Owner Steve Bisciotti, President Dick Cass, General Manager/Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome & Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement by Steve Bisciotti:
"The room isn't quite as crowded as it was last year. I don't remember this many empty seats. Thanks for coming. I don't have much to say. You're going to hear it all when you ask your questions, and you all ask very good questions. So, we're ready to go if you want to start. Who gets to start?"
You've run many other business, and now with 10 years as the majority owner of the Ravens, when you are faced with a situation that you're not accustomed to and you don't like, are you tempted to go for the quick fix and knee-jerk reaction, or do you consider it a more deliberate and tempered thing? (Joe Platania)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "Both. I think you're heart wants to react quickly. I think your head, if you are a wise businessman, you take time, and you listen to a lot of people, and you contemplate a lot of different things. But, failure is part of success. We're all very disappointed here, as disappointed, obviously, as our fans are – more so. I'm comfortable with where we are; I'm comfortable where we're headed."
What is your No. 1 priority looking to the offseason? (Gerry Sandusky)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "Work on that 30-yard chip shot. I'm horrible at it. (laughter) Supporting these guys. That's it. My role really doesn't change. It's to support my coach and my GM and get this thing moving in the right direction. We had a lot of failures on the football field – offense and defense – and so I know they've got their work cut out for them. So, it's to be a sounding board to them and encourage them to make the kind of decisions that they believe are the right ones for us. And I love that part of the job. Even under duress, I still love that part of the job. I think I've said to you guys in the past, I really love the offseason more than the season itself because of the lack of stress involved in that. I just sit back and start worrying from Thursday on for 17 weeks of the year and pray for good outcomes. So, the offseason is really just an extension of Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays overcoming losses in the regular season. It's just the macro scale here in the offseason."
Ozzie, last year you made some tough decisions about personnel, whether it was Anquan Boldin, Ed Reed or Bernard Pollard. You have some players that are due a lot of money this year. Do you anticipate restructuring contracts, or do you feel you'll have to make more tough decisions this offseason to keep balance? (Brent Harris)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "I think we'll continue with our theme of not restructuring contracts. But, there's a difference between restructuring and offering guys extensions. We have guys that are in the last year of their contract [or] going into the last year of their contract, and we've had a history of being able to get good deals done with guys heading into that last year. So, I don't think we will embark on doing any more restructuring, but we will probably look at doing some extensions."
What is your assessment of the run game this past year, particularly after having a run game that has been so consistently good over the years and this season falling to last place in the NFL in yards per carry? (Brett Hollander)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "To say we're disappointed in the run game, no doubt. The history of this franchise has been our ability to run the football. When you run the football, especially in the AFC North with the type of defenses that you face, you have to have the ability to run the football. We think that's a friend to the quarterback when you have that ability, and that's one of the things that we've already started to work on. When I say that, we've had a chance to talk to the guys that were personally involved in the run game, which means the offensive linemen, the tight ends, the quarterbacks, the running backs and also the coaches. Already, we've had the opportunity to talk with those guys, and everybody understands that in 2014, we will do everything we can to be a better run team, because it will make us a better football team."
Steve, you talked about having a lot of failures on the football field, offensively in particular. How concerned are you with what you saw from Joe Flacco this year, or do you think there are other systemic problems that need to be addressed? (Jeff Zrebiec)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "That's the hard part. I'm really not a football guy. I watch it like a fan with maybe a little more knowledge than everybody else. And when you look at these guys who have been coaching in the league and have had success in the past, and you look at our players that have had success in the past, if we could have fixed it, we would have. I certainly expected more in the second half of the season. So, as interrelated as the running game is to the play-action pass and the execution of the offensive line, trying to divide up the blame is something I'm really not much more qualified than you guys are to do. But, when you have a short window of failure that comes out of the blue, the key is not to make wholesale changes. I know that Ray Rice was limited this year, and Bernard Pierce was limited. And, if they had been better, then maybe the offensive line would have performed better. Obviously, if the offensive line were blowing open holes, then maybe [Rice and Pierce] could have achieved more with their physical limitations. And, if that had worked a little better, then I think Joe [Flacco] would have performed a little better. All the things, the numbers that are so striking to me to find yourself in the bottom five in offense in almost every category is again something that – had we not had a [good] history in the last five years – then I would probably demand wholesale changes. But, I think you have to be careful to not to look in a vacuum and decide you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and [you] let people get healthy, let these guys work together for another year, add some people to the team in the draft and free agency. I think it's safe to say that we're going to look at the offense with the same fine tooth comb that we looked at the defense last year. So, I think you're going to see a lot of changes in personnel and how we approach that. I'm pretty proud of the defense for being able to retool on the fly, and I've got the same amount of confidence with these guys in building the offense."
