It didn't take Eric DeCosta long to stand out among his peers. After his first year on the job as the Ravens' general manager, DeCosta has been named the Sporting News' NFL Executive of the Year.
The award, which was voted on by NFL executives in December (even before this year's highly regarded offseason), is more evidence that the Ravens are in very good hands for a very long time.
At just 49 years old, DeCosta has already established himself as the best in the game after taking over for Ozzie Newsome last offseason. Just the second general manager in team history, DeCosta worked his way up the Ravens' front office from starting as a scout in 1996 and learning from his accomplished predecessor along the way.
"I'm honored to win the Sporting News Executive of the Year award even though it's hard to accept such a distinction while so many people in our great country are suffering. My thoughts are with all the care givers who devote the very best of themselves," DeCosta said.
"That said, I am indebted to Steve Bisciotti for giving me a chance to be GM, John Harbaugh and our fine players, our scouts who set a high standard around the NFL, and most of all, Ozzie Newsome, the greatest executive in my lifetime and a wonderful mentor and friend. Our collective eyes are on a bigger prize and this award, while greatly appreciated, is a reminder that our task is unfinished."
Newsome is widely considered a Hall of Fame executive just as he was a Hall of Fame player, but he never won the award in his 23 years on the job, narrowly missing it several times.
Though Newsome left DeCosta with an excellent "parting" gift in the form of Lamar Jackson, among other young, talented players, DeCosta still had a big task ahead of him when he took over as GM last offseason. The Ravens knew they had a bright star in Jackson, but DeCosta was tasked with the job of rebuilding a Super Bowl contender around the quarterback's unique skillset and with restocking an aging defense.
DeCosta masterfully did that and more, helping to lay the foundation for the best regular season in franchise history at 14-2 and putting the pieces around Jackson for an MVP season. DeCosta made shrewd moves throughout the entire year - in free agency, the draft, via player trades and in-season signings.
In chronological order, here's a look back at some of DeCosta's most noteworthy moves as general manager in 2019:
Re-signing TE Nick Boyle: As one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and a reliable pass catcher, Boyle was identified as a key piece of the "revolutionary" offense being constructed by first-year Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. His return gave the Ravens the best tight end trio in the league and enabled Baltimore to trade Hayden Hurst this offseason for a second-round pick (RB J.K. Dobbins).
Trading QB Joe Flacco to the Broncos: After Jackson emerged over the second half of the 2018 season to lead the Ravens to the playoffs, it was clear that Flacco's decorated tenure in Baltimore was at an end. Even with Flacco coming off a hip injury and carrying a hefty contract, DeCosta still traded him for a 2019 fourth-round pick (RB Justice Hill). Flacco spent one injury-shortened season in Denver before being released this offseason. He now resides as a backup with the New York Jets.
Signing RB Mark Ingram II: Ingram was the perfect addition to the offense as a player and leader. His fun-loving personality was instantly loved in the locker room (and among fans) and he went to the Pro Bowl after topping 1,000 rushing yards and scoring 15 total touchdowns. He was an instrumental part of an attack that set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single season.
Signing S Earl Thomas III: After parting ways with Eric Weddle and seeing C.J. Mosley sign a mega-deal with the New York Jets, DeCosta pounced on Thomas to anchor the back end of the Ravens' defense. Thomas helped Baltimore's secondary rank among the best in the league and went to his seventh Pro Bowl.
Extending K Justin Tucker: Tucker has proven himself to be the best in the game and DeCosta made sure he will be in Baltimore for a long time. Tucker went to his third Pro Bowl.
Drafting WR Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, WR Miles Boykin, RB Justice Hill, G Ben Powers and more: After a successful rookie season and with an brighter future now that he's healthy, it looks like Brown could end the Ravens' draft drought at wide receiver. Ferguson started nine games as a rookie, drew rave reviews from coaches, and looks to be a key starter moving forward. Boykin is in line to be a starter opposite Brown this season. Hill is a valuable change-of-pace back. Powers is in the mix to replace retired Marshal Yanda.
Trading G Alex Lewis to the Jets: The Ravens picked up a 2020 pick that eventually turned into seventh-round safety Geno Stone after another draft-day trade with the Vikings. Bradley Bozeman, who was competing with Lewis at the time of the trade, had a strong season as a 16-game starter at left guard.
