Sports columnist Mike Preston and Peter Schmuck give their instant analysis of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti news conference. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
1) Eric DeCosta’s impending ascension was the big news, but it’s a sign of continuity more than change.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wasted no time Friday revealing the biggest news of the day, that general manager Ozzie Newsome — an icon on par with any player in the history of the franchise — would step back into an advisory role after the 2018 season.
In one sense, this represents change of the highest order. But Bisciotti also announced he was sticking with his long-term plan to elevate Newsome’s lieutenant, Eric DeCosta, to the top of the front office.
Teams from around the league — including the Green Bay Packers this year — have targeted DeCosta as a potential general manager in recent years. He not only learned at the knee of one of the most respected executives in the sport, his own scouting acumen is widely admired.
He offered a mixed assessment of Newsome and DeCosta’s recent drafts, saying the Ravens have missed on too many high picks but have continued finding outstanding players in later rounds.
The big takeaway is that Bisciotti has lost no faith in his overall vision for the franchise. He still believes in stability and promoting from within, and his confidence in the organization’s scouting fundamentals is undiminished.
Whether that will satisfy frustrated fans is an open question.
2) Bisciotti’s tone regarding coach John Harbaugh was notably different.
At his season-ending news conference a year earlier, Bisciotti expressed broad faith in the organization’s leaders, from Newsome to Harbaugh to quarterback Joe Flacco.
But he gave Harbaugh a more measured endorsement this year, acknowledging he had considered a coaching change after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
He stopped short of delivering an ultimatum on Harbaugh’s performance in 2018. “I’m not going to give a playoff-or-bust edict,” he said.
But he gave the impression Harbaugh is on shakier ground than he has been at any point during his 10-year tenure with the team.
Bisciotti did praise Harbaugh’s ability to keep the team focused and energetic when Flacco was struggling to recover from a herniated disk in the first half of the season. He also praised offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s game planning in the second half of the season.
If the Ravens make the playoffs next year, their coach could be around for the long term.
But this will be the first time Harbaugh will enter a season on what feels like a one-year leash.
3) The Ravens still see Flacco as their answer at quarterback for years to come.
Flacco has received just as much criticism as Harbaugh and Newsome for the team’s recent performance, more at times. His numbers have been disappointing, especially relative to his franchise-player contract.
But Bisciotti almost dismissed the idea that the Ravens need to look for the 33-year-old quarterback’s successor in the near future.
More specifically, he went out of his way to note how much Flacco was hampered by the back injury that forced him to miss the entire preseason.
He said that if Flacco had played the entire season at the level he reached in the second half, the Ravens might have been set up for a deep playoff run.
That amounted to a powerful endorsement of a player who hasn’t delivered above-average numbers since 2014. If you believe the franchise can’t reach its former heights until a new quarterback stands behind center, don’t hold your breath.
It was the same message Harbaugh delivered in his last session with reporters after the season.
“There’s a really good chance we won’t take a defensive tackle in the first round,” Bisciotti said, alluding to the team’s all-defense approach to the early rounds in 2017.
In addition to seeking big-play threats in the draft, he said, the Ravens will pursue them in free agency.
They have little choice given that their top deep threat, Mike Wallace, is a free agent and their 2015 first-round pick, Breshad Perriman, regressed badly last season. Last year’s top free-agent signing, Jeremy Maclin, remains under contract, but it would be surprising if the Ravens don’t cut him to clear salary cap space.
The lack of homegrown playmakers has haunted this franchise for much of its history, especially given the outstanding No. 1 receivers on the Ravens’ chief divisional rivals in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
There’s no guarantee the Ravens will find such a player this offseason. Their track record in this area isn’t impressive. But at least they’re discussing the problem with appropriate urgency.
5) When it comes to players kneeling during the national anthem, Bisciotti identifies with both sides.
Bisciotti offered a measured response when asked about his players’ protest before their Sept. 24 game in London.
He said he supports the dozen or so Ravens who knelt that day and praised other players who’ve spoken out around the league.