Given the offensive struggles this season, how much emphasis will there be on getting Joe more help with a receiver or on the offensive line? (Aaron Wilson)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "John [Harbaugh] has already done a good job of assessing the offense, spending time with his coaches, spending time with Joe [Flacco], some time with Ray [Rice], and there's no doubt in my mind John has a very good understanding of the direction of this offense and of what we need to do. He and I have had several conversations of what we think we need to do to get our offense better – an offense that can not only just perform in crucial times like we did down the stretch, but to be able to play a 60-minute football game. He and I are very much on the same page. Is it going to be bringing in some additional talent? Probably, yes. Is it going to be expecting some of our guys to develop and get better? We will need that, too. And then [it will be] a cohesiveness of direction that's going to be provided by John with his coaching staff as to what we want to be and what we want to look like."
When you look at this team personnel-wise, what do you identify as the top needs in this offseason? (Ryan Mink)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "We've got to get bigger in the interior of our offensive line. That's one of the areas that I think we need to improve on. I think we need to have a more athletic safety in the defense. We need to be able to get a receiver – whether it's a tight end or a wide receiver – that can make a third-and-7, third-and-8 catch and run after the catch. If I was to look at the three things today, and that's coming out of a full day of personnel meetings and talking with my staff, those are some areas where we can probably add some [and] we will try to add some. But, I also believe in this: You get better by getting yourself better. And, I have no doubt with the work that John and his staff have done in the past, we can have that. The players that we retain on this team will be better players."
You didn't have to use the franchise tag last year, but do you anticipate having to use the franchise tag option for Dennis Pitta or another player to keep them this season? (Garrett Downing)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "It's a possibility. We'll have the opportunity to go down to the principal's office [Steve Bisciotti's house in Florida] this weekend, and we'll lay everything out there. We'll know exactly what our cap situation is. We'll talk about guys that we want to re-sign, extend, whatever, release, and we will do whatever it takes. And, the possibility of using the franchise tag is something that we might have to do."
Ozzie, can you explain the "principal's office" to the group please? (Kevin Byrne)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "You get a chance to go to a man's house who just happens to live next to Tiger Woods. (laughter) It's great dialogue. It's something that we started doing four years ago, maybe five years ago. We take two days." (BISCIOTTI: "We invited [assistant general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [senior VP of football administration] Pat [Moriarty] last year, or two years ago.") Exactly, and what I try to do is I try to bring as much information to the table about the contractual situations, about the makeup of the roster, and we sit down and tear it apart. And we look at all elements of it. We have John [Harbaugh] there providing all the insights from the coaching [team], and then we come away with a plan, and we try to execute that plan."
Steve, you termed the season a failure, but do you weigh that against the fact that Ozzie didn't go into cap hell by restructuring a Super Bowl team? Do you look at it as a team that at least got within one win of getting in [the playoffs]? (Dave Ginsburg)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "Yes, exactly. We were tied with Cincinnati in the third quarter, and we knew we needed that win. We came up a half short of being in the playoffs, and I think you saw last year that anybody can play [well once in the postseason]. Anybody can win it; we've seen it in the last few years. I think it's fair to say it's a failure because our goal is to be one of the Top 12. There are bigger failures out there. There are teams that are a whole lot more disappointed. If we found ourselves at 3-13, like the Falcons, then I think that they're sitting there thinking, ‘We've got to make a lot of changes.' I really don't think that we do. If 8-8 is a failure, I hope it's a long time before I feel worse than this. That's just the way it goes; it really does open up. We've been this disappointed five of the six times we've sat up here with John [Harbaugh]. It didn't matter. I was more disappointed two years ago after losing to New England [in the AFC Championship] because it hurts worse. It doesn't mean that our team was worse. Our team obviously wasn't worse, or we wouldn't have gotten there. We're a half away from getting there, and I think we could have beaten Cincinnati like San Diego did. I'd be just as comfortable going into Denver and New England this year because of what happened last year. We're still 10 days away from losing and it still bothers us all, but quality people take that as fuel and make the most of it. I'm getting over it and I'm excited about going forward."