Trading K Kaare Vedvik to the Vikings: The Ravens got a fifth-round pick (DT Broderick Washington Jr.) for an undrafted player who hadn't kicked in a regular-season game and wasn't going to make the 53-man roster because of Tucker. After a strong preseason opener in Baltimore, Vedvik struggled the rest of the preseason with the Vikings and was cut before Week 1.
Trading G/T Jermaine Eluemunor to the Patriots: In another move after locking in on Bozeman, the Ravens got what turned out to be third-round LB Malik Harrison in return for Eluemunor, who was a 2017 fifth-round pick that started just three games in his first two years in Baltimore and played in 10 games as a backup in New England in 2019. Harrison could end up as a starter in his rookie season.
Signing LBs L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes: After giving up 193 rushing yards to the Cleveland Browns in a Week 4 loss, DeCosta grabbed the two inside linebackers off the "street" and they made an immediate difference. They combined to start 15 games and help stabilize a defense that finished the year ranked No. 4 in the NFL.
Trading for CB Marcus Peters: The Ravens didn't seemingly have a big need at cornerback with Jimmy Smith returning, but DeCosta added one of the NFL's premier playmaking cornerbacks to start opposite Marlon Humphrey. The Rams, who were putting together a blockbuster trade for Jalen Ramsey, needed to clear salary cap space and DeCosta pounced, only needing to part ways with backup linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick. Peters had an interception return for a touchdown in his first game as a Raven in Seattle and another one later versus his former team. He was voted to the Pro Bowl alongside Humphrey.
Reaching extensions with WR Willie Snead IV, FB Patrick Ricard, Peters: DeCosta made moves to keep some of the Ravens' prized young players off the open market by inking them to extensions during last season. Snead is a reliable receiver, top-notch blocker and leader in the wide receiver room. Ricard has become a Pro Bowl fullback and key weapon in the record-setting rushing attack. Locking up Peters gives the Ravens perhaps the NFL's top cornerback duo for years to come and freed up the franchise tag to be used on outside linebacker Matthew Judon this offseason.
DeCosta hasn't slowed down in 2020 either, and will be a contender for the Sporting News award once again. He traded for Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, signed defensive end Derek Wolfe and snatched up guard D.J. Fluker to compete for Yanda's starting spot. The Ravens' 2020 draft, headlined by linebacker Patrick Queen, Dobbins, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, wide receiver Devin Duvernay, Harrison and guard Tyre Phillips, was also widely graded as one of the best in the league.
San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch was named the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) 2019 Executive of the Year in January, but there's a lot more history to the Sporting News award and the significance of it being voted on by NFL executives. The PFWA award dates back to 1993.
Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year winners
1955: Dan Reeves, Los Angeles Rams
1956: George Halas, Chicago Bears
1957-71: No award
1972: Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers
1973: Jim Finks, Minnesota Vikings
1974: Art Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers
1975: Joe Thomas, Baltimore Colts
1976: Al Davis, Oakland Raiders
1977: Tex Schramm, Dallas Cowboys
1978: John Thompson, Seattle Seahawks
1979: John Sanders, San Diego Chargers
1980: Eddie LeBaron, Atlanta Falcons
1981: Paul Brown, Cincinnati Bengals
1982: Bobby Beathard, Washington Redskins
1983: Bobby Beathard, Washington Redskins
1984: George Young, New York Giants
1985: Mike McCaskey, Chicago Bears
1986: George Young, New York Giants
1987: Jim Finks, New Orleans Saints
1988: Bill Polian, Buffalo Bills
1989: John McVay, San Francisco 49ers
1990: George Young, New York Giants
1991: Bill Polian, Buffalo Bills
1992: Ron Wolf, Green Bay Packers
1993: George Young, New York Giants
1994: Carmen Policy, San Francisco 49ers
1995: Bill Polian, Carolina Panthers
1996: Bill Polian, Carolina Panthers
1997: George Young, New York Giants
1998: Jeff Diamond, Minnesota Vikings
1999: Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts
2000: Randy Mueller, New Orleans Saints
2001: Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers
2002: Bruce Allen, Oakland Raiders
2003: Scott Pioli, New England Patriots
2004: Scott Pioli, New England Patriots
2005: Art Rooney II, Pittsburgh Steelers
2006: Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints
2007: Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers
2008: Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons
2009: Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts
2010: Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons
2011: Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers
2012: Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Colts
2013: No award
2014: Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals
2015: Dave Gettleman, Carolina Panthers
2016: Reggie McKenzie, Oakland Raiders
2017: Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles
2018: Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears
2019: Eric DeCosta, Baltimore Ravens