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Q&A: Ravens president Dick Cass on COVID vaccine mandates, Lamar Jackson, Super Bowl hopes and more

Dick Cass was named team president of the Ravens in 2004 after he helped current owner Steve Bisciotti assume full ownership.

Before joining the Ravens, Cass, 75, worked as counsel for the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys. In his 18 years with the Ravens, Cass has overseen every area of the organization, including player and staff personnel, the coaching staff, corporate sales and communication, and business ventures.

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Like mostly everyone else in the organization, Cass is excited about the upcoming 2021 season and recently shared his views on several subjects in a brief question and answer with Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston:

Last year the Ravens had one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the NFL. Are you confident that you can avoid another one this season?

Cass: I’m hopeful, but I wouldn’t say I am confident. I don’t think anyone can be confident when you are dealing with COVID-19. My hope is really based on the fact that 100% of our staff is fully vaccinated and that we’ve gotten over 90% of our players fully vaccinated. I think the vaccination really protects everybody here in the building, not 100%, but it’s great protection. It’s unlike last year when we didn’t have vaccines.

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With all the vaccinations we’ve gotten here I’m no longer concerned about severe illness. Obviously, we worry about players being able to play because when you test positive you’re probably going to miss a game but I think the protocol is reasonable. We’re following the protocol closely and we are hopeful we’ll be able to get through this year without losing players or coaches for a couple of games.

Are you concerned about playing in packed stadiums, especially with delta and coronavirus numbers spiking?

Yes, everyone has to be concerned about that. But here in Maryland where we play our games, the vaccination rates are high, and as a result infection rates are relatively low compared to the rest of the country. I think when I last looked, Maryland’s infection rate was approximately 19 persons per each 100,000 of the population, which was about second or third best among the 50 states. So, I think Maryland is doing a reasonably good job of having people vaccinated and state officials are paying attention to basic protocols.

Now, obviously, you can have breakthrough infections, but I am looking forward to the booster shots being available. I’m also looking at the fact that even with breakthrough infections Maryland’s infection rate is still low, so we’re hopeful we’ll be able to get through this season with a full stadium.

More and more corporations and workplaces are making it mandatory that employees get vaccinated. Can the NFL and its owners mandate such a policy for the players?

It’s sort of a team-by-team decision. Here at the Ravens, we made a decision last June where we basically told our employees, other than the players, that if you want to work here at the Under Armour Performance Center or you want to work at the stadium on game day or any other time in the stadium, you have to be fully vaccinated. If you’re not fully vaccinated you have to work remotely, and we made exceptions for people who have religious or health reasons. We had a couple of those, but those individuals are not coming to work here in the building in Owings Mills or in the stadium.

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We can’t impose a mandate on our players because the players are represented by a union and subject to the collective bargaining agreement. I think the league pushed for mandatory vaccinations and the players association resisted and they’ve negotiated a protocol that does not require vaccination of the players.

Dick, have you participated in the Lamar Jackson negotiations and if so, how are they going and when might it be resolved?

Well, the direct negotiations are done between [Ravens general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and Lamar and it’s a high priority for us. Lamar wants to be here, and we want him to be here. I’m very, very confident we will work out an extension at some point. I don’t know when. There have been discussions, but the only people involved in those discussions directly are Lamar and Eric.

A couple of years ago a lot of teams were involved in kneeling incidents before the national anthem. Few teams were affected more than the Ravens. Have you guys fully recovered and if so how has your fan base changed since then?

Back in 2017 toward the end of the season, I said we lost some season ticket holders because of the kneeling incident. I think we have recovered from that point. We didn’t recover in 2018 entirely, but I think we’ve recovered largely in 2019 and we were fully recovered by the beginning of the 2020 season, but of course, we didn’t have any fans. Again, when I say recovered we didn’t lose that many fans directly over that [kneeling].