There's been a lot of talk about the offense, but defensively, there were some issues. Particularly, late in games, the defense not getting off the field and also the pass rush weakened as the season went on. What do you attribute those things to and what do you think you can do personnel-wise to correct that? (Clifton Brown)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "No. 1, not having the ability to get off the field cost us maybe three or four ball games this year. I think we recognized that. To improve on that, I think, No. 1, you have to start with the guys you've got. We've got to get those guys better and put those guys in better position to make plays. On the other side of that, I talked about a free safety [and] maybe getting a free safety that can be a playmaker – when tipped balls are in the air, guys that can come away with that. I think all of those things. And, I think the other thing that we talked about doing this season [is] in order to be successful, you have to have confidence. I think we've got to build a confidence amongst our defensive players that, in those situations, they can make a play and win the game. They don't have to go out there and play tentative or scared. Go make the play; the other 10 guys have got your back. I think we'll be able to get to that because it was a new mixture of guys. It was seven new guys on defense, so they had to get the cohesiveness going. You have to get to the point where you feel like you can make that play and get the defense off the field."
Looking back on the draft class, how would you assess the play of those guys? What can players – like Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, John Simon, some of the earlier picks – do with you? What are you looking for them to do to carve out bigger roles going into next year? (Matt Zenitz)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "I'll give a general statement. I guess I'll let John [Harbaugh] be more specific. Having guys grow and improve from the first year to the second year is all about us having a successful football team. A case in point is a DeAngelo Tyson. Sitting here a year ago, we probably did not count on DeAngelo being a guy that would be in our rotation, and he was able to get into that. We had our meeting, and we talked about things that our young guys need to do. As we say, we have an offseason with them. We don't get them until May once you draft them, but now we've got them. We've had a year to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are. That's from my perspective, and I'll let John share from his."
(JOHN HARBAUGH) "That's the main thing. The biggest improvement usually is between the first and second year. That's something that's an old wives' tale in coaching a little bit and football a little bit. Whether it's the first week to the second week, the first game to the second game or the first year to the second year, these guys have been through it now one time. They're going to make major strides. Every one of those guys; you know the guys. Matt Elam should be a really, really good safety in this league. He's fast, he's physical and he's going to understand the expectations a little more. He's going to anticipate checks a little better. He's going to understand what it means to stay deep when you're supposed to stay deep – not to stop your feet when you've got a vertical receiver running up on you and you're a deep-third or deep-half player. Those are things that sometimes you learn from experience the hard way. He didn't make too many mistakes for a guy who played that many repetitions as a safety, so it's a good start for him. Art Brown did a really good job in our nickel packages. Art is a guy who's learning a lot of football. He bounced [between defensive positions] a little bit in college. And football, understanding the complexity of defensive schemes in this league – at this level – is going to take him to a starting role. He's going to compete for a starting job. He'll be competing for that WILL linebacker starting job. I expect him to win the job, but he's got to go win the job. Brandon Williams should be in the rotation at least as a defensive tackle. He proved that he can play. We had a lot of depth there this year. He had a little maturing to do, and he should be in the mix. Kyle [Juszczyk] played great on special teams. [He] was one of our best special teams players – played like a linebacker on special teams. That's a great thing for a fullback/tight end-type guy, but we've got to get him into the mix more. Kyle has got to be a huge part of what he we do going forward. He's transitioned from a two-back to one-back scheme. He's the link, as far as being a move guy, lining up in the backfield and lining up out as a wide receiver. He can do those things. We have high hopes for him. John Simon – nobody practices harder, works harder than John Simon. I think he's just going to make himself into a player. He'll find a way to get on the field, one way or another. He's got some pass rushing talent. We've got two linemen in the fifth and sixth round. You don't know about these guys – developmental guys – between Ryan [Jensen] and Rick [Wagner]. These guys are potential starters in this league. They could be starting for us next year if they earn the job. That's the draft class right there. I don't think I missed anybody."
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "Aaron [Mellette] and Kapron [Lewis-Moore]."
(JOHN HARBAUGH) "Kapron Lewis-Moore, who practiced for three weeks for us … [He's] got a chance to be a starting five- technique or be in the rotation for sure in that three weeks of practice. Then Aaron Mellette, who showed a lot as a deep ball wide receiver and a red zone threat in preseason, hurt his knee. Aaron is going to be a guy who's going to be in the mix, too."
