DeCosta explains what makes Lamar 'a good agent'

Ravens G.M. Eric DeCosta joins Mike Florio to discuss the challenges of negotiating with a player who is his own agent, how Lamar Jackson represented himself, ways other QB deals influenced him and more.

Video Transcript

MIKE FLORIO: As we continue our series of post-draft discussions with general managers from throughout the National Football League, joining us now, a guy who was busy before, during, and after the draft, Eric Decosta of the Baltimore Ravens. Eric, welcome back. How are you?

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ERIC DECOSTA: Hey, Mike. How are you?

MIKE FLORIO: Good. Yeah. You know, you've got a fascinating array of framed images behind you. What is all that stuff? It looks very interesting.

ERIC DECOSTA: Yeah. Well, you know, you've got a bunch of players on the wall back there. You got Marlin, you got JK, you got Odafe, you got Lamar, you got a bunch of guys in a huddle, you know, all kinds of my favorite players, I would say. Some of my favorite players.

MIKE FLORIO: So this is your office. This isn't a place where you do these interviews that you'd rather not do. This is where you spend all your time.


ERIC DECOSTA: Exactly. Yeah.

MIKE FLORIO: Well, good. Well, it's nice to get inside your office and to have a little conversation. Your office, a fascinating epicenter for some discussions, I assume, in recent weeks. And obviously, although I focus on the draft with most of these folks, we got to start with Lamar Jackson situation, which was resolved just before we got into the full blown draft process. How does it feel to have that behind you?

ERIC DECOSTA: It feels great. Obviously, it was a significant negotiation over the course of about a year and a half to two years and required a lot of patience. And I think we got it done. It took some time. I wasn't always sure we were going to get it done. But I think the communication with Lamar was outstanding for most of the process. I appreciate all the energy that he put into the negotiation, and here we are.

MIKE FLORIO: And you've done a couple of these now in recent months without an agent involved. Roquan Smith back in January or thereabouts, and now Lamar. What's the biggest challenge when you have to negotiate either sit down face-to-face, communicate via phone, email, text message, whatever with a player who's handling his own interests in trying to get a contract?


ERIC DECOSTA: Yeah. So there's a bunch of challenges associated. A part of it, every player is different. But I think the hard part is you care a lot about these players, Mike. And it's not always as easy to be transparent about the player with the player as it might be talking to an agent about the player, strengths and weaknesses, where we see the player, those types of things. That's just natural.

You think about with anybody that you care about, anybody that you love, it's tougher to be critical with them or honest or transparent sometimes than it is with somebody who's just strictly a business partner or somebody else. There's the education piece. These contracts can be somewhat complicated, some of the nuance, some of the mechanisms that teams can use. That can be a challenge.

I would also say that, you know, and I see this a lot now, most players prefer to communicate electronically rather than good old phone. And I've negotiated or tried to negotiate now over the last couple of years with actually three players who didn't have agents. And a lot of the communication takes place via email and text message, which sometimes can be a little bit challenging overall.

MIKE FLORIO: How do you strike the balance? Because I know from some of the deals I've seen teams negotiate directly with players, it looks like the team took advantage of the fact that the player wasn't represented. How do you strike that balance between doing the best possible deal for the team, but also not taking advantage of a situation where maybe the player isn't as informed as he should be about certain things that could be tucked into the deal?


ERIC DECOSTA: Yeah. And that's something that we think a lot about and we've spoken about in-house. And that can really be a disaster for the team in a lot of different ways, not only public relations-wise, but also just in terms of your own players. I mean, you've got a bunch of guys downstairs who expect that you'll be fair with players. And if there's any kind of implication that we've taken advantage of a player, that would really not be ideal.

So I think the biggest thing is being honest, communicating as best as possible, and trying to be fair, and actually encouraging the player to get as much help as they can in different ways. And if that's not an agent, then it's somebody else. Maybe it's an attorney, maybe it's the union, maybe it's whoever. But it's a tough thing to go at it totally alone in some ways. We've got to be very aware of that as well so as not to have what you say could happen because that would be a poor reflection on your organization.

MIKE FLORIO: The answer to this one may be obvious, Eric, but I don't think I've ever seen the question asked anywhere. Did you have issues getting a deal done with Lamar Jackson after was drafted in 2018? Or was it seamless, simple, slotted, there's nothing to really negotiate, we got a deal done easily?