The loss of fans can be attributed to a number of things, including the kneeling, but there was an unhappiness over the type of football we had been playing over a number of years. A lot of the original PSL (Personal Seat License) holders were getting older, retiring, and their lifestyles changed. Their children grew up and moved away and their reasons for going to the games changed. Every year we’re seeing some turnover of our PSLs, but there was a greater turnover that year, however.

Is your fan base younger?

It’s probably a little bit younger, yes. I think we have probably more fans who are inclined to sell their tickets in a secondary market. So, I think it’s changing, but the city is changing and our fan base is changing with it. But I don’t want to overstate the amount of the turnover. The turnover among the PSL base is not that high. We’re doing very well and our season ticket renewals this year were strong. Our sale of suites was very strong, so we’re heading into the season in very good shape from a fan standpoint.

It seems to me the fan excitement is high; the level of interest is high; so we’re really looking forward to the season. I think people miss coming to the stadium for games. Personally, I’m really looking forward to the Sunday night game against the Chiefs (on Sept. 19). It’ll be fun to see a full, live, loud stadium.

With that said, this team has taken a step toward advancing to the Super Bowl each of the last three years. How do you think you guys have handled the pressure, especially heading into the 2021 season?

I think we all feel pressure every year to win and there isn’t any heavier pressure this season. The pressure isn’t so much from the outside but more on the inside because we all work so hard and we want to win. It’s a very competitive group of people and we just don’t like to lose. We’ve made the playoffs three years in a row. We’d like to go further this year and I think we’re poised to do that, but you never know. There are so many uncertainties involved with our team.

But what’s so interesting to me is that when you look back at the history of the Ravens we’ve always been a defensive-minded organization. When you think of the Baltimore Ravens, you think defense. The amazing thing is how much this organization has changed in the last three years with Lamar as our quarterback. He has started the last two seasons here and we’ve had the highest-scoring team in the league over the last two years. It’s been a dramatic change; so that change in trying to make it work and make it successful is going to take a little bit of time. But we want to be a Super Bowl contender every year and I think we’re a Super Bowl contender this year. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win the Super Bowl, but if a few things break our way, we can win it.

The Ravens have been hit hard by injuries, particularly on offense. Are there any plans to possibly look at the training methods or the practice fields, or is this just a team having a lot of bad luck early?

Everything we do is more analytics-based than before. I haven’t looked at all the data yet for this year, it’s obviously not complete, and it’s hard to take a little snapshot to say the injuries are greater. I think this year there’s a lot more discussion about the injuries in part because they seem to be hitting one position group more than any other, which are the receivers. That group is the most widely discussed position group for the Ravens right now. We’ll look at them [injuries] again in the next couple of weeks now that training camp is over, and we’ll make changes for next season if needed.

I think the one thing that hurt us this year was not having a full spring training. We didn’t have as many veterans as we usually do in the spring partly because of the COVID-19 restrictions and the decisions individual players made. I think that may have had an impact. That’s something we will look at as well.

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The Ravens have won two Super Bowls since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996. If you have to pick one thing that has been instrumental in the team’s success, what would it be?

I really have grown to really like the relationship we have with the community here. I think one of the advantages of being in a relatively small market is the impact you can have on a community. It’s really an obligation that Steve has embraced. In the last 20 years, we’ve become a more important factor in the community than we were early on. I think we’re trying to be that model of consistency, that model of commitment to the community that we all should be.

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I think I’ve seen that commitment not only by the organization and the front office but also by the players. I think we’re all really encouraged by the fact that so many players when they leave here regard Baltimore as their NFL home even though they’ve played for a number of other organizations. We like to see that the players that have played for two, three, and four teams still want to retire as a Raven.

You’ve been around this league for a long time in several capacities. Do you think Don Martindale will actually get a chance to become a head coach?

He certainly deserves to get a chance to be a head coach. I’m surprised he didn’t get interviews last offseason but he has earned that opportunity. In some ways, selfishly, I hope he’s here for a long time because he does such a great job.

Will there be a Ring of Honor ceremony this year?

There will be a ring of honor ceremony this year. It was scheduled for last season but had to be canceled with several other activities.

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