(KEVIN BYRNE) "Do you want to throw Marlon [Brown] in there?"
(JOHN HARBAUGH) "You guys can throw Marlon in there, right? (laughter) You saw it. Marlon has to improve on some catch radius things and seam routes and nine-ball routes. Here's a guy who's already a red zone threat, played really well in the slot and can play inside or outside. Marlon is going to compete for a starting job, and he's right there already."
Terrell Suggs has a high salary cap number for this year. Is he definitely back for this team next year? Is he definitely back next year at the contract he has right now? (Jamison Hensley)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "I've had the opportunity to talk to [Terrell] Suggs every day. He kind of makes sure of that. That's a decision that we'll talk about when we get down to Jupiter. Terrell is a really good football player. He not only shows up in the pass game, but he shows up in the run game. That being said, we let a good football player go last year, so we're not afraid. I'm not a virgin when it comes to letting guys walk out the door. What we'll do is we'll look at every aspect of it and see what's best for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Ravens and then make that decision once we get to it."
Steve, as one of 32 partners in this league, obviously the league is highly successful. TV ratings are through the roof. I'm wondering, from your point of view, what are you concerned about? What are the things about the league that you feel like have to get better, or as an owner, that you have on your mind that you would want to fix? (Mark Viviano)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "The one that sticks out to me more than anything are the changes in the safety rules and how much harder we made it on the referees. They already had a tough job, and then you talk about … We've gotten better with the 10 camera angles, and we've gotten better with the HD, and we've got novice fans that can see that a referee is wrong. I think that we can look at revamping … I was talking with [head coach John Harbaugh] and Bill Belichick on the field this second-to-last game. And really, trying to make these refs in a split second understand what is a helmet-to-helmet hit in and of itself is impossible, because you see heads snap back, and other times you realize that it was the shoulder to the shoulder, and they still get a flag. And, sometimes they still get fined. I heard talk of the potential to do it the NHL way, where these reviews are done in New York. I'm all for it. And, I think it takes almost three minutes, even though they're only allowed under the hood for one minute, by the time the ref goes over and talks to the guy, and he throws his flag, and then he walks over, and he's on the headset, and he looks at all the different replays. I think we can expedite that process and make it better. I think it's easier for a nonpartisan guy up in New York to overrule that ref than it is that ref walking over to overrule himself or his teammate, so to speak. So, I'm all for the New York thing. I think it would make it better, I think it would make it more efficient, and I think we could even consider maybe giving these [head coaches] an extra challenge, because if we could expedite that process, cut that down to one-and-a-half minutes and give them one extra [challenge] … I think having to decide whether you want to use a challenge in the first quarter, it's hard for a coach, because he's thinking, ‘I think we see it, we might have a chance at it, but I can't afford to give that challenge up.' That, to me – if I was in charge – I would be heading there full-speed ahead, and I really think the league is at least heading in that direction. If I can kick their asses a little bit faster, I certainly will. But, I'm not on the Competition Committee [like Ozzie Newsome is]. (laughter) I really think that we need to make it fairer for the refs – not easier for the refs, but just fairer for the refs – because I think that we can all conclude that we still have the best refs out there. It's still a system that has been evolving. And guys get fired; refs get fired. They don't announce it in USA Today and on SportsCenter that they relieved two referees of their duties because of repeated mistakes, but it happens. And then new guys get a chance, and the new guys are the best out of the Pac-12 and the best guys out of the SEC. So, they care very much to do a great job. Unfortunately for them, I think a great job is being right 80 percent of the time. But, when it costs you a game, it doesn't matter whether they're 95 percent right or 30 percent right. So, I kind of think they get a bad rap. But, I think we can get that better. I think the new rules have made it ridiculously hard on these guys."
Ozzie, ith the draft being later this year, does that change your approach to how you address free agency, and just your thoughts on it being later? (Morgan Adsit)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "No, not really. It gives us more time to prepare. It will allow our coaches to have more time to get involved in the draft because of the two additional weeks. But, as far as free agency, one of the things that when we decided to move the draft, we wanted to keep free agency as it was – not to impact that – because I think there are so many things that happen during the calendar year for us in the league. Keeping some stability allows us to maintain some type of life. So, it will not change free agency. It will just allow 31 other teams to be better prepared going into the draft, in my estimation."