ERIC DECOSTA: Well, I wasn't part of that actual negotiation. That was Pat Moriarty and Ozzie was the GM. My understanding from talking to Pat who still works closely with me and Ozzie was that Lamar was very well prepared, understood kind of the way that things work. He asked really, really good questions. And it was a pretty seamless, you know, I think a seamless way of getting a deal done.


So I will say this, like Lamar is a good agent from the standpoint of he asks the right questions. He knows what he wants in a lot of different ways. He's aware of different mechanisms and issues with the contract language terms, types of structures, and things like that. He's done his homework and with all of that stuff and he's a very, very smart guy, savvy, and he did a great job overall.

MIKE FLORIO: This thing lingered for months before it was finally done. What was it that broke the ice to get it done last week?

ERIC DECOSTA: I think it was really just a patience thing, listening to each other. I can't give you a one specific thing. I would say that we've tried various structures and different things to get a deal done. Lamar's had his own feelings and ideas and a lot of other things. We thought it was important that Lamar have a chance to kind of see what his market might be if he wanted to, if he wanted to investigate that.

We thought that was important for him. I think the communication piece, I think that Lamar could see from afar that we were trying to build the best team we could, trying to add some weapons on offense around him to be the best offense we could be. And that in the end, I think Lamar, hopefully I think so, realized that we were the best place for him, that we love him, that our offer reflected that, and that we were the best place for him to thrive in that our city, our community, the organization, we really wanted him back greatly.


MIKE FLORIO: You mentioned the aspect of letting him investigate what the market might otherwise bear. You use the nonexclusive franchise tag, gave him the chance to go out there and shop himself, gave other teams an opportunity to pursue him. How surprised were you that no one did?

ERIC DECOSTA: Well, one thing I've learned in my almost 28 years now is that every team operates differently. Listen, there are many players in this draft that we thought were great players who fell, and there were a lot of players that we weren't quite as high on as other teams. And that's just kind of the nature of the business.

So every team evaluates these guys differently. We know who we are with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. We know what our record is. We know we're going to be a tough team to beat every season with Lamar out there on the field. We're going to be a playoff team with Lamar Jackson with some good players around him.

And I'm glad, obviously. Was I surprised? Probably a little bit. But in the end, every team has to look at who they are, how they're built, what's important to them. I always feel like one of the advantages to free agency is when you have a guy in your team you know exactly who he is, you know how he's wired, what's important to him. Other teams don't know that.


And so that's why in my mind, free agency is always a little bit dicey because here we are coveting other players on other teams and we don't know very much about them a lot of times. We try to find out, but we don't. We know Lamar Jackson. We know how he's wired, we know what resonates with him. We know how competitive he is. And so for us, it was a no-brainer.

MIKE FLORIO: How much of it do you think was just a simple recognition by other teams that if they spend the time and the effort to get Lamar Jackson to sign an offer sheet, the Ravens are just going to match. So why are we wasting our time?

ERIC DECOSTA: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think the franchise is a powerful tool. I mean, anyone will say that, agents will say that, teams will say that, the union would say that. And so that's exactly right, Mike. I think the fact is we were having a tough time getting a deal with Lamar. Again, we respected his position and his feelings, but we were still having a tougher time.

But in the end, we felt like our deal, the deals that we had made, we felt they were credible deals, we felt they were strong deals. And we felt like we were in a position to-- not that we could match every single deal, but we felt like we would be able to match most deals. And that if a team were willing to do a deal that we couldn't match, it would be very hard for that team to do that type of deal. Not impossible, but very difficult.


We already had the $32 million as a placeholder on our salary cap. Other teams didn't. That's problematic for other teams. So in the end, it's a calculated gamble, I would say. Is a team going to go after Lamar Jackson? And if they do, maybe, just maybe the deal is something we can match, which makes life easier for us.

MIKE FLORIO: One of the realities of any negotiation is the contract signed by other players. It provides parameters, it provides structure, it provides clues as to where the market currently is. Which quarterback contract had a bigger impact on the Lamar Jackson situation, Jalen Hurts or Deshaun Watson?

ERIC DECOSTA: Oh, man, that's a good question. I mean, I think they were both kind of hovering overhead in different ways. I mean, obviously, the Watson deal was really something that the media focused on quite a bit and was fascinated by and the impact that would have on the negotiation with Lamar. And then I think the Hurts deal, you know, it hit before we got the Lamar deal done.

