he was the patient individual who fostered an environment that made the Ravens one of the NFL's most stable franchises.
Over the past 22 years, for instance, Baltimore had as many head coaches (2) as Lombardi Trophies. Contrast that with division-rival Cleveland – now on its 12th head coach with one playoff appearance since 1999 – and you can appreciate the impact Newsome made.
“In my opinion,” said Harbaugh, “he’s the greatest GM in the history of football.”
I don’t know about that. What I do know is that he’s one of them. I also know that the Hall’s contributor category is reserved for great GMs like Ozzie Newsome. In fact, when the category was established in 2014, the first inductees were general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.
Together as GMs they won as many Super Bowls (2) as Newsome did with Baltimore.
“If Ozzie wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame as a tight end,” Polian once said, “they would be putting him in as a general manager.”
So why not both? Ozzie Newsome made history when he was the first black GM. He made history when he assembled almost totally different teams to win Super Bowls XXXV and XLIII. And he made history when his first two draft picks were first-ballot Hall of Famers.
So let him make history again, and not because it’s a novel idea. But because because he earned it.