John, how different is it for you this year? I guess every offseason is a little different. This year, you have to come back after a devastating loss; last year, you had to come back after winning a Super Bowl. How different is it for you, and how did you approach the offseason with your players after not making the playoffs? (Stan White)
(JOHN HARBAUGH) "I'm not sure about the difficulty. It is different, like you're saying. I know one thing: Our players are more motivated than ever. So, it's a different problem than last year, that's for sure. I had a chance to text some guys and talk to some guys over the weekend when games were being played. Our guys weren't real happy about not playing. I like that. I like the fact that they're not pleased with the fact that they were sitting home watching. So, we should come back more highly-motivated than ever. Like Steve [Bisciotti] talked about, we've had probably more gut-wrenching losses in the playoffs than we had this year. But, we were in the playoffs. It's just not acceptable. I don't think any of our guys feel that way, and I like the fact that they're not happy about it."
You mentioned gut-wrenching losses and the frustration of being so close. You almost had one against Pittsburgh here – Mike Tomlin on the field. What was your reaction to that? Was that just gamesmanship, or was that a pure mistake? (Pete Gilbert)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "It's not my job to figure out intent. I'm glad we won the game. My feelings for that move might have been a lot different [had we lost]. But, [it was] bizarre, weird, strange, unexplainable, and I think Mike [Tomlin] was embarrassed about it. And I like Mike a lot. He's a really good guy. So, his intent – that is completely in his court. He got fined for it, and again, he's embarrassed as a competitor. Like I said, I'm glad we won."
Steve, do you go to the coaches and to Ozzie and make suggestions or demands when it comes to personnel or staff – like what transpired with Wilbert Montgomery? There has been a lot of talk around town about Juan Castillo's future as well. Is that something that you guys can address? (Jerry Coleman)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "I can't address it. Ozzie [Newsome], I think has talked a lot with John [Harbaugh] about the coaches. I really will get into it maybe this weekend more when we're in Florida. But no, I never demand. I do suggest, but right now, I haven't suggested to John to revamp his coaching staff."
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "John relies on me to give him the input on his coaches. He trusts me. He trusts me because I helped hire him, I guess." (laughter)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "He doesn't rely on or trust me, so maybe that's why I haven't gotten into it yet." (laughter)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "Yes, and it's constant, the dialogue that he and I have. He allows me … He wants me to ask questions about his staff because he wants to have the best staff in the National Football League. And John is not afraid to make tough decisions or unpopular decisions if he thinks it's in the best interest of the Baltimore Ravens. So, our relationship about his coaching staff – I don't know if it's matched in the league when it comes to that – and his ability to allow me to be real frank about what I think, and he listens."
Ozzie, even though Dennis Pitta was able to get on the field for the final four games, did you see enough from him to feel comfortable in establishing his free agent value? Or, perhaps when you look at the franchise tag, could that be something that works for both sides as far as him coming back in 2014? (Luke Jones)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "Well, [to answer] the first part of your question, yes. We saw Dennis [Pitta] for three weeks before we put him on the field, and he still has his skills and the skill set to be a very productive receiver in this league. Going forward, we would like to have Dennis on our football team. He plays winning football for us in a lot of manners. He is a mismatch problem for defenses. And I've seen other teams in the league kind of take that prototype and use it now – having a guy like Dennis on their team and the matchup problems that it presents. So yes, he is someone we will be talking about down in Jupiter, and we'd like to have him. There are no guarantees; [that is] one thing about this business. We wanted [Paul] Kruger and [Dannell] Ellerbe back last year, and we weren't able to keep them."
You guys made an uncharacteristic move with the mid-season trade for Eugene Monroe. Where does that originate from, and did you guys look at possibly exploring anything else during the season? (Kris Jones)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "We're always open to bettering our team 12 months out of the year. And part of our league [is] that there are relationships that our employees, our associates, have with other teams that are very close. And just in conversation, sometimes you hear things about what other teams are doing, or other teams will actually call you to run things by you. ‘What do you think?' And that was a little bit of the situation that happened with Eugene. It ended up being very unique in how it was able to be done. You probably can't imagine the way we put everything through a process, the amount of time we spend on making that decision, and the people that were involved in it for us to get it done. But we did it. We did it because we thought it would help us to win this year, but also give us potential to win going forward, because he is our player right now, and we don't have to go out and get him as a UFA [unrestricted free agent]."