I would say that the contract that we did with Lamar is not that dissimilar from the contract that we offered Lamar in September. And I think that contract actually had the biggest impact of the whole thing because we felt at the time that that was a strong contract offer. We had a small window to get that done. Lamar had put a self-imposed end of negotiation date before the season started.


We felt like we were getting close to a deal at that point, but we ran out of time. And so we decided to kind of revisit that contract. We augmented and added some money in different ways to that contract. And fortunately, we were able to get the deal done. But when we compare the two deals, the deal from September and the deal that we offered Lamar that Lamar accepted, the framework was there with that deal back in September and allowed us to get to this point.

MIKE FLORIO: What do you think changed it then from his perspective to get him to take it now, that framework and that structure now when he wouldn't take it back in September?

ERIC DECOSTA: You'd have to ask Lamar that question. You should try to get him on your show. I don't know. I wouldn't want to speak for Lamar. That's a good question. I think just from our perspective, problem solving, we're going to just kind of keep trying to solve these problems, keep offering deals, trying to keep the relationship alive. And we felt like it was our time last week to try to do it again. And fortunately, we got the deal done.

MIKE FLORIO: I think for a lot of people who don't follow this closely, it's very reasonable for someone like Lamar Jackson as of a year ago to look at the Deshaun Watson contract and say, well, hang on a second. He's getting 230 million, 5 years, fully guaranteed, every penny guarantee.

I'm an MVP, he's not. I don't have any off-field issues. He's got 25 civil lawsuits that are pending. Why don't I just get what he gets? Why is that not the starting point for me? A lot of people believe that. Can you help us understand why the Deshaun Watson situation, in your mind, is different from the structure that we've seen with other deals?

ERIC DECOSTA: Yeah. Again, I really wasn't involved with Deshaun Watson in any way. I don't know a lot about the situation, only what I've read on your side, of course, Mike. But you know, I think every player is different, every organization is different. Every organization structures deals differently. We don't always agree with the deals that other teams do. We respect them.

But every team comes at a deal in a different way, they assess the player differently, and they have to look at their own organization and how they want to be built over time. And we had an idea what we thought was important to our team. We want to be in the playoffs every single year, we want to be a team that can compete every single year to win the Super Bowl. And in that idea is that we have to be able to keep as many good players as we can.

Because of that, we had to do a deal that allowed us to be able to sign players, be able to get under the cap, be able to spend as much as we can, but be strong and as many positions as possible. And for us, it felt like this was the right structure to keep Lamar Jackson long term and be able to do all those things.

MIKE FLORIO: Apart from the Jalen Hurts contract, it felt like the signing of Odell Beckham Jr. went a long way toward breaking the ice. Is that fair to think that the arrival of OBJ helped set the stage for the contract to come?

ERIC DECOSTA: Well, I don't think it hurt. Listen, we had been talking to OBJ for about six or seven months, we started talking to him last season. Had some good conversations last year, he wasn't ready at that point to commit or play. In 2022, we continued those discussions. We felt like it was a good bet that he'd be a productive player for us this upcoming season.

We felt like he would be a very popular player on the team with the other teammates, including Lamar. And we felt like it'd be a good energy there and a good synergy, and that he would come in at one of our weaker positions and augment that room. We felt like the combination of OBJ with Rashod Bateman and Devin DuVernay and Nelson Agholor and Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely and all those guys give us a better team.

Obviously, we thought that with Lamar Jackson, that would be the best possible solution. I think Lamar was probably happy. I mean, I think his social media posts indicated that he was happy about the OBJ signing. But for us, it was more about building out the receiver room as best as possible, not necessarily as an olive branch to Lamar Jackson, but building the best team we could at the time.

MIKE FLORIO: What do you say to those who believe that you grossly overpaid OBJ in relation to what else was out there for him?

ERIC DECOSTA: I think a lot of factors go into whatever you decide to pay a player. I mean, we look at it from a lot of different lenses. One year deal, obviously, we paid a lot of money to, and we think we're going to get that benefit from him as a player. But we're looking at a lot of other things too, Mike. We're looking at potentially what he might get as a comb pick the following year on a one year deal.

If he has a good year for us, it's the market next year, what's that going to look like? We were looking at things like the benefit to the community, the benefit and ticket sales, jersey sales. How is he going to play? What's he going to do for our offense? What do our coaches think about him? Remember, Todd Monken had a relationship with him, so we had some information about OBJ.

