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Despite 'worst year as an owner,' Bisciotti happy with team's success

When Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti last was in this setting five months ago, he vehemently defended the reputation of his organization and its handling of the Ray Rice situation. He was uncharacteristically nervous, stern and even a little agitated at times.

On Tuesday at the annual State of the Ravens address, Bisciotti recaptured his customary demeanor. Seated alongside Ravens president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, Bisciotti was relaxed, introspective and clearly excited about the future of the organization.


"It was my worst year as an owner. If Steve Ballmer was interested in football on the East Coast, I might be introducing a new owner right now," said Bisciotti, making reference to the former Microsoft CEO who bought the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers last year. "I had 14 good years and then I had an absolutely crappy year.

"John's success in the season at least bolstered me up and probably evened out my temperament a little bit and reminded me of the good things. When we went and spent a couple of days in Florida [for organizational meetings], it did the exact same thing. It gets me excited for the next year. Our meeting this morning for two hours got me right back to where I am every other year. I am off suicide watch, I'm stable mentally. I'll probably be your owner for a while."


Bisciotti and the Ravens' brain trust has plenty it wants to accomplish over the next couple of months in an effort to build off last year's 10-6 regular season and berth in the divisional playoff round. Free agency will start in two weeks and the draft is about two months away.

In the meantime, team officials want to sign defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to a contract extension, increasing the chances that he retires as a Raven while opening up much-needed salary cap space. The Ravens' list of unrestricted free agents includes offensive playmakers Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels, and pass-rushing threat Pernell McPhee.

A number of veteran contributors, a group that includes wide receiver-kick returner Jacoby Jones, defensive end Chris Canty and cornerback Lardarius Webb, are candidates to be released to save money against the salary cap. Other key players, such as guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda, cornerback Jimmy Smith and kicker Justin Tucker, are entering the final years of their deals, and team officials would like to address their contracts sooner rather than later.

"We're going to exhaust every avenue to retain our players," Newsome said. "We like to retain our football players and we'd also like to create some cap room."

Bisciotti acknowledged that he considers this the most difficult time of the year as an NFL owner. While team officials didn't provide any definitive updates on contract negotiations, Bisciotti made clear that the organization is prepared to lose several players. He even acknowledged that if Torrey Smith (Maryland) wants to stay in Baltimore, he'll likely have to take less money than he'd get on the open market.

"There are a lot of teams out there that don't spend to the cap, and we do," Bisciotti said. "I'm always envious of those teams right about this time of the year, and then they're envious of me when we're in the playoffs. So we're going to keep doing what we do the way we do it, and that precludes us sometimes from capitalizing on paying certain guys like [Paul] Kruger and [Dannell] Ellerbe and all those guys. … [Ozzie] sets the number, I live with that number. I've never successfully talked him into changing that number."

Bisciotti, though, fielded more questions Tuesday about this past season than future ones. On the field, the Ravens returned to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons despite dealing with seemingly constant off-the-field distractions and an onslaught of injuries to key players.

"I think it was an A. An A-plus is a Super Bowl. I think it's an A," said Bisciotti in grading the team's performance. "What John did and the way he handled the coaches and the players was masterful. Let's face it, we're … sitting here and you're saying, 'John, what do you feel about potentially going in and not making the playoffs three years in a row?,' if we hadn't gotten in.


"Now, we've been [to the playoffs] six of seven years, and we're trying to start a new five-year streak which hopefully includes another Super Bowl. You can't be in a competition with 32, get to the final eight and say it's not a success. That's where we are, and we're going to continue to win. I believe that, and it's mostly because of him," Bisciotti added, pointing to his left at Harbaugh.

Off the field, the 2014 campaign was arguably the most tumultuous season in franchise history as five Ravens were arrested, and Rice's domestic violence incident — and the team and league's handling of it — cast a black cloud over the entire NFL season.

"In the past, the process that we've had in place has worked a lot better than it did this past year," Cass said. "We had five arrests in 2014. If you looked at ... 2009 to 2013, in that five-year period, we had three arrests. We're hoping that 2014 was an aberration and that the processes that we've had in place will continue to work the way they had in the five previous years."

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In recent months, former Ravens nose tackle Terrence Cody has been indicted on animal cruelty charges, and team director of security Darren Sanders is facing a fourth-degree sexual offense and a second-degree assault charge. Sanders has an arraignment March 12. While the team has already released Cody, a pending free agent, Bisciotti said that the Ravens will wait until the investigation is complete before making a decision on Sanders' status.

"I think things come in waves and we certainly took a crash here last year," Bisciotti said. "There isn't a lot you can do. I think that we are a team and an organization that cares obviously about our reputation and when it takes a hit, then you examine what you do. In order to take a hit to your reputation, you have to have a pretty good reputation to start with."

Bisciotti said that fans have the "right to be sensitive and expect us to perform better than maybe some of them thought we did." He added that the Rice incident has already raised awareness of domestic violence.


The Ravens have already discussed not signing or drafting players because of certain off-the-field indiscretions.

"Steve said this back during the season, the one area where we will definitely take a hard look and it will be tough for us to bring them to Baltimore is someone who has domestic abuse in their background," Newsome said. "Other than that, we'll exhaust every character aspect of a player. But we believe in allowing the information to lead us to a decision. Our scouts do an unbelievable job of getting the information when they're on campus. We'll have good information, but just as our boss has already said, somebody who has domestic abuse in their background, it's going to be tough for them to be considered a Raven."