Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti sat down with Ryan Mink at the NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix to talk about the Ravens' offseason and more. Here's a full transcript of their interview:
Have you been able to soak up the Super Bowl victory?
"Yeah, it's been long enough. I had committee meetings down in Florida a couple weeks ago, so I got to see a lot of my fellow owners. Now it's kind of back to normal. We got some handshakes. It was really cool, the video in the morning, with [NFL Commissioner] Roger [Goodell's] presentation. It's more handshakes tonight at the big party. But we always have fun. We have fun when we lose [too]."
How quickly after winning one Super Bowl, do you think about winning another?
"Right away, but I think you're realistic. No sooner do you say that, and you understand as an NFL historian like we all are, that it just doesn't happen very often. Your odds of winning are your odds of winning, and all we said is that we want to be a top-12 team so we have a chance to do that. And I don't think that our fans went into this postseason any more enthusiastic than they were the year before, so I think most our fans probably thought we had the best chance of getting it last year. And so you say, 'Wow that would be great.' You understand how it elevates your franchise to win multiples. But I look at the Giants who did it four years apart with the same quarterback, and I kind of think, 'Well, I'm really looking at it as a block of time, not necessarily as a repeat.' I think you can say, 'We have a five percent chance of repeating. We have a 20 percent chance of winning one in the next five years, so it's three or four times more. I kind of look at it like that. We got our franchise quarterback and certainly we feel like we've got him in the meat of his career, which is exactly what we said at the end of last year."
From the perspective of the man writing the checks, what was the feeling of giving him the biggest contract in NFL history?
"It's evolution of the salary cap. It just is what it is. You're buffing it by the fact that we struggled to get, and constantly were, in search of a franchise quarterback. And do we expect Joe to continue to play for the rest of his career like he did in those five games – counting the Giants game, when we needed a win to even qualify for the playoffs? That's absurd. You can't. But do you think his confidence in himself and the experience of winning and the experience of dominating won't do a lot for his teammates and their confidence in him? Joe lives on confidence. That's one thing that I've gotten to know is that 100 people could tell him he's average, and he doesn't believe them, then he proved them wrong. But your expectation is that he's going to be a solid, top-10 quarterback and keep us where we want to be, and that's with a chance to get hot."
Have the expectations for Flacco changed since giving him the big contract?
"No, there very well could be [bad games]. And I think Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have those games that we don't recognize when they happen. Just go back and look at their worst games. Look at Roethlisberger's, look at Eli's. Eli led the league in interceptions two years ago before he won the Super Bowl. So it's silly to all of the sudden change all of your expectations. I said last year that we expect Joe to be 10 percent better. And I think he was 10 percent better, and I think he was really, really good in the playoff run. I want him to be 10 percent better this year, and that means the whole year. But that doesn't mean that we're not going to throw a couple of stinkers out there. That's just the way the NFL works. You just can't look good 16 weeks, getting to the playoffs."
What were your emotions of seeing Anquan Boldin get traded, especially considering what he did in the playoffs?
"You said it – especially considering what he did. We had just experienced that a couple of years ago with Todd Heap and Derrick Mason. And Todd had been with us 10 years, and I can go back and say, that was the hardest one ever, honestly. I'm involved in the meetings. I hear the logic. We come up with pros and cons, and come down on one side of the ledger, that this is a very tough one, to do without somebody that came here to win a championship, and won one. I'm more impressed with the way that Anquan handled it. And I'm not surprised, with the gentlemen that he is, and the competitor that he is. He said, 'I came to win a championship, I did it, and I thought this would be my last stop. But obviously it isn't. I expect Anquan to help [quarterback Colin] Kaepernick a whole lot when it comes to having a veteran like him that you can rely on, and Kaepernick is going to benefit from his presence."
Was the Boldin trade tough for you personally?
"It was really, really tough because he's the guy that everybody says has gotten slow. Well, he didn't get drafted in the first round because he ran slow at the combine 10 years ago. So, it's kind of stating the obvious that he's not the fastest guy out there. Every time Joe was behind, then all of the sudden, did Anquan get more separation when we were down? I don't think so. I think it's a matter of he might not create as much separation, but he's proven over and over again that he's at the top of the NFL for not needed separation to come down with almost every ball. So yeah, that was a tough one. And there are going to be tough ones next year and tough ones the year after. It's the worst part of the business."