And then how is it going to affect Lamar as a passer. How's he going to play? We want to maximize Lamar's ability. I've probably done a poor job of doing that over the last couple of years in some ways by not having more receivers around him. And we love the guys we have.

But in terms of building the best possible offense, that's a factor too. So every situation has residual values associated. Every player that you bring in is different, and they affect things differently, leadership, ability, community, whatever that might be long term. And we see OBJ is a big part of that whole thing.

MIKE FLORIO: And I think that's one of the points that has been overlooked in the transition your offense is undergone this off season from the arrival of OBJ to the selection of Zay Flowers in round one, the arrival of Todd Monken as the offensive coordinator in his history compared to the way your offense was. It seems like it's kind of hiding in plain sight that the Ravens are going to be a different offense, maybe significantly different offense in 2023.

ERIC DECOSTA: Yeah. Well, I'm just going to look at it now you know and these football schools and different things. I mean, we're going to look a lot different. I mean, the players will remain the same, most of the players. The whole offensive line is coming back, our running backs come back, our tight ends are coming back. The receivers look different.

But there's a real opportunity for us, I think, Mike, because we are going to be different. We should get a bump just by being different. This year, we see that around the league with new offenses and new defenses. We're very, very excited about where we are as a team. And can't wait to see Lamar out there throwing the ball to these guys and see what that's all going to look like.

MIKE FLORIO: A couple more, and then I'll let you go. And I appreciate you taking so much time to do this. But I can't help but wonder whether or not this shift in offensive philosophy is about the idea of Lamar has been around five years, we've got him under contract for five more. We'd like it to last even longer than that. At some point, we've got to reduce the wear and tear. We've got to reduce the designed runs. We've got to protect him so he can play longer into his life than he otherwise would be able to play if he's constantly getting banged around.

ERIC DECOSTA: Well, you know, of course. I mean, I think that's kind of what our motivation is with our entire team is how do we keep our team as healthy as possible. Interestingly, with Lamar, the two injuries that he suffered, if I'm not mistaken, they both happened in the pocket. They didn't happen with him as a runner. They happened with him in the pocket.

And so I don't know what that means except that we've got to do a better job protecting him as a runner in the pocket. Whatever we do, he is a former MVP, hopefully a future MVP type of player. He's a guy that can take us as far as we want to go, and got to keep him health. But we've got to keep our backs healthy, we've got to keep our receivers healthy, our corners healthy, our linebackers healthy.

We made strides with that this year, which is great. The prior two seasons, we had some injuries. This. Year was better. We've tried to address that. I think John does a great job of evaluating everything we do from a wellness and performance standpoint, and that'll continue to be something that we focus on greatly.

MIKE FLORIO: Last one for you. I hardly even got to your draft class, but this Lamar Jackson situation was such a big deal throughout the NFL. And it was a great opportunity to talk to you about it. With Joe Flacco's deal 10 years ago, three years into it, a negotiation was necessary to adjust cap numbers, et cetera.

Do you believe after the progress you've made with your relationship with Lamar Jackson recently, it's going to be easier to do business with him in the future, whether it's at the end of this current deal or at some point during the next five years when you have to go back to him and say, we'd like to either extend, we'd like to restructure, we'd like to do something with this contract? Will it be easier the next time around?

ERIC DECOSTA: Well, I mean, I think there was a song, Mike. You got to have faith. Listen, I hope. But you know, I think that the relationship with Lamar is strong. It wasn't always easy, but Lamar knows how I feel about him personally. And I made a joke at one point that I much prefer Lamar Jackson the player to Lamar Jackson the agent for sure.

But listen, I can only hope that we'll be at that point some day and do another contract with Lamar, another extension with Lamar. And that'd be great because that means we've had a lot of success. And again, takes two to tango, communication. It's not something that I am looking forward to anytime soon. But when the time comes, if we're in that position to be having those discussions, I would say that's a real positive.

MIKE FLORIO: I don't know whether you meant to do it or not, but on the day George Michael is inducted or at least announced he's going to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you go with the George Michael reference. So well done whether you meant to do it or not. Eric, well done on getting the Jackson deal finally done. Congratulations on another successful draft, appreciate some of your time, all the best, and we look forward to talking to you down the road.

ERIC DECOSTA: Thanks, Mike.