By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
7:38 PM PDT, March 18, 2013
PHOENIX — It has been six weeks since Steve Bisciotti stood on a podium at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and raised the Lombardi Trophy aloft, celebrating his team's 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and his crowning achievement as the Ravens' owner.
Since then, he has been touched by the numerous emails and phone calls that he has gotten from fellow owners and buoyed by the belief that the Ravens continue to do things the right way. He shared the victory with many, recently buying two motorcycles for the Baltimore City Police Department after doing the same for officers in New Orleans who took care of the team during Super Bowl week.
But like coach John Harbaugh and the rest of the organization, Bisciotti has already turned his attention to next season and moving on from the recent losses of several key performers on the title-winning team.
Looking tanned and relaxed in black slacks and a black-and-white dress shirt, Bisciotti sat down Monday with The Baltimore Sun at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, the site of this week's NFL annual meetings. He discussed the loss of Anquan Boldin and several other free agents, the futures of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and his expectations for the organization going forward.
What have the last six weeks been like for you after winning the Super Bowl?
It's just the validation that the decisions that we make — as tough as they are — can result in a championship. So I'm not long-winded, that's it. We are in a business where we are questioned constantly and critiqued and disparaged because of the tough decisions we have to make. So it's history-making. It's nice to bring a championship to Baltimore and as a life-long Baltimore sports fan, I know what it means. I still remember where I was in '83 with the Orioles when Eddie Murray hit [two] home runs. It's a special feeling and it builds the pride in Baltimore. It's a great feeling when, in the league circle, they appreciate the way we do business. They wish it was them, but I think that there are some out there that are happy we got rewarded for doing things the right way.
Was there a time late in the regular season where you doubted this team could win a Super Bowl?
No, I didn't. We're somewhat insulated from that gloom and doom. We don't have time to deal with it. We're not changing because of gloom-and-doom, perceived weaknesses that we have. We've seen us click, we saw them click from Week 1 to the Giants game when we needed to secure a playoff berth. I had faith that we were getting healthy and getting better as a team. I didn't think the road to the Super Bowl was going to be any more difficult than it was the year before when it ended in New England.
You guys made it clear that you expected to lose some players and you weren't going to make the same mistakes the organization did last time it won the Super Bowl. But was the last week or so still difficult to see guys leave?
Yeah, it's very difficult but we've had some experience with this, going all the way back to releasing Jamal Lewis. That is singularly the toughest thing you have to deal with as a business man, that people who get successful get rewarded not by you but by other teams. It will always be the most difficult part.
Did having to trade Anquan Boldin because of salary cap reasons really hit you hard?
It did and more so, because in order to create cap room, we had to ask him to take a reduction. In [Paul] Kruger and [Dannell] Ellerbe's situations, they were unrestricted free agents. To clean up our salary cap every year, it's the ones that you have to release as opposed to the ones that are unrestricted. Those will always be the toughest ones.
Is it tough to balance looking into the future rather than pulling out all the stops to keep a Super Bowl-winning team together?
No, honestly, that's what makes it easy. This is as simple as your family budget. There's a way to keep things rolling. There's a way to do it: it's putting it all on the credit card. That is the one thing that we as an executive group all agree, that you want to take this heat in the offseason. Though it seems dramatic, it is no different than the last two years. We are staring at four compensatory [draft] picks because we made the same tough decisions last year.
Do you sympathize with the fans who see so many key players leaving and wonder if the team is rebuilding?
I don't want to sound cold. I sympathize with it as much as I've heard the same thing every year at this time. Sympathy, it's like no. If they say we are rebuilding and I told an expansion franchise that you were going to start rebuilding with Marshal Yanda, Dennis Pitta, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb, Courtney Upshaw and Jimmy Smith … if you talk about the losses, it sounds like a lot. If you look at what's left and fill in around it, it really isn't any different than we've had the last few years and we've been able to regroup and build a playoff-caliber team in every one of those years.
So expectations on this team shouldn't change?
Right. You lose a Ben Grubbs and somehow or another, you find a guy like [Kelechi Osemele] in the second round and by the end of the year, he was looking like he could be a top offensive guard in this league and I'm not so sure he can't play tackle with his size. … I think [pundits] predicted that it would be a down year this year, didn't they?, after we lost to New England. It has the same feeling. I think we're still in the top 12 in all their projections, so I don't really [care] if we're second or we're 12th because they obviously don't know what they are doing or they would have picked us first last year. If it's a down year and we're in the top 12 to win the Super Bowl, I'll take it.
Where are things at with free agent safety Ed Reed and would it be tough to lose Reed and Ray Lewis the same offseason?
