Interrupting an offseason that has been about continuity, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made clear Friday that change is on the horizon for the organization with longtime general manager Ozzie Newsome stepping aside for Eric DeCosta after the 2018 season.
For the first time publicly, he also acknowledged that he gave consideration to firing Super Bowl-winning head coach John Harbaugh after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season and the fourth time in five years.
“Certainly, it was a thought,” Bisciotti said early in his postseason news conference at the Under Armour Performance Center. “I was very proud of the way John kept fighting, held the team together when we were losing in the middle of the year. … We didn’t perform very well in the middle of the year. I was proud of the way we fought back as a team.”
Firing Harbaugh “was certainly a consideration, but not one that I was inclined to make this year,” Bisciotti added.
Harbaugh, 55, is under contract through 2019 after he had one more year added to his deal last summer. In 10 seasons, Harbaugh has posted a 94-66 record in the regular season and has taken the Ravens to the playoffs six times. The Ravens qualified for the playoffs in each of Harbaugh’s first five seasons and culminated that run by winning Super Bowl XLVII over the San Francisco 49ers exactly five years ago Saturday.
However, since the Super Bowl run, an organization that prided itself on consistency has made the playoffs just once, finishing third in the AFC North three times and second twice during that span. A demoralizing Week 17 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals this past season kept the Ravens out of the playoffs and furthered the calls for widespread change from a fan base that is frustrated with the team falling into mediocrity. The Ravens are just 40-40 in the regular season since they won the Super Bowl.
Despite that, Bisciotti stopped well short of saying the Ravens needed to return to the playoffs in 2018 or Harbaugh would be replaced.
“I’m not going to give a playoff-or-bust edict to you all or to my coach,” Bisciotti said. “He’s under as much pressure than probably he’s ever been in his life, and I expect him to keep his chin up and take his positivity and his talents and make the most of the season. I may as well replace him now if I tell him to make the playoffs or you’re out of town next year. That’s not the way we run business here.”
Bisciotti is typically flanked by Newsome, Harbaugh and team president Dick Cass at the “State of the Ravens” address, which usually takes place within two weeks of the conclusion of the season. He said this year’s news conference, held more than a month after the season ended, was delayed because he “wanted and needed” the extra time to begin formulating plans for the offseason. He also said it was his decision to do it alone because he usually gets most of the questions anyway.
Bisciotti was direct, his tone ranging from matter-of-fact to cantankerous, as he answered questions for nearly 40 minutes on a variety of topics affecting the team and the NFL.
» On several occasions, Bisciotti defended Joe Flacco, suggesting the veteran’s early-season problems in 2017 were a result of the quarterback missing the entire preseason with a herniated disk in his back.
There’s been plenty said and written this offseason about the Ravens planning for life after Flacco, who just turned 33, and possibly using their first-round draft pick in April on a quarterback. However, Bisciotti said: “That’s not really something that we’re worried about right now. We’ve got bigger fish to fry. … We’re a long way off to have to worry about Joe.”
Bisciotti indicated that the offseason focus will be on getting Flacco help on offense in both free agency and the draft. The owner said much of the team’s organizational meetings at his Jupiter, Fla., home last month were spent exploring ways to add offensive playmakers.
The Ravens will need to overhaul their entire receiving corps this offseason with Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro (River Hill) both potentially hitting free agency and Jeremy Maclin expected to be a salary cap casualty. Their top receiving tight end, Benjamin Watson, is also a pending free agent.
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“I think there’s a really good chance we won’t take a defensive tackle in the first round,” Bisciotti said. “I hear the criticism. … We’re going to have to go back to the till. We will be exploring all options in free agency and the draft for targets for Joe.”
Bisciotti said the team will likely have to restructure a few contracts this offseason, specifically mentioning defensive tackle Brandon Williams’ deal, to open up salary cap space, but he’s confident the team can make a “splash and help us on the way to getting our offense clicking” in free agency.
“I think you can be assured that the majority of our attention will be on the offense this year,” Bisciotti said.
» Bisciotti backed Harbaugh’s decision to bring back much-maligned offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, citing the offense’s improvements in the second half.
“We’ve gone through four offensive coordinators in the last five years, and Joe was comfortable with his relationship with Marty and they produced in the second half of the year,” the owner said. “So John wanted to keep him.”
» In past news conferences, Bisciotti has acknowledged that he was open to selling the team if it stops becoming fun. It hasn’t gotten to that point yet, he said.
“My passion is still there,” Bisciotti said. “My fans lose their enthusiasm for it. I hate losing, and my fans hate losing. They get angry and say things they shouldn’t. I get angry and say things that I shouldn’t, too, but I don’t do it in front of a microphone usually. But I haven’t changed. I’m very comfortable where I am. I’m here for the foreseeable future.”