Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti covered myriad subjects during his end-of-season news conference Friday. Here is a look at what he said, what he probably meant and how that might affect the future of the franchise.
Did he wrestle with the decision to bring back John Harbaugh?
“Certainly, [making a change] was a thought. I was very proud of the way John kept fighting, held the team together when we were losing in the middle of the year. Joe [Flacco] was obviously producing at substandard with his back injury and after the first couple of weeks obviously, we were very encouraged by our defense and thought that could hold us together. We didn’t perform very well in the middle of the year. I was proud of the way we fought back as a team. It was certainly a consideration, but not one that I was inclined to make this year.”
My take: There’s really no way to know how much he wrestled with a head coaching change, but it’s probably a good thing for Harbaugh that Bisciotti isn’t the kind of owner who makes that kind of decision while the sting of a dramatic letdown is still fresh. Bisciotti also said he will not give a “playoff-or-bust” edict, but I’m pretty sure Harbaugh is already operating under the assumption that there is one.
On the pending general manager switch from Ozzie Newsome to Eric DeCosta:
“We had talked after the ’13 season and it was about Eric, and Ozzie agreed to redo his contract for a five-year extension, in which case he would turn over the 53 to Eric. That’s a year away. Ozzie will step down as GM and has assured me that he’s not going anywhere and that he will work with me and work with Eric for a smooth transition and he’ll be the highest-paid scout in America when Eric takes over next year. I was not inclined to make a change in what we had worked on four years ago.”
My take: If that was the five-year plan, the announcement was still a surprise, and Bisciotti said later that DeCosta recently asked for confirmation that it was still in place because he might have been in line for the since-filled Green Bay Packers GM opening. The fact that it remains in place after three straight playoff misses is a testament to Bisciotti’s commitment to front office continuity … or a sign that he has gotten too close to his head coach and top player personnel guys.
Does he have to start thinking about life after Flacco?
“I think that you can think about life after Joe, but most of the franchise quarterbacks … I don’t know of any franchise quarterback that’s retiring after 33, 34, 35 anymore. None of them — Eli [Manning], Ben [Roethlisberger], our friend up in New England — they’re all staying. … So no, that’s not really something that we’re really worried about. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
My take: Bisciotti might be thinking about it a little more seriously if Flacco didn’t have $12 million in guaranteed salary and a $24.75 million salary cap hit next season. The Ravens will try to select a promising quarterback in this year’s draft.
Will the Ravens focus on offensive playmakers in this year’s draft?
“I think that there’s a really good chance we won’t take a defensive tackle in the first round. I hear the criticism. I also know that we thought about that last year, but last year we were coming off Mike Wallace over 1,000 yards. We did get Jeremy Maclin and [Danny] Woodhead, which we thought diversified our offense. And we were coming off of [Breshad] Perriman finally being healthy.”
My take: Bisciotti wasn’t criticizing last year’s draft, during which the Ravens beefed up their defense with their first four picks. In fact, he later explained he was on board with trying to maintain the franchise’s traditional emphasis on tough defense.
How can the Ravens re-energize the fan base?
“We need an exciting brand of football, and we need to win. But New Orleans has a really exciting brand of football that went 7-9 three years in a row. So it didn’t help them. Exciting doesn’t necessarily mean wins. We have been a defense-dominant team since I’ve been and since long before I bought the team, and we want to keep that because we don’t want people not to be scared of us. So we’re going to keep working on that, to keep scaring people.”
My take: He knows Ravens fans get it. That’s why there’s a statue of Ray Lewis in front of M&T Bank Stadium. He also knows the offensive scheme isn’t going to change dramatically next season, so the team probably won’t take offensive players with all of their draft picks.
Where are the Ravens going to get some of those playmakers?
“We’re going to have to go back into the till, and one of my notes was, ‘Do not tamper,’ from [public relations guru Kevin Byrne] because I’m not allowed to talk about people that are still under contract even if the season’s over. We will be exploring all options in free agency and the draft for targets for Joe.”
My take: That sounds like pretty standard stuff, but it also sounds like Bisciotti has some specific free agents in mind or he wouldn’t be in danger of violating league rules by tampering.
On the lingering after-effects of the London anthem protest:
“I do think it’s significant and I do think it hurt and insulted a lot of our fan base. And I understand that, but I also am supportive of my players and I think that was the only time we ever did kneel. Is that correct? And there have been others on teams before and after that continued to do it.”
My take: Like just about every NFL owner or executive caught in the middle of the national anthem controversy, Bisciotti has tried to walk a fine line between appeasing the fans and remaining supportive of his players. Don’t know that he has any other choice, but it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. He can only hope that time will eventually heal this wound.
Does he still have passion and enthusiasm for owning an NFL team in light of the team’s recent struggles?
“My passion is still there. My fans lost their enthusiasm for it. I hate losing and my fans hate losing. They get angry and say things they shouldn’t and I get angry and say things I shouldn’t, too. Luckily, I don’t do it front of a microphone usually. I haven’t changed. I’m very comfortable where I am. I’m here for the foreseeable future.”
My take: That’s no surprise, though there have been times when Bisciotti has made wry comments about selling the team. He is, first and foremost, a terrific businessman, so he’d probably listen if the price was high enough.