I don't think the same offseason matters much. I don't think losing Ed Reed next year would hurt any worse. We are in a certain salary cap predicament, we're making commitments to young guys in their second contracts and like Anquan, Ed will found out what the market is and he'll communicate to [General Manager Ozzie Newsome] whether he's willing to come back for Ozzie's number or whether he'll get more on the open market, and if the difference is enough that Ed is willing to go to another city at this stage of his career.
Did you think you were on the verge of losing Reed to the Houston Texans last week?
I certainly thought that he'd communicate with Ozzie but I wouldn't have been insulted if he didn't. We let the same thing happen with Ray Lewis four years ago. Whatever number that is out there, he is going to have to come back to Ozzie and say, '"Can you squeeze this number into your cap?" and Ozzie is going to have to make a decision.
Have you spoken to Ray Lewis about a potential role with the organization since his retirement?
I had dinner with Ray in Florida about three weeks ago and it was just great talking to him, how relaxed and how peaceful he was with his decision. Walking out a Super Bowl champ certainly makes that a lot easier for him. He's fielding a million different things. I would think that my participation in mentoring him in the business world will warrant a little bit of him coming back and mentoring my young players. We'll leave it at that. I think he has so many irons in the fire that he'll always be a Raven and he'll always be around for us. What that role is, we don't know.
How pleased were you to get quarterback Joe Flacco signed to a long-term extension and were there any reservations to handing out that big of a contract?
It's tough in the fact that we are dealing with a finite salary cap. You're paying at the top of the market. It was not tough because we had already had come up with a contract for amateurs that we said that we could live with. The difference between this year and last year was $3 million. As Ozzie's prowess proved, an undrafted free agent like Dannell Ellerbe can be playing for us at a high level at $2 million and then demand $7 million on the market. You only need one of those contracts, one of those success stories every year and we got them in the pipeline with guys like Deonte Thompson and people like that who may step up and produce like any other $6 or $7 million wide receiver while we're still paying him on his rookie contract.
What was your conversation like with Flacco after deal was reached?
I've talked to Joe a lot. I've always had an affection for Joe. Joe and I are so different, and he took so much criticism for being the way he was. At my end-of-the-year press conference, I said that I think the fans will be rewarded for that, that Joe will prove that he can win and still be Joe Flacco. I get a kick out of it that other people assume that he didn't have the right stuff, so to speak. I trust my coaches and their explanation of his football intelligence, his development and what we thought we were going to get his whole career.
Is it too simplistic to say that the Ravens are transitioning into an offensive team?
It's not over-simplistic. The goal is to have your defense not drop as much as your offense rises. When you have a finite cap, then those will be decisions that we will make going forward. If we have to make a tough decision on a veteran player and we have to release one and it's either a really productive offensive player or a really productive defensive player, that idea of becoming an offensive-oriented team won't lead us into releasing the defensive player. In other words, we're going to look at those guys for how much they cost, how much they produce and what we have to back him up if we let him go. We're not going to start swinging wildly to the offensive side. I don't want to be one of those teams that has a 30th-rankied defense and a juggernaut of an offense. I think it's quite the contrary. We didn't lose anybody on offense this year so, needless to say, the first two guys Ozzie signs are defensive linemen and we're much more likely to pick defensive players in the draft to fill in the holes that we lost. You just have to react to how your roster turns over.
What do you see as the team's biggest needs and priorities?
Again, you look at how many players you lost on defense and it has to be a concern. It will not stop Ozzie from taking an offensive lineman in the first round if that guy is significantly valued higher than the best defensive player on the board. I've watched him too many years to know that he's not going to take the 32nd-ranked player because he's a linebacker if the 18th-ranked player is a wide receiver or offensive lineman. He's going to take that offensive guy and he's going to have confidence and we're going to have confidence that he'll find somebody like Dawan Landry in the fifth round to start at safety for four or five years.
Have you talked to Ozzie Newsome about when he may retire?
I've talked about it with Ozzie and that's why we have a succession plan in place with Eric [DeCosta]. We all are comfortable that succession plan will come to fruition. Eric is patient, Ozzie is still enjoying himself and I'm reaping the benefits of having the both of them. I am in no rush for Ozzie to retire because I think I have the best of both worlds are now.
After signing Flacco and Ray Rice to contract extensions in successive offseasons, are there any players you'd like to extend long-term?
Yeah, [Michael] Oher and [Dennis] Pitta. That's exactly right. Arthur Jones and Ed Dickson. Those are the four starters that are unrestricted free agents at the end of next year. That's where we want to spend our money, and that's why we can't turn around and lose guys in free agency and go find free agents and spend that money. We have that talent resting on our rosters right now. We still have some salary cap room, and I know that's the very next phase, talking to those guys' representatives and finding out if we can't work something out that works for both sides.
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