Just to the concept of doing this [press conference] – the ownership, general manager, president, coach standing in front of everyone taking questions … Not every sports team does it, not every league does it, but you do it. The genesis of it and why you think it's important to do this event each year? (Nestor Aparicio)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "So I don't have to do any more. (laughter) Honest to God, I almost didn't come last year, and I thought, ‘Good, if I don't come the year I win the Super Bowl, then they don't ever [ask].' And so, I woke up last week and thought, ‘Oh, I've got to do that press conference,' and I thought, ‘But I can't [skip it], because then I'll look like a sore loser after I was sitting up here grinning from ear to ear after the Super Bowl.' I missed my opportunity, so if I win the Super Bowl next time, I'm not coming up, and then I might never do it again. (laughter) So, I have to do it, and …" (Reporter: "Why? Why is it important?") Because I think that we really like each other. We really like what we're doing, and so like I said, five of the six years it's been a week after major disappointment, and I owe it to these guys. And I owe it to the fans, obviously. I think the fans appreciate the fact that maybe I'm a little bit of a loose cannon and think the way they do and ask the same questions that they do and complain the same way. So, I do it because I owe it to the fans. I owe it to you guys [the media] – you're great. You guys are smart and you have a lot of opinions, and so I guess I should come up here and answer your questions, even if they're tough ones."
Even with limited cap space last year, you guys found a way to be active in the free agent market. This year, you guys have limited cap space again, I guess you could say, but how much would you like to be active in free agency, especially since this class seems to be strong in some areas that could potentially help you guys? (Matt Zenitz)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "We will be active, but let me say something: All of those players that we signed last year were free agents and weren't UFAs [unrestricted free agents]. They were cap causalities of other teams, which allowed us to be able to maintain our compensatory picks for the guys that we lost. So, there is a rhyme and reason in how we acquire players – to continue to maintain our ability to stay strong going forward. And we will do the same [this year], and even if it means we have to go out and get a UFA this time, which means we probably lose a compensatory pick, we won't say, ‘No' to anything. We look at everything from an individual standpoint, and then we see what's going to make us better for this year and years going forward. The cap room … You can make the cap as fluid as you want it to be, but again, we're not restructuring contracts. We're not doing that."
You mentioned earlier that the wide receiver position was a potential need. Can you expand on the particular qualities you might be looking for in a receiver, and as it pertains to the draft, what have you learned in the past couple of years from drafting and developing wide receivers? (Matt Vensel)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "The second part of your question: You can draft a Torrey Smith in the second round, and you can have some success, and you can draft Travis Taylor in the first [round], and you can blow it. The wide receiver position in the draft – there are a lot of hits and misses. And what we've tried to do is identify guys that have certain traits that can come in, and I think we've got a real, real good receivers coach in Jim Hostler who helps develop … But you can't discount that receivers also come in undrafted college free agents, like Marlon [Brown]. [He was] a guy that we had ranked, blew out his knee, and then we were able to get him after some things happened with the Texans. So, we will try to acquire, I think – and I already know this and I won't share it with you – I think we've identified the type of receiver that we want. And when John [Harbaugh] told me, I lit up, because I was right there with him as to what we're looking for in a receiver this year. And I think before the 2014 season ends, we will have that guy on our football team."
Steve mentioned that he knows both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were hampered this year. With regards to Ray, how concerned, or not concerned, are you that he can return to being the type of back that he has been most of his career? (Clifton Brown)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "Ray was one of the players that I sat down with last week. I think Ray is committed to being as good a football player as he has been. We had great dialogue yesterday on what we think we can do to help Ray to get there. But that combination of us having an understanding and a willingness to provide some help to him, and him having a willingness to work his butt off, we will again have a Pro Bowl running back in Ray Rice next year. But I can say that, and in Game 2, [maybe there's] an ACL [injury]. I can't handle that; nobody can [control] that aspect of it." (John Harbaugh: "Knock on wood, Ozzie. (laughter) I want to mitigate that a little bit.")