Who do you think will fill the void that Boldin left?
"I think we already have him. I don't think that there's anything out there in the free agent market – because of salary cap consideration, we had to let Anquan go – you're not going to turn around and get somebody for half his money that is going to fill in that role. I think it's going to be a committee thing. But I think we re-signed David Reed and [Tandon] Doss now has a chance to step up in that role. And so there are reps there for the taking. And they liked Tommy Streeter's development by the end of the year. They thought that he finally started to get what it was like to be a pro. And Deonte Thompson they were thrilled with. And those guys would have gotten the reps. That's the crazy thing when you look at it, if Anquan goes down instead of Lardarius Webb, do we still win the Super Bowl? That's the question. And I don't know the answer to it. We give up a couple less points and we put up a couple less points when it's all said and done, but you're one play away in the first game – like Jimmy Smith getting hurt on his first play a couple years ago – of slowing a guy's development and we were very fortunate on offense not to have any injuries. So we don't know what we have. But we believe that we have enough and we believe that there's enough guys there to compete.
"That's what good teams do. That's what Ozzie [Newsome] and John [Harbaugh] are good at. So I'm very confident that we're going to find that production inside our roster and then there will be surprising cuts all the way up to August, and we'll be as aware as any team."
How badly do you want Ed Reed back, and do you talk with him during this process?
"Ed and I talked Sunday night at the party after the Super Bowl. Ozzie's recipe is what Ozzie's recipe is, and I can't change the recipe. I can't change one ingredient and not change the entire thing. It's the same situation with Anquan. Will that hurt more than Anquan? Has he jumped the list as the toughest one? Absolutely. It's just like Todd, 10 years. But if it happens, it happens. If we can keep him, I'm thrilled. If we can't keep him, I'm thrilled for Ed that he got his Super Bowl. So Anquan and Ed are going to try to go get another one before the Ravens get another one. And that's kind of the fun of the business – picking your spots. I can't change teams, they can."
Does it always come down to Newsome's "right player, right price philosophy?"
"Absolutely. He's earned that right."
With the departure of Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk, who do you see as the next Ravens leader?
"On defense, it's got to be Terrell Suggs. There's one thing about Terrell that I admire more than anything. No. 1, he's continued to mature his entire career being here. And I was always impressed the way he deferred to Ray all the time. He couldn't get through an interview without mentioning 'The General.' And so by virtue of his patience and humility in that situation, I think that people might not know what a great leader he is and I think that you'll probably see with he and Lardarius [Webb] and Haloti [Ngata], that we've got those leaders already on defense. And I think our offense speaks for itself with Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith. These are great guys. Solid, solid citizens. And they have been waiting for this opportunity, and I think they seized it right before our eyes."
A number of fans are on the cliff right now after some key free agency departures, what perspective can you offer to them as an owner?
"You have to scale the mountain to find the cliff. This is what happens when teams win. It's a lot better than the year before, when you wondered if you'd ever get back again."
Was the goal this offseason to have a youth movement on defense, and do you think more money in the future will go to the offensive side of the ball because you're building around Flacco?
"I think when you have standout performers like we had in Ray Rice that you have an obligation to keep a number of those great performers. And we did it through the years with second contracts to Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap and Jonathan Ogden and those guys. They were our offensive leaders. The fact that we weren't as prolific really goes back to the quarterback. But we always had great leaders and high paid guys on offense. And you take Jonathan and Todd and Jamal, they were right up there with the highest paid at their positions when we were signing them to a second contract after their rookie deals. We weren't surprised by our salary cap situation by any means. We can project that stuff out as we can look at this year's. Next year's is as clear to us as can be, so we know that we'd be making tough decisions. But hopefully our fans realize that is part of the business and it didn't preclude us from reproducing with some big changes, a playoff-caliber team."
Is the cap-clearing approach part of a process to sign free agents when they become available, like an Elvis Dumervil?
"That's Ozzie's department. I've got enough guys like Dennis Pitta and Arthur Jones that are coming up that we've restricted that the money might go to them, because I don't want to be in the same situation with those young guys as I sign somebody else's veteran."
What do you expect to happen with the season opener and the Thursday night conflict with the Orioles?
