Monikers in sports usually make fans smile at the tinge of hyperbole that goes hand in hand with good nicknames. Marshawn Lynch is Beast Mode. Darren McFadden is Run DMC. Then of course there's Megatron.
Yet above all others, few sports nicknames feel as deserved or as revealing as that alias given to Baltimore Ravens' general manager Ozzie Newsome: The Wizard of Oz.
In the weeks following the Super Bowl, once the dust settled and it was time to go back to work, Newsome and his protege, Eric DeCosta, systematically said goodbye to legends, fan favorites and playoff heroes alike. They dumped contracts, held retirement press conferences and kept their wallets in check. But this was all part of Ozzie's plan.
Following the fax-gate saga, Newsome pulled off a steal in signing ex-Denver Bronco Elvis Dumveril to bolster his pass rush. This move came after the Ravens inked veteran defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. While the Dumervil move was justifiably the news of the day, linking up former teammates Spears and Canty epitomizes what makes Newsome so great. He understands chemistry is oftentimes more important than statistics.
Then, after releasing the team's two starting safeties, Newsome re-signed James Ihedigbo, a former Patriots starter and valuable special teams player. The Ravens then locked up former top 10 pick Michael Huff on a three-year contract.
I am hardly the first person to write about how absolutely brilliant Newsome has been this offseason. Ozzie even has his own meme . But this was all before last week when he signed Rolando McClain on a one-year tryout contract.
To me the McClain deal is the best of all. It's not just because it reunites the troubled McClain with a few former teammates and could fill an immediate need. This is a 23-year-old former star. People have rightfully questioned his off-the-field issues, but McClain was the anchor of the 2009 national champion Alabama team. He's tall, thick and plays the run well. He's not Luke Kuechly, Patrick Willis or Jonathan Vilma. But in the right system, he can be effective and a very reliable starter.
The true genius of the McClain deal is what it means going into the draft. Prior to signing McClain, the Ravens were thin at inside linebacker, safety and wide receiver. They were likely to snatch a solid player and contributor with the last pick of the first round, but going into the draft with three major holes is never a good thing.
McClain gives the Ravens a contingency plan at linebacker, which enables them to address the two other significant needs in the early rounds of the draft. Picking up McClain on discount might even allow the Ravens to add an extra draft choice by trading back into the top of the second round with a team like Jacksonville or Cleveland.
Ravens fans around draft season get used to hearing two mantras that have come to define a team that continues to build a winning tradition: "right player, right price" and "best player available."
In my mind, Rolando McClain is both of those things. His current contract (even with incentives) falls somewhere around the neighborhood of what a third or fourth-round draft pick would earn.
Essentially, what Newsome and the Ravens got in Rolando McClain was an early pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. And this should hardly come as a surprise.
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