In the first round of the playoffs, we saw that three of the home sites – for varying reasons – did not sell out until they got an extension. There has been continued conversation about fans enjoying the product more at home than in person. Is that a concern for the Baltimore Ravens or for the league in general? (Mark Viviano)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "It's a huge concern, but I think we only had two blackouts in the entire league in the regular season. And I'll be real quick with this: They're talking about expanding the playoffs. It seems to be gaining momentum – adding a seventh team per conference. That would add a game, then the second seed would have to play in the first weekend. Only the first seed would be off. It adds two games. I read [about] the extra time slots and the money that it would be worth. The problem that that would create is that teams like the Packers and teams that are borderline are sending out playoff tickets and making people send in their money early, because you have to, because you have to be prepared. And then you have 15,000 people that come to the game every week and don't sign up, because their team is 6-6, and then they go on to win three of their last four games and they're in, and now you've got to go back within a week and try to get all of those fulfilled. So, it's not really a lack of a demand as much as it is a logistics problem. We've always been able to sell out our playoff games, but we've also always been able to get that money in from our fans if we have a playoff. And when you expand, then it's going to mean that there's going to be six other teams that are still in the running that are going to be asking their fans to send in that money in December to be prepared to have that ticket in hand if you're right back in at the end of the season. So, that's crazy, because I remember years ago being in Florida when Miami got in, and they didn't sell out a playoff game. And I was there watching their last game – or heading into the playoff game – and they were like 10,000 fans short of a sellout for a playoff game, and I just couldn't understand that. But it really came down to the logistics of people come December, and they're 6-6, and they say, ‘I'm not paying that $600 for two rounds of playoffs.' And I don't know how you deal with that. But they all sold out, but you only get a week to do it. And we start getting in renewals, right away, and then we're still banging on people's doors in July saying, ‘This is your last notice.' We're sending certified letters for people, and they all come back in, they drag their feet, they have personal issues that maybe they can't afford it, but every year we're getting about a 98 to 99 percent renewal rate. So, we're very fortunate here, and we thank the fans for that. Other teams struggle a little bit more; that's their problem."
John, you kind of mentioned last week how we are the conduit for the fans. There has been no greater name since the end of the season than Juan Castillo. Would you be willing to shed some light on what exactly he did this year, how his job was different than Andy Moeller's, and if you will come back next year with the same structure of what most people perceive to be two offensive line coaches – the same structure of him as run game coordinator and Andy Moeller? (Steve Davis)
(JOHN HARBAUGH) "That's a good question, thanks. I can understand why Juan [Castillo] is a lightning rod right now because of the way that was set up and structured. Then, we go into the season, and we have our worst year ever running the ball, and he's got that [run game coordinator] title. So, that's on me. When we hired Juan, and we added Juan and had a chance to add Juan last year, the idea was to add another great coach into our mix. Juan functioned as the lead offensive line coach last year; that was his job. The title was a way to have three great offensive line coaches in our mix right there. Andy [Moeller] had a big contribution last year, was a little bit different than he had the year before. It wasn't the same as he had when he was with John Matsko. So, we had three guys working together, and I thought it was going to be a really good mix. And, I thought those guys did a really good job of coaching together. We didn't get the result we wanted to get. But, Juan was the offensive line coach. And the titles going forward – and that's one of the things that Ozzie and I talked a lot about, and I talked a lot with Juan about this and talked with Andy about this – Juan's title is going to be the ‘offensive line coach.' That's the way he worked last year; he worked as an offensive line coach. The offensive line coach works the run schemes and the pass protection schemes. He is pretty much out front and leads on that, but the offensive coordinator is in charge of the offense. He organizes the offense and decides exactly how we're going to do the details of that. Then, I'm on top of that, and I make all the final decisions as far as what direction we go and how we do it. So, it really didn't function any differently last year than it had the year before or the four years before that, and that's the way it worked. Going forward, our plan right now is to improve, is to get better. There are a lot of things that we didn't do well as a coaching staff, and we look at ourselves first. We've got to do a better job of putting our players in a position to make plays – offense, defense and special teams. If we find a way to score another couple touchdowns in the red zone, we're in the playoffs. If we find a way to eliminate a couple turnovers, we're in the playoffs. If we find a way to get a stop in a critical situation at the end of a game – even right to the Cincinnati game – if we do just a little bit more of that, we're in the playoffs. But, that's the fine line of the National Football League. That's what makes the league so great – what we're talking about. That is why it's so exciting and so competitive. But, we've got to find a way as a coaching staff to get the very most out of the players that we have, and that's what I'm working on right now, along with Ozzie and Steve and Dick and our coaching staff. Let's set this thing up as well as we possibly can with our staff, working together, utilizing everybody's strengths, balancing our weaknesses with a lot of great coaches, and building schemes that are going to make us the best we can be next year. And that's what we're going to try to do. So, Juan will be the offensive line coach next year. The rest of it is a little bit in flux right now. We're two weeks earlier to this probably – two, three, four weeks even – than we have been in the past. We've been coaching football games at this point in time. So, as all this NFL coaching drama goes on, some of our guys are involved in that, and we'll just have to see how it shakes out. But, we're going to build a great coaching staff again this year."
