PALM BEACH, Fla. - Heading into his ninth season as the Baltimore Ravens' team president, Dick Cass remains an influential figure in the NFL and instrumental in every aspect of the defending AFC North champions.
Cass is involved in all parts of the Ravens' business, including players, staff, coaches, corporate initiatives and communications.
A former counsel to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the Washington Redskins and the NFL league office, Cass was the first hire that owner Steve Bisciotti made after the Yale Law graduate represented Bisciotti in his purchase of the Ravens from former majority owner Art Modell.
Cass conducted the following interview with the Times at The Breakers hotel during the annual NFL owners meetings:
Times: How difficult is it to manage the salary cap and maintain a balancing act as you try to not overburden future years with dead money and also maintain enough cap space to negotiate long-term deals for core players like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Lardarius Webb?
Cass: "Over the last three years in cash, we spent a lot of money. As a result, we don't have much cap room. We knew we weren't going to have a lot of cap room heading into this offseason. We also knew we had players we know we were going to want to sign if we can. We need to be disciplined and make sure have enough money both this year and next year to sign those players. We've had to be disciplined.
"The other thing we don't like to do is restructure contracts because when you restructure contracts to create cap room you're just kicking the problem down the road into the out years. Then, you can get into a real serious problem if some of those restructured contracts are for players who are let go. Then, you accelerate a lot of cap room when they're let go. We try to avoid that as well. It's a difficult balancing test. We talk about that every year. We made a plan in February as to what we were going to do and we're sticking with that plan. I think John Harbaugh has said this, but patience is the word we always use. We're going to be patient. We still have some cap room to find some very good players at good values. We will use that money when the time comes."
Times: What's your take on being able to retain core players over the years?
Cass: "One of our goals is to retain our star players, our star players who are also our leaders. That's what we try to do. We do have a track record: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata are part of that policy and part of our thinking."
Times: What are the current business initiatives for the organization?
Cass: "We continue to upgrade our stadium. To attract the fans and keep our stadium sold out, we have to keep making upgrades at the stadium. Verizon Wireless has built a 4G network at the stadium. It's a very expensive network. We're looking forward to having it operating on opening day. It's going to enhance the stadium experience in terms of cell-phone usage and also our fans will be able to download the Baltimore Ravens' mobile app and watch the Red Zone channel and some other improvements we're trying to make. We're not even sure what's going to be on the mobile app, but Red Zone will be on there and hopefully different angles of replay and what you see on the big boards at the stadium."
Times: How difficult is it to compete with fans who enjoy the comforts of home while they watch NFL games to get them to buy tickets and come to the stadium?
Cass: "It's a tremendous challenge to convince our fans that our stadium experience is better than the home viewing experience. I think so far we've been able to do that. Demand for our tickets continues to be extremely high. It's a never-ending battle. We always have to keep our stadium experience improving. We have to improve the game day experience and we work hard at that. We devote a lot of time during the season to discussing the game day experience, to parking, to security lines, to the player introductions, to the entertainment, to what we're going to put on the big board, to how we're going to handle replays, the music. We probably spend more time fighting about what music we're going to play than anything else."
Times: What kind of music do you prefer to play at M&T Bank Stadium?
Cass: "I like country western and I like oldies, but goodies. I'm a distinct minority, but I keep arguing that there's more fans that like that than anyone thinks. I don't always win that battle, I assure you."
Times to senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne: What do you like as far as music?
Byrne: "I'm one for taking the top songs from every year for the last 25 years and play them and that will hit all your demographics and everyone will recognize the song. You want communal songs to get the most people jacked up. Dick and I will be familiar with songs from our age group, but we also recognize songs from our kids' age group. So, that's the great connection."
Times: What's it like now to be at these meetings one year after the lockout and having achieved labor peace?
Cass: "The last 12 months have been a great 12 months for the league and for the union. From a league perspective, labor peace is obviously critically important. Television ratings set new records this year. By the way, the television ratings in the Baltimore television market set a new record for the Ravens. Our average household rating this year was 37.3, which is the highest it's ever been. Our ratings for our AFC championship game against the Patriots were higher than the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl ratings. So, it's been a good year for the league. It's been a good year for the Ravens."
Times: How hungry is this organization to take the next step to get back to the Super Bowl and win a championship?
Cass: "We're always super hungry to get the championship. That's our goal every year. To achieve that goal you have to be in the playoffs. Our principal goal last year was to win the division and our secondary goal was to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and our third goal is to win the Super Bowl. So, I let the head coach set the team goals. And I think that's totally appropriate. I believe that our goal again will be to win the division. If you win your division, you're in the playoffs and you get at least one home playoff game. And we're very difficult to beat at home. That would be our goal again."
