Rather surprising news broke on an otherwise unremarkable Thursday morning today when Albert Breer reported the Baltimore Ravens were acquiring Yannick Ngakoue from the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings traded for Ngakoue less than two months ago after the star pass rusher's extended contract negotiations with the Jacksonville Jaguars turned into a holdout. After starting the season 1-5, Minnesota apparently decided paying Ngakoue big bucks after this year wasn't worth it and shipped him out.
The Ravens are reportedly acquiring Ngakoue for a 2020 third-round pick and a conditional 2021 fifth-round pick. The Vikings got him for a 2020 second-rounder and a conditional 2021 fifth-rounder, so Baltimore got the better end of the deal after rumors suggested they were very much in the running for Ngakoue this summer.
This all but confirms what many knew and more suspected as the years have passed: Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta is the best general manager in the league.
Landing Ngakoue for less than he was initially traded for is a win, for sure. But it's just the latest in a series of savvy trades from DeCosta. He managed to get Calais Campbell out of Jacksonville for a 2020 fifth-round pick back in March. Campbell has 10 QB hits and four sacks through six games. And that fifth-rounder didn't even belong to Baltimore. DeCosta originally acquired that pick from the Vikings in exchange for Kaare Vedvik, a kicker. Minnesota cut him after two weeks. Maybe they shouldn't deal with the Ravens anymore?
Ngakoue and Campbell make an elite defensive line, as Jacksonville's 2017 playoff run can attest to. A pair of wrecking balls in the middle and DeCosta landed them both for basically a third and a fifth. Baltimore's defense was pretty good but not great last year. DeCosta transformed the unit in less than a year, just like that.
And those moves are arguably not even his most impressive in 2020 from a payoff standpoint. He somehow managed to convince the Atlanta Falcons to give up a second-round pick in exchange for tight end Hayden Hurst. Hurst caught 30 passes in 2019 for a whopping 349 yards. He caught two touchdowns. He is 27 and nearly halfway through only his third season in the league. I do not understand how DeCosta called up Atlanta and persuaded them that a man who averaged 3.5 yards PER CATCH is worth a second-rounder, but he did.
All this comes after he stole Marcus Peters away from the Los Angeles Rams for a 2020 fifth-round pick and inside linebacker Kenny Young, who started zero games for the Rams that season. Peters came to Baltimore and immediately thrived; after the October 15 trade that put him in Ravens purple, Peters defended 10 passes and picked off three, returning two for touchdowns. He transformed the secondary from an average to a dangerous unit on his own, similar to how Campbell and now Ngakoue will revive Baltimore's pass rush through their skillsets.
In short, it has been an excellent 12 months for DeCosta. That's just in the transaction game, too. He took LSU linebacker Patrick Queen with the team's first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and so far he looks like a stud with 32 tackles, two forced fumbles, and two sacks in the first six games of his NFL career. DeCosta's draft record as a whole is extremely impressive. Longtime Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome stepped down in February 2018. In the drafts under DeCosta, Baltimore has picked Lamar Jackson (MVP at 22-years-old), Mark Andrews (118 catches, 18 touchdowns, and 1,647 yards in three seasons), Marquise Brown (72 catches for 960 yards and eight touchdowns in 20 games), and Orlando Brown Jr. (32 starts in 38 games). Queen and running back J.K. Dobbins look to be two gems found in the 2020 draft class, although it's admittedly early to come to any consensus there.
Newsome was long considered one of the very best GMs in NFL history, and DeCosta has clearly learned a lot from him. Pretty much every trade he's made in the last two years have been steals for Baltimore, which is quite hard to pull off in the NFL. The Ravens are positioned to be Super Bowl contenders for the foreseeable future, courtesy of the Jackson selection. Today, they added a major piece in that pursuit of a ring. DeCosta has some good competition, but right now, no general manager plays the game better than he does.