Geographically, you have a team 80 miles to the north, and you have a team 40 miles to the south, so you're sort of pinched a little bit from a market standpoint. With the rising costs, are you concerned about tapping the fan base out? Is there any concern two years, five years down the road that this group of fans, you can't keep pushing the expenses off on them? (Drew Forrester)
(STEVE BISCIOTTI) "I don't want to say ‘pushing the expenses off on them.' They are buying a good product. And our metro area is growing in population, and we're converting fans by having a good team. So, I certainly would be concerned if we miss the playoffs for six-straight years. I bet you'd see a softness in our demand. But, like I said, I really like working with these guys, and I believe that we're going to continue to produce that kind of product. Dick [Cass] and I have talked a lot about slowing down the tradition of raising the prices every two years, because we know that it gets very expensive. But, so does gas, and it doesn't stop people from driving. I can't worry about them not buying. I can only worry about creating a product that makes them want to buy. So, I see what you're saying, but I'm attacking it from the other way. I'm building pride in our organization, stability in our organization, success, and then I believe that demand will stay up. So, I'm sensitive to it, but there is only one way I can attack it."
(DICK CASS) "Our goal is to build our fan base, and I think we're doing a good job of that. We've got more work to do. We raised ticket prices in 2009 and did not raise them again until 2013. So, we slowed down the rate of ticket price increases. I think we are very much aware of how expensive it is to go to an NFL game, and we're trying to take that into account. The money we generate from our increased ticket sales, we've plowed right back into the stadium to try to make the gameday experience better. We're in the midst of a $35 million capital improvement program at the stadium. So, I think we're aware we have to keep doing that. We're aware we've got to keep the gameday experience a good one in our stadium – not only on the field, but off the field – and we're committed to doing that."
What was the communication, like between [Jim] Caldwell up in the booth to the field and coach [Jim] Hostler and into Joe [Flacco's] ear? What would you change if anything? (Glenn Younes)
(JOHN HARBAUGH) "The communication was good, generally. There weren't too many times where we had a miscue there, other than technical sometimes. There are sometimes when the phone goes out and you've got to signal something in. We had a few timeouts early in games when the phones went out and the clock was running down. I hear about clock management a lot of times from some of you all, and a lot of times that's communication management. (laughter) I'm not pointing any fingers [at media members]. (laughter) That's the reality of the whole thing; that's where your signaling system comes in. But, there are some things we can do schematically. We've talked about our system. What's happening now with the high definition television and all the audio you're getting on your television … All those things that you hear quarterbacks say and coaches say, our opponents hear those things, too. We hear all those things, also. We're studying those things. We've got to find a way to hide what we're doing from our opponents. The more the fans know, the more the opponents know. That's something we're working on, [like] shortening our calls and building a coach system where we can get things called quickly but we can change it up from one play. It's the same play, [but] maybe it's a different direction. Ways that we can hide it from our opponents is a big deal. Communication is a huge thing. Stadiums are loud, and we've got to find a way to talk to each other without having timeouts get called in the second quarter."
You mentioned earlier about the wide receiver. You've identified the type of receiver you want and you're confident that by the end of the 2014 season you'll have him on your team. Are there any obstacles that you can see from having him on your team by the start of the 2014 season? (Gerry Sandusky)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "No, because I think we've identified the type of player that we're looking for. That player will be available between now [and the start of the season], whether it's in free agency, whether he's a cap casualty, whether it's in the draft or whether it's through trade. No, there is no reason that he might not be here at the beginning of the season, but I always try to leave myself a little leeway to give us a chance to get it right."
(JOHN HARBAUGH) "I'm going to put a little pressure on Ozzie to get that going a little bit before the first game, if possible." (laughter)
(OZZIE NEWSOME) "We've identified it, and that's the first step."