"I'm an optimist by nature, so I expect that we will be able to work it out with Major League Baseball and the Orioles. I know everybody is engaged. They have some competitive reasons why they may not do it, but I think there's an opportunity here for Major League Baseball and the NFL, who have to get along and accommodate each other at times. So to me it's more of a big-picture thing than it is our issue. I would hope that the NFL has built up enough goodwill to make Major League Baseball see that if they inconvenience themselves a little bit that we, the NFL and specifically the Ravens, owe the Orioles and Major League Baseball a favor in the future."
How excited are you to have this bounty of draft picks coming your way?
"I'm thrilled because you're seeing guys like Pernell McPhee and Chykie Brown and hopefully this year Christian Thompson – usually you don't get a ton out of them in their rookie year because we've got most of our positions set. But if we end up scoring with three or four extra picks, with compensatory picks, in those middle rounds, then I expect that Ozzie and Eric will find more Chykie's, and more Pernell McPhee's, and more Gino Gradkowski's, and more Tyrod Taylor's in those fourth-sixth rounds, and DeAngelo Tyson in the seventh round last year. To be able to score four more players like that who can contribute to your team, that's what separates average teams from good teams, is having the talent in that draft room to nab contributors in those rounds."
Does consistently drafting well help soften the blow of free agency?
"Yeah, that's the sidebar. We lead the league in compensatory picks, and to me that is the clearest indication to me that we draft as well as anybody. Because if you lead the league in comp picks, and you spend to cap every year like we do, then the proof is that every guy we let go we let go because we financially can't fit them under the cap. And if we end up with the most picks, then that says it all with the job that Ozzie and Eric [DeCosta] do."
Why pay Flacco so much money if you can't pay to keep the weapons around him?
"The same reason that Denver spent that money on a 37 year old [Peyton Manning] – because without that, you don't have much of a chance. It again goes back to – we paid him 16.5 million and did that deal last year [compared to $20 million this year]. The difference between those two on a $123 million salary cap is three percent. So as far as I'm concerned, all you have to do is look at our class of players that we lose [in free agency] and realize that the production that [Dannell] Ellerbe gave us this year was obviously worth $7 million on the open market and we were paying him $2 million. And [Paul] Kruger – a second-round pick – the production we got out of him was worth in the NFL circle $8 million. When you look at it that way, you just need one undrafted free agent to produce for you like Ellerbe did and like Jameel McClain did for a few years to offset that $3.5 million difference between $16.5 million and $20 million [for Flacco]. So it's pretty simple when you break it down there. It really just comes back to Ozzie and Eric. Find one guy a year that plays at the level – that plays like a high-paid starter, gets paid like a high-paid starter and we can't afford them and then we get a comp pick and hopefully the cycle repeats itself."
Are you surprised by any of the deals players are getting on the open market? And is the market changing?
"I think the market is changing. I think the top 10 guys on teams, if you looked at it, are making a higher and higher percentage of the overall cap then they were when I got into the league 12 years ago. That just means that when Miami signs Ellerbe and let's go of [Carlos] Dansby – Dansby was their big free-agent acquisition three years ago. Maybe we get a Carlos Dansby because of that top 10 players taking up a higher and higher percentage. The market softens in the middle. So yeah, I do think it's changing and I think that all teams have to be aware of that fact and be prudent with their really large contracts because you still have to be in the market to pay the $3 and $4-million [players] after the $8 and $10-million [players] are off the board."
What are your thoughts on the proposed player safety rule change for running backs to no longer lead with the helmet outside the tackle box?
"I haven't heard anything. I know that Ozzie is on the competition committee and so I am interested to hear the logic, but I'm kind of as puzzled with the running back proposal as most fans are out there. It doesn't seem fair when it's the shortest career, they take the most pounding and now you're telling them not to be the aggressor in that one-on-one situation out in the flat or down the field. I'm skeptical whether enough of my partners are going to believe that that is in the best interest of football and of running backs. I don't think there are enough of those shots in a year to warrant outlawing it and turning it into penalties, fines and suspensions. I think these guys are just the work horses of the NFL and it doesn't get any easier for them."
Are the safety rules going too far in general?
"Absolutely not. I'm not in that camp that I think we're changing the game that much. I think that these guys are a brotherhood and they can complain all they want, but I think that we're proving to our fans and the players are starting to understand that it's in their long-term best interest to protect these guys from those kinds of headshots. I'm 100 percent in favor of all the rules that we've passed. I am not sold on this new one that they are going to present to us."