Times: How involved do you get in an advisory capacity to vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty when it comes to the major contracts he negotiates?
Cass: "Each year, we set a budget of how much we're going to spend. Each year, we discuss which players are going to be kept and which players we're going to try to sign. Once we've set those parameters it's up to [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and Pat to execute it. They will tell us what they're doing, keep us advised. Things change. Obviously, someone you may have targeted may sign with another team. Someone you really hoped you could re-sign from your team may actually go to another team. You have to adjust on the fly, so we have discussions about that on the fly."
Times: After not being able to retain Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs as he signed a $36 million contract with the New Orleans Saints and losing out on Evan Mathis to the Philadelphia Eagles, you were able to sign four players (Jameel McClain, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Corey Graham and Sean Considine) last week for a lot less money than it would have cost for one guard and you also kept Matt Birk. What's your take on what transpired?
Cass: "I always tell our fans to think back to where we were in July of 2011. We lost seven starters. We were also down Willis McGahee, who wasn't a starter. We also really lost an eighth starter because Domonique Foxworth was going to be starting at cornerback and he couldn't. We were down eight starters plus Willis McGahee and we were able to find able replacements. Some on our team, some we brought in through free agency. You're going to lose players if you're disciplined about the cap and your decision-making, you're going to lose players every year, really good players who've been significant contributors to the Ravens over the years. People like a Jarret Johnson and Ben Grubbs and Cory Redding. All of them contributed in really important ways to the team. Sometimes, you just can't afford to keep all those guys. You have to really trust your coaches to get other players, younger players to get ready to play. And that's really what we've done for the last several years, and that's worked for us. We're hoping and expecting it will work again this year."
Times: What are your thoughts on former Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth being elected president of the NFL Players Association?
Cass: "We're very proud of him. We'll always claim him as a Raven. He's a remarkable young man, outstanding leader, very smart. And I'm sure he's going to do a good job as president of the union."
Times: How tough is it to win the AFC North division?
Cass: "You have to be a good team to win our division, there's no doubt about that. It's going to be very tough competition this year. Cincinnati and Cleveland have made great strides. Pittsburgh has lost a couple of players, but we all know they're going to be incredibly good and strong again. It's going to be a very tough division, maybe the toughest in football."
Times: What have you seen from Steve Bisciotti in terms of his growth as an owner?
Cass: "I think he's expressing himself more at the team level and the league level. At the team level, he's very much involved in the discussions and our plans every year with respect to our own players. At the league level, he's very much involved. He's one of the owners I think people look to for leadership and will continue to do that in the future."
Times: What's your reaction to the message that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has delivered with the punishment of the New Orleans Saints for their bounty program?
Cass: "I think it is a message. Player safety is critically important. To me the biggest threat to our game long-term is player safety. When mothers and fathers won't let their young kids play football any longer, that's a threat to us. We are addressing the problem directly. We have a lot more work to do, but I think we've made great strides. And part of that is Roger's leadership with the emphasis on player safety. At the same time, integrity of the game is incredibly important. If the fans begin to question the integrity of the game, our game is going to go down very quickly. Integrity is very important. Roger has sent a very important message to all the teams that certain types of actions will not be tolerated."
Times: What's the thinking as a franchise about eventually having to replace Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?
Cass: "I honestly don't think about that that often because Ray's going to play this year, Ed's going to play this year and then we'll see how they feel and what develops during the course of the year. We know we're going to have this year. They're tremendous leaders. They both have to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. I can't imagine they're not going to be Hall of Famers five years after they retire. So, what a treat for Baltimore to have had these two great players. Ray has been there. This is Ray's 17th year. That's unbelievable, 17 years at that position. He's not a kicker. He's a middle linebacker. It's amazing. Ed Reed also is an unbelievably great player and leader as well. We're fortunate."
Times: What's your typical day like?
Cass: "It depends on the time of year. This time of year we're busy completing all of our sales, working on free agency, draft meetings, trying to get other events for the stadium, which we're trying to work on. We're also getting ready for summer camp, dealing with the league on a lot of issues. I spent not every day, but I spend quite a bit of time as one of the trustees for the player benefit plans. There's three NFL trustees for the plan, and I'm one of them, and there's three union trustees. I don't work on that every day, but I spend quite a bit of time on that.
"There's always league issues that I get involved in, television issues. There's a lot of different issues. It just depends on the day. Every day, it's always something. You go in and something unexpected will happen. Not every day, but at least once a week something you didn't think you would be spending any time on you may spend two or three days on."
Reach staff writer Aaron Wilson at 410-857-7896 or email@example.com.