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Eisenberg: Steve Bisciotti Offered Thunderous Rebuttal


Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti has offered a thunderous rebuttal to the idea that internal support for Head Coach John Harbaugh might be wavering even a smidgen in the wake of the Ravens' 8-8 finish in 2013.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bisciotti made that clear Monday at the NFL owners meetings when he told several reporters he had extended Harbaugh's contract by a year after the head coach's first non-playoff season.

Bisciotti has made few firmer statements in his years of ownership. Just a year ago, he signed Harbaugh to a big deal after the Ravens' Super Bowl triumph. Win or lose, Harbaugh was under contract through 2016. That's a lot of rope. The only reason to add more was to show full-fledged support. Bisciotti elected to do that.

The move caught Harbaugh by surprise.

"I guess the first thing I said was, 'Why?' He said, 'Because that's the best I can do and I want to do as much as I can.' It's a big statement," Harbaugh told reporters Tuesday morning at the owners' meetings.

The additional rope is deserved. Harbaugh has a 71-38 record in six seasons of coaching the Ravens. He has taken five teams to the playoffs, three to the AFC title game and one all the way. You don't get results like that by being lucky. You get them by being one of the game's best coaches.

Things did not go as well in 2013, but it's a competitive league and the other guys win sometimes. Bisciotti gets that. He's a big-picture owner who doesn't indulge in the "what have you done for me lately?" blah-blah that inevitably circulates after a disappointing season.

Stability is one of the Ravens' greatest assets. They've had the same GM since 1996, the same head coach and same quarterback since 2008. The group has won a lot of games, and by extending Harbaugh after such a season, Bisciotti is sending the clear message that while he doesn't like non-winning results, his faith in the Ravens' process is unchanged.

Some NFL teams take a splashy approach to the team-building process that unfolds every year starting in March. They sign big names, make big news, steal the show.

The Ravens are opposites, so determinedly un-splashy that you almost have to laugh.

While the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots added high-profile, big-money names earlier this month, the Ravens focused on re-signing their own guys. That's free agency's equivalent of eating your vegetables: not so exciting, but good for you. Then, while the rest of the sports world was watching their March Madness brackets collapse over the weekend (speaking from experience), the Ravens quietly made a major move, acquiring center Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Upgrading their offensive line was and is their top priority, and Zuttah instantly becomes part of the solution. He isn't a Pro Bowler, but he makes sense for the Ravens for these reasons:

Size. Newsome specifically said he wants the Ravens to get bigger and more physical in the interior. Zuttah has an inch and 10 pounds on last year's starting center, Gino Gradkowski.

Versatility. While he is expected to step in for Gradkowski in 2014, he has more NFL starts as a guard. If Gradkowski plays well enough to regain the center spot, Zuttah can move over.

Age. Zuttah, 27, is old enough to have made 76 NFL starts, but he's not so old that he's on the way down. He is in that sweet spot, the prime of his career, and his agent is reportedly negotiating a long-term deal that would secure his future in Baltimore.

Athleticism. Analysts say Zuttah's best attribute is his lateral agility, a key quality for linemen in the zone blocking scheme being installed by new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Zuttah's addition means we can now pencil in four of the Ravens' five starters on the offensive line. The other three locks are Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele.

Who is the fifth starter? It depends on whether Osemele plays right tackle or left guard. Harbaugh said Tuesday at the owners' meetings that he likes Osemele at guard, but that could change. Wherever Osemele goes, the fifth starter will take the other slot.

Candidates already on the roster include guard/center A.Q. Shipley, guard/tackle Rick Wagner, center Ryan Jensen, and guard-tackle Jah Reid. The draft could produce another, possibly a first-rounder.

The Ravens probably will wait and see if any of them show in the minicamp season that they're viable options. If not, Newsome will make another move.

I understand the rationale behind the signing of safety Darian Stewart. He played well in St. Louis for Steve Spagnuolo, now the Ravens' secondary coach. He is a hard hitter, which fits the Ravens' prototype.

But he doesn't seem to fit the profile of what the Ravens said they're seeking from a starting safety to pair with Matt Elam. Newsome said he wants an athletic ball hawk to make plays. Stewart is more of an in-the-box punisher. He has piled up solid tackle totals, but as far as making plays, he has three forced fumbles and one interception in four seasons with the Rams.

Stewart likely will see action on the back end of the Ravens' defense, but I'm guessing the front office is still looking for that rangy free safety.

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