Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will break his silence Friday afternoon at a scheduled news conference at the Under Armour Performance Center. Unlike past “State of the Ravens” addresses, Bisciotti will be the lone attraction.
Team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh usually flank the owner in the team’s annual postseason news conference. That won’t be the case this year.
It’s unclear what led to the change in participation or why an event that traditionally happens within the first two weeks after the conclusion of the season will unfold over a month since the Ravens’ season ended with a gut-wrenching 31-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 31. It might be a simple case of Bisciotti not being in town until now.
Regardless of the circumstances, Bisciotti’s talk comes at a critical time for the organization. The Ravens have missed the playoffs for three consecutive years and in four of the past five seasons. Just 40-40 in the regular season since winning Super Bowl XLVII, they’ve lost significant ground to the AFC heavyweights, such as the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. Uninspiring drafts have left the Ravens without top-end young talent. Fan discontent is the highest it’s been in years, maybe ever.
Bisciotti is typically direct in his rare question-and-answer sessions with reporters. This year, his answers and tone will be scrutinized perhaps more than ever before. There also will be no shortage of questions. Here are some of the more prominent ones he’ll likely face:
What is the concern level on the number of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium in 2017?
Some form of this question was asked last year, but it became a far bigger problem in 2017. This topic isn’t going away either. Obviously, Bisciotti and team officials are concerned. The bigger question is what can they do about it and how do they get fans back? Winning and playing a better brand of football would surely help, but it will be months before the Ravens are back on the field. Until then, Bisciotti and company have much work to do to sell tickets and pacify a frustrated fan base.
Why no changes?
Bisciotti has often reminded reporters that his patience has its limits. Yet, after a third consecutive nonplayoff season and a demoralizing home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that kept the Ravens out of the postseason, the organization has maintained the status quo. The only change was the short-lived retirement of defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was replaced by the promotion of linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale. Bisciotti will surely be asked why he didn’t believe significant organizational changes, whether it was with the front office or coaching staff, were necessary.
Is it win-or-else in 2018 for Harbaugh and/or Newsome?
Given Bisciotti’s strong relationship with both Newsome and Harbaugh, it would be a bit surprising if he made a public ultimatum and said the team needs to return to the playoffs to save their jobs. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if the owner, who was said to be quite miffed about the way the season ended, turned up the heat on the Ravens’ top decision-makers. He’ll be given every opportunity to Friday.
What are the plans to fix the offense?
The Ravens are projected to have among the least salary cap flexibility in the league. They’ll likely have eight draft picks, but they’ll be selecting in the middle of the first round in a draft that’s expected to be light on elite offensive skill position players. While the defense is expected to return mostly intact, the offense has several holes, specifically at wide receiver and tight end, and the Ravens don’t have a lot of ways to fill them. Quarterback Joe Flacco’s play is always a popular topic at the “State of the Ravens” address as well.
At what point does the organization change or at least modify its approach to the draft?
Ravens officials are fond of calling the draft the “lifeblood” of the organization and it would be appropriate to say that recent underwhelming drafts have been a prominent factor in the team’s regression to mediocrity. No teams come close to batting 1.000 in the draft, but two first-round busts since the Super Bowl (Matt Elam, Breshad Perriman) as well as a pattern of botched second- and third-round picks have left the roster thin on high-impact young players and forced the Ravens to fill holes in free agency.
Is there regret with how the Colin Kaepernick flirtation/national anthem kneeling was handled last season?
Cass wrote a letter to season-ticket holders late in the season that maintained that the dozen or so Ravens who knelt during the national anthem before the team’s game in London was a factor in the number of no-shows at M&T Bank Stadium later in the year. It will be interesting to hear Bisciotti’s take on the situation and also to see whether he regrets how the team handled its summer flirtation with Kaepernick while Flacco was sidelined. Bisciotti received plenty of criticism when he acknowledged that the team was weighing signing the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and joked, “Pray for us.”
Has team’s recent struggles affected Bisciotti’s view on ownership?
Bisciotti has always said that when his job stops being fun, he’ll have no problem walking away from it. From devastating losses to off-the-field controversies to fan frustration and calls for widespread change, the past couple of years couldn’t have been much fun for Bisciotti. He avoids the limelight, but those who know him say that he takes the losses very hard. There is no expectation Friday that Bisciotti will make a bombshell announcement, but his infrequent public comments always provide an interesting glimpse of his mindset.