BOCA RATON, FLA. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti admitted Tuesday that he didn't feel entirely comfortable doing an interview about the state of the team.
"It's too soon to feel like you can move on," Bisciotti said on the second full day of the NFL owners meetings. "It's kind of difficult for us all."
Four days earlier, Ravens cornerback Tray Walker died from head injuries sustained when his motorbike collided with an SUV last Thursday in north Miami. He was 23.
Bisciotti has arranged for a charter flight to take Ravens' players, coaches, executives and team officials to Walker's funeral on Saturday.
In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday with The Baltimore Sun and the team's website, the Ravens' owner talked about the effect Walker's death has had on the organization. He also touched on several other topics, including the team's biggest needs, the status of left tackle Eugene Monroe and his confidence in rush linebacker Terrell Suggs.
How tough has this tragedy been to deal with?
Losing a coworker is devastating. Like John [Harbaugh] said and the players on social media, it's like somebody lost a son. It almost feels selfish to think about the loss from a team perspective. We've got to focus our energy on the family and make sure they are alright. That's as far as I can comprehend this thing. I'm proud of my team and the people that know him and are helping [the family].
Why is it important for you to charter the plane?
That's the least we can do. The fact that they all want to be there obviously is the right reaction. I'm happy they are going to be there representing us, showing the family how much he meant to us. That's really what you want to express.
Did you get a chance to get to know Tray?
No, I did not. I thought about that and I don't want to say it's my style, but these guys have enough to worry about, the rookies. They're in an intimidating environment. You see me out at practice. I like them to introduce themselves to me and I get to know them slowly. I really unfortunately didn't get to know him at all.
Has it been a tough balance between being sensitive with the fact that the NFL doesn't stop for anyone?
It made just the idea of this interview [tough]. I wanted to back out because I don't feel comfortable talking about open spots on our roster right now. It does feel a little awkward right now. … You guys feel the same reticence. You feel like you're moving on from something by going back to football. You feel insensitive, but I know we're not. We have a job to do; you have a job to do.
It's been a real busy start in free agency for you guys. How pleased are you with how the team is coming together?
We knew going into this offseason that we didn't have a lot of high-profile free agents. We certainly weighed the prospect of, if there was going to be a year where we were going to lose the [compensatory] draft picks, that we can open it up to [signing] guys. We've signed some people like this in the past and they are typically in the category where you don't lose comp picks. When we know that we had to improve the team, we recognized the irony of we've been asking [comp picks] to be tradeable forever and now next year is the first year, where we may not have any. It was kind of even more solidified in that first day when we saw some of those crazy contracts. We kind of went into it thinking that [Kelechi Osemele] would be a third-round draft pick. It looked very quickly like it might be a fourth.
Where are the areas that you'd like to get augmented before the start of the season?
Well, I said at the end of the year: corners and pass rushers. Again, I'm a pass-rush guy. I talked to you about losing Suggs and that kind of started us on our spiral. The images of defense winning Super Bowls and three weeks after I had my end of the year press conference, we see what pressure did. We see what Denver's pressure did to [Tom] Brady in the AFC championship game and we saw what pressure did in the Super Bowl. We've got two very dynamic, productive players that are at the age where you don't know if you're going to get one year or three years left in them. We've got to fill those spots with constant pressure. You need five pass rushers in the rotation.
What do you expect from Suggs?
He came back from the last [Achilles' injury]. We got Suggs with the 10th pick because he ran a bad 40, and I remember Brian Billick's famous line: I've never seen a pass rusher have to run 40 yards, so we're not concerned. Short-area bursts. He came back from it and he produced at a Pro Bowl-level again. I'm expecting 20 sacks out of [Suggs and Elvis Dumervil] if they're healthy - one way or another.
Does the Flacco deal extend the window for the team to contend?
I think so. That's what I mean. Acrimonious negotiations are tough anyway, but with your leader, with your quarterback, you just don't want to be there. It's just an uncomfortable position to be in. It was easy for me to kind of ignore it three years ago when we got him done. But yeah, it was one of those things that I was kind of more proud that we were building a team around that [$28 million]. To me, it was just gravy, but I wasn't as excited about the cap savings as I was about a real six-year deal for Joe.
It's been a while since you picked this low in the draft. How important is it to get a cornerstone player?
I don't really care how it comes. We got two Hall of Famers on our defense in the 20's. If the right deal is to move out of six, I trust my guys. It's a total value thing. If I'm getting more picks in the second and third round by moving out of six, it's still a cumulative benefit. It's the intended consequence of having a bad year and we're going to take advantage of it.
Are you open to trading back from pick six?
Yeah, it depends on where they value. We have zones where we rank players, and there might be 15 players with the same ranking, and if that happens to be from seven on, we're probably picking sixth. If that happens to be from 5-15, then we're a lot of amendable to moving out because we believe we can target as good of a player.
Do you see a scenario where you could trade up?
I don't see that happening. I really don't see us giving us picks that we're not used to having. It's too valuable to us.
Were you pleased with how John Harbaugh handled his first losing season?
I'm a good sounding board for John. I would like to pat myself on the back a little bit because I think the way I treated him allowed him to treat his players the same way. I know that I got a little criticism at the end-of-the-year press conference because I maybe put up too rosy of a picture, but it's how you deal with failure, more than failure itself. And I really was so proud of the way he, especially, dealt with failure [and] that it was a huge silver lining for me. I didn't make up my optimism in that press conference that day. I know people wanted me to be madder or express my disappointment in a different way. But you can't trust in people's competence in a chance business – because you're questioning their competence – and this was not a competence issue. This was bad breaks, bad situations, bad injuries, a lot of things conspired to remind us that maybe we're not as good as we think we are. It's a humbling experience to lose, but humble men do great things from losing. You learn from it, and I watched John handle it as well as a coach could.
Are there any developments about the Ravens playing abroad?
I'm personally partial to London. If they come calling – an away game, we're not going to give up a home game. I don't think our lease allows us to give up a home game. The first time around absolutely should be an away game. There are teams like Jacksonville who fit a niche very nicely. But no, I don't want to pack up and move to China for a week. I think we should take baby steps after London.
Do you see Eugene Monroe as the left tackle going into next year?
He is our left tackle going into next year. It's like [Mike] Campanaro. We think the world of him. But you have to know what you get out of the guy, and Eugene has been a pretty durable player these last couple years. But nobody works out harder than he does. I just feel bad. I think a lot of the speculation about us moving on from him clearly comes down to the fact that he's been hurt a lot, because he's played pretty well when he's been in there. We've always been happy with him when he's on the field.